DeRozan, who had 18 points and a handful of gorgeous dunks in the game, and Kyle Lowry, who scored 14 points and dished 10 assists, no doubt enjoyed their time on Sunday. Come Monday, DeRozan, Lowry and their Raptors teammates can continue to shape how they’ll be cheered in years to come in Toronto.
The all-star game came at the perfect time for the 35-17 Raptors, who have been on a tear since the calendar flipped to 2016. They won 11 games in a row through last month and have won 14 of 16 to date.
The Raptors are in second-place in the Eastern Conference, their 35 wins their most ever at this point in a season. If they were to split their final 30 games, they would hit the 50-win mark for the first time ever. Judging by how the season has gone for them to this point, that’s a pessimistic projection. They’re on pace to win 55 games.
That’s more than any team that the Raptors have had. Better than what McGrady was a part of, better than what he or Vince Carter could lead their teams to in their time here, together and apart. Carter’s individual legacy is still the greatest that any Raptor has had, but as this year’s team goes into a Friday date with the Chicago Bulls, it marks the start of a stretch that’s stuffed with possibility.
“We can keep building upon what he did and what those teams did. That’s all we can do, is keep building.”
The next step, and the expectation that’s been on this team from the time the final horn mercifully sounded in Game 4 of last year’s playoff exit to the Washington Wizards, is post-season success. The entire conference is chasing LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers but, right now, the Raptors have the closest look at the names and numbers on the backs of those wine-coloured jerseys, sitting three games back from them.
The second round of the playoffs feels like a must for this team, but a trip to the conference final is something that on paper, at least, seems possible. Statements like that don’t draw snickers from people lately.
“We’ve got to come out aggressive. It’s a whole new season for us and we have to understand that,” DeRozan said.
Lowry said that the perception of the Raptors has changed in the four years he’s been here.
“Toronto was kind of one of the teams that you go, ‘Oh, they’re good, but they’re Toronto.’ Now we’ve really become a force,” he said.
“We’re winning games, 48, 49 wins (the past two seasons). Unfortunately the playoffs haven’t turned into what we wanted them to, but every year we’re getting better. The organization is getting better, the team is getting better, it’s growing.”