The Raptors have been good all year, but they’re still getting coal for Christmas.
Christmas Day is a special day in the NBA.
It’s the day of the NBA Finals rematch from the previous year. It also includes the league’s biggest, most revenue-generating markets, and the teams with the biggest names in the sport.
The matchups this year are:
- Philadelphia 76ers vs New York Knicks
- Cleveland Cavaliers vs Golden State Warriors
- Washington Wizards vs Boston Celtics
- Houston Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder
- Minnesota Timberwolves vs Los Angeles Lakers
Yeah, the Raptors were snubbed. Again.
“It has gotten to the point where you just sigh and say, ‘Another year,'” said Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan, who scored a career-high 45 points on Friday. “That’s crazy. I always wanted to say that I’m playing on Christmas.”
“You get the special shoes. The Christmas jerseys. That’s one I want to frame one day. Hopefully, I get the opportunity to do it,” said Kyle Lowry.
For the Toronto Raptors, there is no argument—they should be rewarded with a Christmas Day game.
Here are three reasons why the Raptors deserve to play on December 25th.
1. Marquee players
If the league wants to see the most marketable names in the league, the Raptors have three guys that fit the bill.
DeRozan and Lowry have each started an All-Star game in the last four years, with three appearances each. They’re a duo that has been involved in conversations of which team has the best backcourt in the league.
DeRozan is now averaging 24.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per games. Meanwhile, Lowry is averaging 16.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 7.1 assists.
They’ve also been getting much needed help from Serge Ibaka, who is on a tear in the past month.
Known for his impressive shot-blocking and defensive prowess—three All-NBA Defensive First Team honours—his offensive versatility, Ibaka’s play had dwindled over the years, prior to being traded to the Raptors.
In December thus far, Ibaka is averaging 19.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game, playing the best basketball since his prime days in Oklahoma City.
With Lowry and DeRozan’s big-time play, and Ibaka’s return to being one of the league’s best bigs, there are more than enough heavyweight names to give the Raptors a Christmas Day game.
2. Recent winning history
The first and only time the Raptors played on Christmas Day was in 2001 against the New York Knicks. Vince Carter was the hottest thing in the league at the time, and the Raptors were winning.
After years of losing, it’s time for a national audience to pay attention once again.
Since the 2013-14 season, the Raptors have made four straight playoff appearances, including two straight 50-win seasons.
“We’ve won. We’ve been one of the best in the league the past few years,” DeRozan added. “To not get that look is definitely crazy. … There is really no excuse. We’ve proven we are a top team in the league for a reason.”
Not counting this season’s current record, Toronto has a combined 204 wins in the past four years.
On the other hand, the Timberwolves and the Knicks—who will be on the Dec. 25th schedule—have 116 and 117 wins respectively over four seasons.
The Lakers and Sixers have a total of 166 wins combined over four seasons, 38 less than the Raptors’ total.
Looking at this season, the Raptors are currently 22-8, ranking fourth-best in the entire NBA, second in the Eastern Conference and better than seven of the teams on the Christmas schedule.
3. Exciting brand of basketball
Prior to this season, the Raptors played a style of basketball that was thoroughly criticized by analysts, fans, and media: isolation-heavy, inefficient basketball.
Head coach Dwane Casey has installed a new offensive system though—they’re playing a much faster, ball-sharing style of play, and the success is a result of the changes.
Last season, the Raptors were dead-last in the league in assists, 29th in assist ratio, and 22nd in pace. As a team, they had one of the best offensive ratings and lowest turnover numbers—they played safe basketball, but the teams that play safe don’t win championships.
This season, they’ve looked like an entirely different ball club: 9th in assists, 8th in assist ratio, and the 10th fastest pace in the league.
The ball moves like a hot potato, and it’s fun to see defences scramble in and out of place trying to catch up to it.
It’s not just the main guys who are leading the way, however. The Raptors have one of the most productive benches in the league.
Ranked 11th in points per game, 11th in assists, 2nd in steals, 2nd in blocks, 5th in offensive efficiency, and 11th in defensive efficiency, the Raptors’ depth is a scary thing to face, especially if the opposing team’s bench isn’t up to par.
If the NBA cares about Canada at all, then Raptors check all the boxes for Christmas Day.