Raptors in nationally televised game against championship contenders…
Raptors pick up options on duo: Star pair extend stay in Toronto
NBA Season Preview 2014/15 Toronto Raptors
Raptors are legitimate contenders: (Analysis) Toronto emerging as real threat in East.
The Toronto Raptors host the Chicago Bulls in a clash between the top two in the Eastern Conference on Thursday night as they look to prove a point.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the Raptors so far this season, but ultimately they sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 7-1 record and will look for their first 6-0 home start to a season ever.
Toronto are on a five-game winning streak, have a +10.6 point differential, have the best offensive average in the East and one of the better defensive records too.
However, doubts still surround Kyle Lowry and Co. as to whether they are a legitimate contender or whether this is merely a solid start to the campaign before a dip in form sends them back down to the middle pack in the race for the playoffs.
Dwane Casey and his men have the opportunity to dismiss those doubts on Thursday night, as a raucous Air Canada Centre will welcome the Bulls in a battle of the current big two in the Conference.
While the Cleveland Cavaliers will eventually emerge along with the likes of the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards, the Raptors and Bulls look the most impressive of the bunch at this stage.
Tom Thibodeau will hope to have his preferred starting five available for just the second time this season, although Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler are listed as probable for the contest. However, the hope is that both will feature in order to make this a real clash of the dominant forces in the East.
Ahead of the season, there was little doubt that Lowry and DeMar DeRozan would continue to lead this team, but what was needed was for the support cast to step up and deliver consistently. It’s been ‘so far so good’ for Toronto, but they will want to prove a point to themselves more than anyone else that they belong at the top with a win over Chicago.
A win would undoubtedly answer plenty more questions about their championship credentials even if it is still early in the season, as the Raptors need to evolve from being a nailed on playoff team to one that can compete and advance beyond the first round.
Over the past year or so the organisation and city as a whole have been building momentum, and with the 20th anniversary celebrations continuing, there is an atmosphere in Toronto that is pushing for a successful season on the court which will also see them return to the national spotlight on TNT on Thursday night.
Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas are establishing themselves as the core of this team, and it will take a significant effort from all to contend with their next opponents.
The bench will be critical against the Bulls who boast the likes of Taj Gibson, Aaron Brooks and Doug McDermott, but this is exactly the time when Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez and many others will have to stand up and prove that Toronto is an all-round contender.