Title: Raptors’ positional versatility, small-ball capability will be tested on trip
Date: February 29, 2020
Original Source: The Athletic
Synopsis: In my latest for The Athletic Toronto, I wrote about the Raptors’ success playing small and playing versatile, and how that will be challenged on a five-game road trip.
DENVER — Succeeding amid difficult circumstances can sometimes mask just how difficult those circumstances are.
That the Toronto Raptors are 42-17 can make it seem is if a cursed carousel of injured players hasn’t really been that difficult to overcome. A stretch of 15 wins in 17 games further cemented the impression that the team was immune to the effects of short-handedness and probability. When they got down double-digits in a lethargic affair against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, the assumption was simply that they’d find a way; they are the Raptors, the Hornets are worse than any team they’d lost to at home in years, and who is Miles Bridges to suggest that this was the occasion when missing three of the team’s top seven players would matter?
It does matter, though. Playing without Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka is difficult, and not even Norman Powell’s encouraging return could mask that. This is not to say the Charlotte game was not winnable, because it was. Eminently so. It was likely the Raptors’ worst performance of the season, caveats aside. It is to say, however, that the Raptors’ steamrolling of half of the league while perpetually short on bodies should not be taken for granted. Nor should it be taken as guaranteed to sustain. It’s likely that the Raptors continue to mostly cruise despite their circumstance, but it’s worth remembering just how dire this situation — 14 different starting lineups, only 17 games with all five presumed starters healthy, something close to the league lead in expected win shares lost to injury — would have seemed at the season’s outset.