The Toronto Raptors have closed to within one game of the Cleveland Cavaliers for first place in the Eastern Conference and are showing no signs of slowing down.
Winners of four straight and eight of their last nine, the Raptors have been one of the NBA’s hottest teams since the all-star break (13-4) and need only two more wins to set a franchise record with 50.
The team’s ability to keep their foot on the gas down the stretch has impressed Raptors assistant coach Rex Kalamian, although he’s not overly surprised by the results.
“It’s amazing, our defensive intensity is getting better as the season has gone along, and that’s the way a good team should react,” Kalamian told Joey Vendetta on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Monday morning. “We’re a different team and we’re getting better, we’re progressing.”
The Raptors set a franchise record with 49 wins last season but stumbled down the stretch before being swept in four games by the Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs. But with some added depth and all-star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in the midst of career years, the Raptors have been a much more consistent team this time around.
"The NBA is all about consistency ... Player consistency, team consistency and organization consistency, and we have that right now," said Kalamian.
While Lowry and DeRozan have been the key drivers of Toronto's success, the team's effort on the defensive end has been the most important factor. The Raptors are fifth in the NBA in points against (98.3) this season after ranking 18th last season and have won 32 straight games when holding opponents under 100 points.
"A lot of good things are happening for us, but nothing happens and the wins do not come unless you don't play defence and that's what Dwane Casey has been preaching the whole year," said Kalamian. "This year's team is so much different from last year's team in terms of makeup. We have added so many new pieces. We have a different mind set, I think it's a strong mindset and we have a very talented roster."
The Raptors have continued to pile up wins recently despite injuries to Jonas Valanciunas, Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll while giving several players days off to rest. Kalamian doesn't have a timetable for Carroll's return, but he expects Valanciunas back in the lineup at some point this week. Toronto returns to action Wednesday against the Boston Celtics.