Posted on April 8, 2017
After eight seasons in the NBA, DeMar DeRozan knows that the playoffs require more than just nailing down the Xs and Os of the playbook. He’s going to use the final two games of the Toronto Raptors’ regular season to get himself ready on every level.
“Emotionally, spiritually, physically, locked in completely,” said DeRozan on Friday night. “And understand that it gets real after these next two games.”
DeRozan certainly looked ready in the Raptors’ 96-94 win over the Miami Heat, scoring 38 points to go with six rebounds in Toronto’s last home game of the regular season. He broke Vince Carter’s franchise record with his 31st 30-point game of the season.
The Raptors final two games are on Sunday in New York against the Knicks and Wednesday in Cleveland. Toronto’s opponent in the first round of the playoffs is still to be determined. There are five possible teams as the Eastern Conference’s final standings shake out: Atlanta, Milwaukee, Chicago, Indiana and Miami.
Posted on April 8, 2017
Posted on April 7, 2017
At the halfway point of the season, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock began dousing the flames of high expectations engulfing his team and their unexpected positioning as part of the league’s playoff puzzle.
And now, Babcock is using the same philosophy to extinguish mounting concern over his team’s missed opportunities to actually clinch a postseason berth.
The Leafs could have punched their ticket with a win in either of their last two games, but lost them both by a decisive 4-1 score. After an impressive 8-1-1 run, Toronto has dropped back-to-back games in regulation for the first time since mid-February.
As long as the Leafs can gain two points over their last two regular season games, the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders won’t be able to catch them for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card spot. Grab one or fewer points and the scenarios are increasingly precarious. But the Maple Leafs will be in control of their destiny until the end.
“What I like about this opportunity is we have to earn our way in,” Babcock said Friday after a team meeting at MasterCard Centre. “That’s what it’s about.
“Nobody’s going to give it to you. It’s having these opportunities to grow your game in moments that matter. They’ve all had these opportunities at different levels just not at this level so let’s [take care of] business.”
With their first chance to clinch on Tuesday, then Leafs were facing the league-leading Washington Capitals after a win in Buffalo the night before. Simply put, they were too tired on the second night of a back-to-backs (and the end of a road trip at that) to feel the weight of the moment.
Skip ahead to Thursday against Tampa Bay and that wasn’t the case. Toronto turned in a wholly uninspired performance against a Lightning club dripping with desperation to keep their own playoff hopes alive.