The defending champion Toronto Raptors wrapped up the first of two five-game road trips this season with an eight-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night. In addition to the challenges that come with travelling to face tough opponents, Toronto was dealt with adversity in the form of injuries to Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby on this trip alone.
Through it all, the team finished with a 3-2 record on a difficult trip.
While it's nearly impossible to deem early-season challenges such as this trip as being make-or-break, these tests often provide an idea of the fabric of a team, where it stands and what it's capable of.
As they return home, what have we learned about the Raptors from their performance during their trip out West?
Our staff provides some of their impressions…
The Raptors are one of the best defensive teams in the league
They were last season, but the fact that they're still this good without Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green - a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and a one-time member of the All-Defensive Second Team, respectively - is impressive.
It's beyond the fact that the Raptors currently rank seventh in defensive efficiency. On this five-game road trip, they played against four MVP candidates and each one of them struggled. LeBron James finished with a triple-double in Toronto's win over the Los Angeles Lakers, but he had his lowest-scoring game of the season with 13 points on 5-for-15 shooting from the field. It was a similar case against Kawhi Leonard - he came close to a triple-double, but he had his lowest-scoring game of the season with 12 points on 2-for-11 shooting from the field.
Leonard also committed a career-high nine turnovers.
The Raptors then held Damian Lillard to nine points, ending his streak of scoring double figures in 230 consecutive games. Finally, they limited Luka Doncic to 5-for-14 shooting in the team's loss to the Dallas Mavericks although his ability to get to the line (15-for-19) led to his scoring 26 points.
Toronto's defence on those players is a big reason why it finished this road trip with a winning record. If the Raptors can continue to make life difficult for the best players in the league, nobody is going to want to face this team in the playoffs.
- Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles)
Terrence Davis should be a part of the rotation
The Raptors have found something with Terrence Davis. I know the bench overall has played well, but Toronto's biggest cause for concern was their guard depth - especially with Fred VanVleet now in the starting lineup.
Once Kyle Lowry went down in New Orleans, Nick Nurse had no choice but to give Davis more minutes and the rookie has done well with the opportunity. In the five games on the road, Davis posted averages of 7.0 points and 3.4 rebounds on 44.8% shooting from the field. He's also turning the ball over less than once per game in 19.3 minutes. For a guy who still needs to develop as a lead guard that's pretty promising given that the team has depended on him to handle the rock since Lowry has been out.
He's also shooting 3s at a high level. Davis shot 41.2% from the perimeter on 3.4 attempts per game on the trip, and let's not overlook what he's done defensively.
If you would've told me that the Raptors would finish their West Conference road trip above .500 without Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, I would've had some serious doubt. Toronto pulled off a successful trip down a couple of key contributors to their lineup and in the process found out they're deeper than we think.
- Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay)
This team is deeper than you'd think
One of the biggest knocks on the Raptors at the start of the season was their lack of depth. A lot of people - myself included - assumed this team was one or two injuries to key rotation players away from having their season fall apart.
After their first 10 games where they had just lost Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka to injuries, I wrote about how we had to remember what this team looked like at full strength because things were probably about to get ugly without two of the most consistent players. I could not have been more wrong.
The Raptors have continued to churn out wins no matter who has stepped on the floor. Fred VanVleet has been awesome filling in as the team's starting point guard. Different bench guys - Norman Powell Chris Boucher, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Terrence Davis and Matt Thomas - have taken turns stepping up with quality games to keep this team afloat. Though none of them have consistently produced, the Raptors have gotten solid performances from those players in different variations to make this a successful West Coast road trip.
This team is deeper than you thought it was. Their role players are buying into the team's demeanour of playing hard every time you take the court, using effort to make up for what could be considered a lack of talent off the bench.
All-in-all, I think the biggest takeaway from this road trip is that the Raptors are here to stay, no matter who they have on the floor. There's no more if's or but's about it - Toronto is a threat in the Eastern Conference and there is no team that would look forward to playing a seven-game series against this scrappy bunch.
- Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_)
Championship DNA is real, and this team has it
Never too high, never too low.
Like most, I wouldn't have expected the Raptors to have a winning record on a road trip in which they were without Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka for four games while OG Anunoby essentially sat for two.
It's a testament to this team's poise and resolve, major components of what many refer to as "Championship DNA" - consider it an added benefit of hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy last June.
Not only was Toronto down key players for the majority of the trip, but it also had to dig down in order to find different ways to earn each of its three wins over the eight-day span.
- In New Orleans, Toronto held-off a late-game rally while picking up the pieces after Lowry and Ibaka's exits.
- Against the Lakers, the Raptors trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half and nine points in the second before taking control of the game's final 22 minutes to win by nine.
- In Portland, the team fell into an early 12-point hole before riding the hot hands of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet to come back and ultimately win by eight.
It starts at the top, as head coach Nick Nurse often displays his trust in the team by not panicking to call for a timeout when it meets adversity. With Siakam and VanVleet leading the way, players have shown the ability to play through their mistakes and have the confidence to remain even-keeled when things aren't going their way.
This type of attitude is even present in losses.
Against the Clippers, the Raptors were never truly out of the game despite being forced to pick up the pieces on the fly after Anunoby's early exit. In Dallas, the Raptors clawed their way back into the game, cutting a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to just two points late before ultimately losing by eight.
This pedigree will only continue to help the Raptors moving forward this season, especially as they work to position themselves among the East's elite.
- Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21)
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