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Sports Then and Now

Are the Toronto Raptors the NBA Title Favorites?

Posted on December 14, 2018 by Dean Hybl
Kawhi Leonard is averaging a career-high 26 points per game for the Toronto Raptors.

Kawhi Leonard is averaging a career-high 26 points per game for the Toronto Raptors.

When the Toronto Raptors made the blockbuster trade during the summer to bring Kawhi Leonard to the Eastern Conference there was an expectation that it could help them “get over the hump” after getting close in recent years, but even live betting with Novibet couldn’t have predicted that a quarter way through the NBA season they would be the favorites to claim the 2019 NBA Championship.

Not only do the Raptors have a league-best 23-7 overall record, but they have swept the season series from the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors. Their 113-93 win at Golden State earlier this week was impressive not just because of the dominant nature, but because the Raptors played the game without Leonard while the Warriors were at full strength with their four All-Stars all in the starting lineup.

With Leonard, who is averaging a team-best 26 points per game, out of the lineup, the Raptors had a balanced attack that proved too much for the Warriors to overcome.

Leading the way for the Raptors was four-time All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry. He scored a team-high 23 points while also dishing out 12 assists, grabbing five rebounds and securing three steals.

Another player who has been great all season and continued that trend against the Warriors was center Serge Ibalka. The 10-year veteran is averaging a career-high 16.8 points per game this season and had 20 points with 12 rebounds in the victory.

The other three starters, Danny Green, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, scored 15, 13 and 10 points respectively to give the Raptors five double-digit scorers. The bench also played an important role with 32 points divided amongst six players.

That boxscore is consistent with how the Raptors have been winning throughout the season.

They have five players who are averaging at least 12.8 points per contest and then another six averaging between 5.0 and 9.6 per contest.

Leonard and Ibalka are the two top scorers for the Raptors and both are averaging career-highs. Though Lowry’s 14.2 average ranks fourth on the squad and is his lowest average since the 2012-2013 campaign, his 10 assists per game are more than two per game than he has averaged at any other point in his career.

The strength of the Raptors has been their offensive efficiency. They rank second in the league in scoring average and in field goal percentage.

Of course the rub against the Raptors in recent years has been their post season performance. They have been swept out of the playoffs three times in the last four years. The good news for 2018-19 is that the team that has knocked them out of the playoffs the last three years, the Cleveland Cavaliers, is not going to make the playoffs this year and that the leading player for those Cavaliers teams, LeBron James, is now playing in the Western Conference. That means the Raptors wouldn’t face him until the finals.

Having Leonard, who was the MVP of the 14 finals and is a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, should help the Raptors come playoff time. He knows what it takes to take the next step and if the beginning of this season is any indication, the rest of the Raptors look ready to take that step with him.

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