When Kawhi Leonard left Toronto to join the Los Angeles Clippers in the offseason, most NBA fans wrote off the Raptors for a repeat. Leonard was the NBA Finals MVP and the single biggest reason Toronto won a championship in 2019. With him gone, they had no chance, right?
Wrong. Instead of faltering without their All-NBA star, the Raptors were quietly one of the best teams in the entire league before the season was postponed in March. Toronto still sits at the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, and they just proved why they don’t need their former MVP to make another title run.
NBA fans wrote the Raptors off after they lost Kawhi Leonard
The Raptors took a huge blow in the offseason when Kawhi Leonard decided to take his talents to LA. Leonard led Toronto to the 2019 NBA title with incredible leadership, late-game heroics, and historic efficiency on both sides of the floor.
After Leonard’s departure, NBA fans across the country wrote the Raptors off for the 2019 season. It’s hard enough to repeat with the same team, let alone if you lose your best player.
But the Raptors didn’t skip a beat to start the 2020 season. Toronto had a 46-18 record before the NBA hiatus, good for the No. 2 seed in the East. The Raptors are essentially a lock to stay in the No. 2 spot before the NBA playoffs begin, so they’ll have one of the easiest roads to the NBA Finals.
The Raptors dominated the Lakers in their first NBA bubble game
The LA Lakers are the prohibitive favorite to win the 2020 NBA championship. And why wouldn’t they be? LeBron James and Anthony Davis make up the most dangerous duo in the league, and they have plenty of veteran help around them.
The Lakers have the second-best record in the NBA, and they rarely get embarrassed on the court. Well, that’s exactly what the Raptors did in their NBA bubble debut.
Toronto dominated the Lakers in the second half and pulled away for a 107-92 victory. They have one of the best records in the NBA and consistently beat elite teams on a nightly basis, yet they still don’t get as much respect as other title contenders.
The Raptors can ride their elite defense to another NBA title
Kawhi Leonard wasn’t the sole reason why Toronto won the 2019 NBA title. The Raptors were an elite defensive team and an efficient offensive group, and that’s continued into 2020.
The Raptors have the best scoring defense in the NBA this season. They allow just 106.3 points per game, as their complex defensive style and length frustrate even the best NBA offenses. The Lakers, who average 113.8 points per game, mustered just 92 Saturday night on 35% shooting.
With the experience the entire roster gained during last year’s playoff run, the Raptors are going to be a dangerous team in the 2020 postseason. Their defense is always going to show up, and Pascal Siakam has emerged as a top-tier scorer and finisher.
If he can take Leonard’s role as the closer, Toronto has a real chance to repeat as back-to-back NBA champs.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference