James Herbert, a Toronto native who writes for SB Nation and True Hoop, was kind enough to stop by and answer a few questions about the Raptors.
The Raptors are 20-20, but they are 13-7 since moving Rudy Gay. What happened after the trade and is this team "legit"?
There was immense, immediate improvement on both ends of the floor. Toronto transformed into the sort of tough defensive team that head coach Dwane Casey has been trying to establish throughout his tenure, and the ball movement on offense improved their efficiency and watchability. The bolstered bench and the increased opportunities for Kyle Lowry mean that the Raptors are indeed legit, provided they can stay healthy. Things have looked shakier in the last week, though.
What do you think is the ceiling and floor for Toronto this season?
The ceiling is the third seed in the East and a trip to the second round of the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history. The floor would be a lower playoff seed and a first-round exit - barring a drastic trade or significant injury, it's hard to imagine Toronto ending up back in the lottery.
That should be a huge concern given how those two match up with Dallas' frontcourt, but perhaps less of one given the pair's recent production. Valanciunas killed the Mavs on the glass the last time these teams met, but he has played fewer than 24 minutes in five of the Raptors' last six contests. The normally steady Johnson has been surprisingly inconsistent over the past couple of weeks. Dallas should worry that this is the game in which they turn things around.
I'd start him on DeRozan, the team's leading scorer. DeRozan's been inefficient in the Raptors' recent disappointing stretch, and the Mavs want things to stay that way. He's improved his passing and, when he's in rhythm, he is now able to get his teammates going if opposing defenses key in on him. Marion's the sort of defender that can bother him one-on-one and make him take tough shots.
Mavs fans remember Dwane Casey for his role in the 2011 title. How has he done in his second stint as a head coach - is there a lot of Carlisle in his game these days?
He's never wavered with his message, but the results have been up and down as the roster has changed. This little slide notwithstanding, it appears these guys have bought in and their play has reflected Casey's personality. He's brought the same defensive philosophy with him from Dallas, but the offense is decidedly different given that there's no Dirk Nowitzki on this team.
The principles remain, though -- Casey doesn't want to call a ton of plays from the sideline, and when the team has won this season, it has earned praise for the same things that everyone loved about that title-winning Mavs squad: unselfishness, spacing and balance. A strong second half of the season would make it tough for Toronto to move in another direction when his contract expires at the end of the year.