Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Raptors as the playoffs near
> Toronto’s push for the top seed in the East seems to have run out of steam. Should Raptors fans be worried about another early exit this postseason?
David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Define “early.” If you mean before the conference finals, heck yes, they should be worried. The Raptors are respected, to be sure, but I don’t think any of the potential Top 3 seeds in the Eastern Conference (Boston, Miami, Atlanta, Charlotte) would be terrified by not having home court against Toronto in a semifinal series. The Raptors are a combined 9-3 against that quartet going into Wednesday’s game with the Hawks (7:30 ET, NBA TV), but they were 4-0 in the regular season against the Washington Wizards in 2014-15, and we know where that got them. But: at least Paul Pierce is safely in the Western Conference now, and can’t torment Toronto for a third straight postseason. And: the Raptors have two lockdown units, featuring Bismack Biyombo, Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross and Cory Joseph — with either Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan as the fifth wheel. They rank third (with Lowry) and fourth (with DeRozan) in the league in defensive rating among five-man rotations that have logged 200 or more minutes this season. But can that group get a big bucket against a top-shelf defense that takes either Lowry or DeRozan away?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Worried is too strong a word, in addition to being a complete waste of time that accomplishes nothing. The bottom on the Eastern Conference isn’t exactly a minefield of first-round terror, so while there is pressure on Toronto not to exit early again (as it did against Brooklyn and Washington the past two postseasons), there also ought to be confidence and optimism. The Raptors’ baby steps have gotten them to this point, where they can take a significant stride by winning a playoff series for only the second time in the franchise’s two decades. Nothing, however, is guaranteed — even against Indiana or Detroit — and until the Raptors do it, they’ll be doubted. So rather than worry, Toronto fans should hope for the best while preparing for the worst.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: There’s every reason to think the Raptors have what it takes to get out of the first round this year. But until it actually happens, there’s every reason to worry. Nobody has more to prove in the first round this season than Toronto and the core of the lineup going forward.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No more than any other fan group with high hopes should be worried about an early exit. If the Raptors win three in a row or four out of five, we’ll be back to “Should the Cavaliers be worried about the Raptors?” Toronto has a lot of reason to remain encouraged. Let’s see how the Raptors are doing in another five or seven games, see who they’re playing in the first round, and maybe then start to sweat. But not now.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: In the first round, the Raptors are likely to see either Detroit or Indiana, two teams with severe performance mood swings. So, Toronto is likely safe this year. I’d be more worried about the semifinals. Both the Hawks and Heat are hotter teams at the moment and the Raptors would have their hands full against either, even with home court advantage. If the Raptors don’t put up a fight this spring, it’ll be a failure if only because of the quick exits the last two years. Would coach Dwane Casey survive another such disaster?
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Raptors fans should be worried right up until the moment their team finishes that fourth win in their first-round series this season. And I would say the same for any fan base that has endured back-to-back first round exits with their team as the higher seed. I like the Raptors’ chances much better this season. But like most, I need to see them advance before pondering what’s to come for this bunch. And for the record: I have no problem with a fan base worrying themselves into a state of panic until their team breaks through.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: They’re going to worry, because Indiana is one of the NBA’s best defensive teams, and Detroit is loaded with firepower. But the Raptors are fully deserving of their No. 2 seed: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Dwane Casey have invested three years in building something together, and they’re not going to fall short this time. Their commitment to one another transcends the matchups. They’ve earned the right to reach the semifinals — and maybe the conference finals.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’ve always believed in setting reasonable goals. The Raptors haven’t made it out of the first round of the NBA playoffs since 2002. Yes, they’ve been terrific this season, but I don’t know that anyone should be expecting a trip to the NBA Finals so quickly. To me, advancing to the Eastern Conference semis is a reasonable (and do-able) goal for the Raptors. And if they go further? That’s the cherry on top. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think Raptors fans have anything to worry about, at least when it comes to escaping round one.