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NBA Team Focus: Raptors are on the Rise

Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan Kyle Lowry

For the majority of the 2015-16 NBA campaign, the Cleveland Cavaliers looked like they were on a collision course for the NBA Finals. But the Cavs have hit a wall on and off the court as of late, and a new contender has emerged in the Eastern Conference as a result: the Toronto Raptors.

Toronto (35-16 SU) has established itself as the clear no. 2 team in the conference at the midway point of the season, a position no squad appeared to want until now. Canada’s lone NBA team has won 14 of its last 15 ahead of Wednesday's matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves while covering the spread in 11 of those tilts.

The Dinos sit at 29-22 ATS on the year—good enough to make them the fifth best bet in the Association with the calendar set to turn to February. Thanks to a fluent offense led by one of the most talented backcourts in the league in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the Raps are averaging a fantastic 105 points per game during that span.

Many NBA pundits predicted the Raptors would struggle once prized free agent signing DeMarre Carroll was sidelined with knee surgery, but the team has surprisingly flourished in the absence of the defensive stopper.

Balance has been key

Offensively, Toronto ranks fifth in the NBA in average scoring margin (+4.6), fifth in offensive efficiency (1.045) and sixth in team shooting percentage (49.7 percent). On the defensive end, the Raptors are fourth in opponent points per game (97.0), second in opponent shooting percentage (46.9 percent) and eighth in defensive efficiency (1.000).

Dwane Casey’s club have also been one of the best road teams in the league both in the box score and at the betting window, as Toronto is a solid 16-10 ATS away from the Great White North.

The Raps are firing on all cylinders right now, and it’s unlikely they’ll be underdogs very often in the rest of the season. But if they are, sports bettors should take note of their penchant for coming through against the favorites. In the 14 games the Raptors have been tabbed as underdogs, they’re a red-hot 11-4 ATS.

Futures outlook

At online sportsbook BetOnline, the Raptors have a +800 shot to win the Eastern Conference, behind the Cavaliers (-350) and ahead of other East contenders Chicago (+1200), Atlanta (+2000) and Indiana (+2500). The shop is dealing Toronto with a +2500 price to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June, which is the sixth best chance of any NBA team.

The Raptors have shown improvements over the last few years but have largely been a forgotten team in the hoops landscape since Vince Carter was putting on a nightly show in the early 2000’s. In the wake of back-to-back first-round playoff exits, many will classify Toronto as playoff chokers who can’t get it done when it matters most.

But general manager Masai Ujiri has done an excellent job constructing the club, and there’s something different about this year’s Raptors. Whether or not they can keep up their current high-flying pace is up in the air, but the fact of the matter is the Raps are proving they’re the real deal, and bettors shouldn’t sleep on them any longer.