I risk getting thumped with a shillelagh by even bringing up this question, but what the hey…do the Toronto Raptors really want to make the playoffs this season? After all, who’s likely to be waiting for them in the first round but the Miami HEAT, who are led by LeBron James. LBJ is in the throes of one of the greatest NBA seasons ever, leading the league’s PER rankings at 31.6, while ranking third in points at 27.2 and contributing 7 assists PG. The supporting cast, including Dwayne Wade and some Bosh guy, can play a little as well. The HEAT is currently enjoying a 9-game winning streak and leads the NBA’s Eastern Conference with a 38-14 record.
If the Raps don’t make the playoffs, we’re back in the draft lottery. Our first-round pick is gone, it being the big prize in the trade with Houston for Kyle Lowry (the Rockets have moved the pick on to Oklahoma City as part of the James Harden trade). Yes, I know the Raps retain the pick if the ping-pong balls are friendly (details here), but if we don’t make the playoffs, we should come close. That means precious few balls available to us. The chances of us actually using the pick therefore can’t be greater than 2%. In sum, there’s almost no benefit which accrues by not making the playoffs this season.
Back to our first paragraph – what value is there to the Raps in being steamrolled by Miami? To answer this question properly requires a leap of faith. The playoffs are a different, more ferocious beast than the regular season. Game scores drop, as defenses tighten up. The benches get “shorter”; only a few players get the bulk of precious playing time. A number of Raps (Bargnani, Gay, Johnson, Fields, Lucas, Pietrus, Kleiza, Lowry, Gray) have played playoff ball, and can talk to the kids like DeMar, Terrence and Jonas about what it’s like. But words are no substitute for the actual experience the youngsters need to go through – it’s a rite of passage.
The Raps have done well by bouncing back from a disastrous start to the season to push themselves into playoff contention. Our team isn’t simply playing out the string. We fans have no illusions about this being “our” year, but perhaps the season after next will find the Raps as serious championship contenders. If so, the experience of playing postseason games in 2013, even if we get our heads handed to us, will be viewed as a catalyst in making us a stronger, more confident team.
Playoffs or bust, fans!
Brian Boake is a co-editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.