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Raptors out to prove they will not flame out again during playoffs

DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry

The Toronto Raptors have run into a buzzsaw in their last two postseason trips, falling to the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, who have made the NBA Finals the past three seasons.

To some, the Raptors are still unproven, given their propensity to fall off before reaching the big stage, but that’s not the way head coach Dwane Casey looks at it.

“There’s a lot of teams that flamed out, and they were in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos while we were still playing,” Casey said, according to Ken Berger of Bleacher Report. “So that’s what I question a lot of times: the narrative that the Toronto Raptors, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, they flame out in the playoffs. Well, one year it’s conference finals, the other year it’s semifinals against Cleveland. So if that’s flaming out, give me the opportunity to walk through that door every year.”

Toronto received a clampdown in the form of a 4-0 sweep in the Eastern Conference semifinals, as the Cavs focused their defensive pressure on Lowry and DeRozan, ultimately knocking them out of the playoffs in easy-peasy fashion.

The Raptors reinvented their offense during the offseason, laying off isolation plays and giving this team a more free-flowing, ball-movement feel to their offensive sets, taking the pressure off their All-Star backcourt.

“The big thing was just us getting away from isolation basketball, trusting every single player on the team and playing a style to where we wouldn’t be predictable,” DeRozan said. “That was the major part. We all agreed with that. It was taking a toll on me and Kyle to do that every night. Some nights, it was me going out there shooting 25-plus times. A lot of that takes a toll. So we needed to find another way to not be predictable and make everybody better on our team. We were all for it.”

This time around, the Raptors’ formula has proven effective, holding the top spot in the East at 53-18, five games clear of the Boston Celtics and 11.5 away from their inherited rivals, the Cavs.

Toronto is also counting with a much deeper bench and could present a much different look against this Cleveland team when their courses collide once again.