Column: Raptors rising in the Eastern Conference
Since trading Rudy Gay, the Toronto Raptors have been making their case for the Atlantic Division title. The Raptors have gone an impressive 17-9 since the trade and have established themselves as one of the few teams with a winning record in the East. Toronto has also posted an impressive 7-1 record against opponents in the Atlantic during this streak that has put them in first place in the division.
At this point in the season, any team besides Miami and Indiana with a winning record is worth noting, as it has been a down year for the conference. Without Gay, the Raptors seem to lack a true go-to scorer, but this trade has allowed other players to step up and fill the void. DeMar DeRozan has been directly benefiting from an increased role in the offense without Gay.
DeRozan is in the midst of what has been his best season as a pro. His scoring has reached a career high 16.4 points per game and he is shooting a solid 43 percent on the season. DeRozan is also attempting 12.2 field goals per game, another career-high. DeRozan has scored in double-figures during every game since the trade, including an impressive 40-point performance in a win over the Dallas Mavericks last week. If DeRozan continues to score efficiently for Toronto, he will be able to help make up for the scoring lost by trading Gay.
The X-factor on the Raptors is Terrence Ross. Ross tied Vince Carter for the Raptors' single-game scoring record when he broke out for 51 points against the Los Angeles Clippers last Saturday. This performance came almost entirely out of nowhere as Ross caught fire from the field. Ross shot an impressive 10 of 17 from 3-point range, something he is not known for as a career 37 percent shooter from behind the arc. If Ross can start to duplicate these performances, Toronto will have much more versatility when playing the elite teams in the league.
The Raptors will start a five-game West Coast trip this Friday, where they will attempt to sustain their success. If the Raptors can achieve at least three quality wins on this trip, they will be able to continue to establish themselves as one of the better teams in the conference and a surprise to the league. Toronto may be competing for "best of the worst" in the East, with Miami and Indiana being the favorites, but anything can happen once the playoffs start.
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