Allstate Journal

Raptors need to get defensive to make a playoff run

When the Toronto Raptors raced out to a 30-15 start in 2014-15, an Eastern Conference championship seemed like a reasonable goal. But the Raptors have been a .500 team since, and the culprit is clear: the team’s defensive woes. Toronto ranks 25th in defensive efficiency and the teams with a worse ranking — the Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and the Minnesota Timberwolves — have losing records. Last season, when they won 48 games, the Raptors were 10th in defensive efficiency.635637646696936163-USP-NBA-MINNESOTA-TIMBERWOLVES-AT-TORONTO-RAPTORS-71704701

“You put your finger in one dyke — last year, they were saying the same thing about us offensively,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “Now we’re top four offensively, and bad defensively.” Casey has a point. The Raptors have played well enough to have already clinched the Atlantic Division. They’ll be playing with home court in the first round, and look like a good bet to finish with the No. 3 seed in the East, trailing only the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks.

The success can be attributed to an offense that’s taken the leap forward everyone expected. They are fourth overall in offensive efficiency, trailing only the Los Angeles Clippers, Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. The Hawks are rightly celebrated for their offensive prowess. The Raptors, per ORating, have been better. It’s hard to imagine a bottom-five defensive team going anywhere in the playoffs, though, and Casey has been vocal about improving at that end. Time is running short to do so, however, if it is to be solved by playoff time.

Casey is right, but only to a point. Nearly every major contributor from this team played for the Raptors last season, with eight of the top 10 in minutes played coming from returnees. One of the two newcomers, Lou Williams, has a Defensive Rating of 109, right in the middle of the Raptors’ team, and the other, James Johnson, is actually the team’s best defender among rotation players at 104. Still, Jonas Valanciunas is such a liability defensively that Casey often rests him throughout fourth quarters, and Greivis Vasquez, who’s been playing plenty of point guard, especially with starter Kyle Lowry out with a back injury, isn’t known for his work at that end of the floor.

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