I was in Orlando last week for a family vacation. On Friday we went to see the Magic and the Raptors play. Beautiful barn. Pitiful crowd. Plenty of fellow Canadians cheering on our national team. And a truly awful performance from Toronto. They started poorly and never shook it off. They couldn't shoot, and they really didn't seem to care. Orlando is a long way from a good team, but they had no problem at all with the Raptors - a squad that is supposed to be among the best in the conference.
The lousy outing wasn't an isolated incident, either - they have just four wins in their last 13 games, and one of those wins was only against Brooklyn so it shouldn't really count. A team that seemed to have a lock on second place in the East - at least - just a while ago now sits fourth and is just half a game away from losing home-court advantage in the first round. Ugly.
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So, is this the new reality for the NBA's northernmost team? Or will they bounce back and get back on track soon enough? Here are six factors to consider when pondering those questions:
DeMar DeRozan: He has developed into a bona fide all-star - a scoring machine. I'll admit that I was skeptical. He is a talented offensive player, but he was for too long a streaky and selfish player, and it wasn't necessarily a positive. He can still be streaky, but now he's on more nights than he's off. During this recent streak of futility he has been dealing with injuries that have cost him seven games. That doesn't entirely explain the team's troubles - they were 3-4 when he was out compared to 1-5 when he was back in action. Still, along with Kyle Lowry, DeRozan drives this bus, so if he can remain healthy and in the lineup this team is easier to trust.
Kyle Lowry: Lowry is the second head of the two-headed monster that runs this team. He has been very good - as we have come to expect the last couple of years. His numbers are excellent, and he's been a beast. There is a big issue, though - Lowry leads the entire league in minutes played, with DeRozan ranked 13th in the same category. They are riding their top players far too hard right now. That could result in injuries - more injuries - or just wear and tear that will come to be an issue when they need them most. Depth is a serious issue - something we will touch upon again.
Depth: There are bench issues with this team - which is obvious given the minutes the top two stars are playing. The point guard backup situation is a perfect example. Cory Joseph is the primary backup. He has really struggled lately, though - so badly that former Wichita State star Fred VanVleet has seen his role increase, and Joseph even found himself glued to the bench for a game recently. That's not the only problem area. DeMarre Carroll is not playing well enough to keep his starting small forward role, but they don't have a better option. They don't have the right mix of depth at center, either. This roster just isn't as good as it was last year beyond the top end, and that's a real concern.
Trade potential: This really feels like a team that needs to make a deal. There are rumors out there, and the deal that seems to have more legs and makes more sense than anything else is forward Paul Millsap from Atlanta. It could be a tough deal to make since they are just a half game ahead of the Hawks in the standings right now, but it has the potential to help both teams, and it could really make the team much better. They have some draft picks to play with and some secondary pieces - most notable Terrence Ross - that teams could find attractive. Whether it's that move or another, this will be important to watch - it would be a real concern to me as a bettor if they stand pat.
Standings: The margin for error is pretty slim for this team right now. They are 5.5 games behind the Cavs, so they aren't catching them. They have fallen two games behind the very good Celtics in this current slump. They are tied with the red hot Wizards and just a half game ahead of Atlanta and two games ahead of Indiana. The key to any chance of success in the East this year is to get through to the Eastern final as rested as you can while avoiding the Cavs. Ideally that means finishing second so you have home court all the way until that series. What you don't want, though, is to be on the road the whole way - which could easily happen if they don't turn things around in a hurry.
Betting performance: I've been mostly negative, but this is still a bright spot. Despite their recent struggles, at 31-22-1 ATS they are still the most profitable team in the NBA. They are 5-8 ATS in their last 13, though, so they obviously were much better early on. The split is particularly impressive - they are 15-11-1 ATS at home and 16-11 ATS on the road. At 32-22 they have been an attractive team to bet on the "over" as well.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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