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Raptors’ defense a cause for concern

Photo Credit: ValleyOfTheSuns.com

Photo Credit: ValleyOfTheSuns.com

The Toronto Raptors got off to a 24-7 start on the strength of an elite offense and a defense that was good enough to win games. The Raptors were winning even with DeMar DeRozan out for an extended period of time, and all was mostly well up in the north.

But 2015 hasn’t been nearly as kind to Toronto, as they are just 1-4 in January and have lost five out of six games overall after a stunning 114-111 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Monday. Early MVP candidate Kyle Lowry has begun to buckle under the weight of so much offensive pressure without DeRozan in the lineup, and his imminent return will be a major help for the point guard. Lowry shot just 3-of-12 in the loss to the Pistons to go along with seven turnovers, and he’s shooting just 36.5 in January.

But the real issue is the defense, which has been atrocious during this five-game stretch. Toronto gave up 111.9 points per 100 possessions in the last five games, tied for second-worst in the league during that span, per NBA.com. The only team worse was the scuffling and LeBron James-less Cleveland Cavaliers, and the dreadful Minnesota Timberwolves shared the same 111.9 offensive rating.

One of the most disconcerting aspects of the struggles is how bad the team has been with Jonas Valanciunas on the floor. The Raptors’ defense has been a sieve with him on the court the entire season, and it’s especially terrible right now. Over the last five games, Toronto has given up a whopping 118.6 points per 100 possessions with Valanciunas on the floor, per NBA.com. That number is at 109.5 points per 100 possessions over the course of the full season, which is better but still really poor.

If you want to be optimistic about the Raptors’ defensive woes, you can point to the fact that they’re getting murdered from mid-range of late. Toronto has allowed 44.6 percent shooting from mid-range this season, which is the worst in the league, per NBA.com. But that mark is 53.6 percent over the last five games, which is completely unsustainable. Even if the Raptors continue to give up good looks from mid-range (the most inefficient shot in the game), there’s no way teams hit at the rate they have been recently.

Still, Toronto must improve significantly on the defensive end if they want to be a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference. DeRozan should help, but he’s not going to solve all of the problems. There has to be a renewed focus on that end for the team to get back on track, in addition to some luck on those mid-range shots.

Due to their struggles, the Raptors have fallen behind the red-hot Atlanta Hawks in terms of odds to win the 2015 NBA title, according to Bovada. Toronto currently has 16/1 odds to win the championship and 6/1 odds to win the Eastern Conference, which is fourth-best in the East.



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