Long considered a National Basketball Association doormat, the
Raptors were not on anyone's radar when the season began five months
ago but have already clinched their first playoff berth in six years
and look anything but complacent.
With starting guard Kyle Lowry sidelined with a knee injury and
forward Amir Johnson forced to leave in the first quarter of
Wednesday's game with a sore ankle, Toronto battled to a 107-103 win
over a Houston Rockets team that is fourth in the competitive
"This is not a fluke," said Greivis Vasquez, who scored 15 points
starting in place of Lowry. "We earn wins, and we earned a win
Pushovers no more, the Raptors lead the Atlantic Division by 2-1/2
games and currently hold the third seed in the Eastern Conference
with a 43-32 record and in position to have homecourt advantage when
the playoffs begin.
Wednesday's game showed how the Raptors are able to dig deep even
while playing without two of their most important players.
But despite playing with a depleted squad, five Toronto players
reach double digits in scoring, led by DeMar DeRozan's game-high 29
"Guys stepped up," Raptors head coach Dwane Casey told reporters.
"It's a good win.
"Big picture it's great. Every win, believe me, is great for us
right now with what we're trying to do. Especially with Kyle and
"Hopefully it gives our guys some confidence to go where we need to
The game was the latest example of how the team has bought into
Casey, who has been preaching toughness and intensity all season
while demanding they move the ball well and commit to a
"This is why we have a healthy locker-room (environment), we're not
fighting egos, we know what's going on," said Vasquez.
"(DeRozan and Lowry) are going to score, those two guys are going to
make winning plays. And whenever one of those guys goes down, we've
got their back. That's what this team is all about."
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The Raptors could have easily thrown in the towel this season and
put themselves in prime position to secure the first overall draft
In fact, many of the team's fans may have even been pleased
with that result since the draft is considered to have one of the
deepest classes in years and includes potential No. 1 overall pick
Andrew Wiggins, who was raised in a Toronto suburb.
But since the December trade of Rudy Gay, who led the team in
scoring last season, the Raptors have looked like a totally
different squad than the one fans had grown accustomed to in recent
They are suddenly moving the ball well and employing a defense that
seems to be causing fits for opponents.
For a team that was widely predicted to finish near the bottom of
the NBA standings this season, the Raptors are oozing confidence and
could prove to be dangerous in the playoffs.
Still, despite over achieving as one of the season's biggest
surprises, the Raptors are talking like a team with plenty left to
prove over the final seven games of the regular season.
"There's a pride factor, you want to win, you want to win a
division, you want to win and try and get home court," said Casey.
"We're in position, so there's no use of letting off the pedal now.
Every game for me is desperate."
(Reporting by Frank Pingue; editing by Julian Linden)
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