Raps can step up or be written off

There are many things sports fans love to do, but little as much as badmouth teams they do not like.
They complain about teams that aren’t tough enough or that aren’t talented enough. They moan about teams with no sense of history while bemoaning teams with too many fans and too much money.
But perhaps even more, they relish the chance to declare a team as a bunch of over-achievers. They cry out against the team with the easy schedule, the easy division, catching lucky breaks on bounces and injuries, making the most of their match-ups and winding up somewhere they don’t belong—only for the whole house of cards to come crashing down the following season.
Fans love to declare another team as over-achievers, of course, and not their own.
And lo, what a tough season this is to be a Toronto Raptors fan.
Fresh off a division title and sporting a roster widely considered better than last season (and, at the very least, not a worse one), the Raps are losing to absolutely everyone they can find right now.
Saturday night’s 122-103 pre-Christmas loss to the Phoenix Suns is bad, but acceptable, considering how much better the Suns are than most any team in the NBA (as evidenced by their 19-8 record).
But losing 123-115 the night before to the Seattle Supersonics? The 8-19 Sonics? That’s another story.
The bottom line is the Raptors have to start playing like the team that won 47 games last season or be branded as just a decent, lucky team in the weakest division in a weak conference in a lopsided league.
There are reasons the Raptors aren’t sporting the best record they could, of course. Chris Bosh has been inconsistent, yes, but he also managed a career-high 42 points against the Suns over the weekend. T.J. Ford is down again with an injury, but there’s no more capable back-up point guard than Jose Calderon. Jorge Garbajosa is still sidelined because of his ankle, but Kris Humphries is playing well beyond himself in the early season.
Last year’s big rookie, Andrea Bargnani, might be playing terrible hoops but they’ve got an even better rookie story this year in Jamario Moon.
There are plenty of excuses, but no mitigating factors. Last year when the Raptors got off to a brutal 3-9 start, Bosh was injured and five of those losses came in a five-game Western Conference road swing. This time around it’s just frustrating losses to the Sonics and the toothless, Gilbert Arenas-less Washington Wizards.
The Raptors can expect a loss Friday night in San Antonio against the Spurs but after that, the schedule is going to get very light with a string of sub .500 teams lined up in January, two games against the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves, and a handful against the dregs of their division set for February.
Toronto has every chance to show the NBA they’re much better than they’re playing right now. By the all-star game on Feb. 17, everyone will know whether this team is something special or just another bunch of over-achievers.

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