NBA Betting Advice: Toronto Raptors Quietly Playing Excellent Basketball
The Toronto Raptors have served notice. On Thursday night, down two of their most important players in Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, they kicked the ever-loving crap out of eternal Eastern champ LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers. They won by 34, and it was truly and totally impressive. Now, the Cavs are a mess - they have dropped six of eight and were crushed by Minnesota last time out. But it was still impressive. And it didn't come from nowhere. The team gets very little attention nationally, but they are quietly having a very strong season. They are tied with Houston for the third-best record in the league behind only Boston and Golden State. They are different team than they have been in several ways, and they are playing as well as they have in several years.
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Of course, none of that really matters - this is a team that hasn't beaten Cleveland in the playoffs, and until they can do that what they do in the regular season it means nothing. So, how do we deal with this team as bettors? Here's a look at six factors:
DeMar DeRozan: DeRozan is playing at a very high level this year. He should be getting some MVP consideration - though that won't happen in Toronto barring an exceptional season. He has improved his 3-point shooting dramatically, he is playing with tremendous confidence, and his all-around work ethic and basketball IQ are both extremely high. He has found a new gear, and combined with the ongoing solid play of Kyle Lowry he is a driving force of this team. DeRozan has put up really decent numbers for a few years, but this is the first year that he has felt like a true leader and a complete player. He's different, and that is very good.
Top-level opponents: The team has lost only 11 times, but the downside is that a lot of those losses have come against the best opponents they have faced - Golden State, San Antonio, Boston, Washington Denver, Indiana, Miami and Oklahoma City. And while they beat Cleveland and have a nice win at Houston, in general their wins are far less impressive. Beating bad teams is just what you have to do in the league, but there are no bad teams in the playoffs after the first round, so being unable to close the deal against top teams with any consistency would just mean more of the same from this team.
Nine huge days: Ultimately this season will only be defined by the postseason, of course. But to a real extent this regular season will be defined by the next five games over nine days. Following the Cleveland contest this team hosts Golden State, travels to play Philadelphia, hosts Detroit and San Antonio, and goes to Minnesota. There are a lot of chances there to get statement wins, but if that stretch of games go poorly it would suddenly be tougher to take this team seriously.
Ability to trade: The team has a core they are happy about with DeRozan, Lowry and Serge Ibaka at the core and a deep supporting cast. Much of that supporting cast is very cheap, though, and therefore very tradeable. And the team could use an upgrade at small forward - OG Anunoby has been very good, but he's a rookie, and serious contenders don't trust anything less than truly elite rookies in the playoffs. The team probably doesn't need to trade, but if they are serious about breaking through and winning the East in a year that it is probably more winnable than it has been then they should probably gamble and make a change in their approach.
Looking ahead to the playoffs: For this team, that only has one way to prove themselves - in the playoffs - it is never too soon to look ahead. They aren't likely to catch Boston, but they have a 3.5-game lead on the Cavaliers. Keeping that will be very important, because the chance to play at home through two rounds at the playoffs will really be key.
Betting performance: The Raptors haven't been a betting disaster, but they haven't been a runaway success, either. At 23-17 ATS they have been profitable on the season, and fifth-best in the league, but that's not runaway success. The ATS record is much better than the totals, though - they have gone "over" 21 times and "under" 19, so there hasn't been any real money to be made no matter how you bet there.
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