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With playoff berth achieved, Raptors welcome Rockets

Sportsnaut
Apr 3, 2022; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) shoots for three points against the Miami Heat during the second half at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The impact of a season’s worth of bumps and bruises often serves as an added measure of motivation for a team that has endured its share of injuries.

The Toronto Raptors clinched a playoff berth and avoided the play-in tournament with a victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday. The postseason berth not only righted the wrong of missing the postseason altogether last year — ending a string of seven consecutive playoff appearances that included a championship in 2019 — it set the table for the Raptors to be able to rest before their playoff run this year.

The time off between the conclusion of the regular season on Sunday and the start of the first round of the playoffs next weekend will serve the Raptors well, because Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby have been slowed or occasionally shelved by injuries down the stretch.

“As you have to make those decisions as an individual, you’ve got to look at the schedule and the standings and just kind of weigh everything,” VanVleet said. “There are six extra days there. You weigh everything up and see what’s the best route.”

With their 119-114 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, the Raptors (47-33) currently hold the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference over the Chicago Bulls (45-35) as they prepare to host the Houston Rockets on Friday night. Chicago does own the tiebreaker should a deadlock unfold, but at this stage, postseason matchups are a somewhat trivial matter.

Earning a spot in the playoffs was Toronto’s foremost goal.

“Sitting at home in April and watching the first round of the playoffs or even the play-in when we all felt like we were capable enough to be there, it stung a little bit, and I know that’s something that we spoke about,” VanVleet said.

“Fast forward to having a group that no one thought would be any good, being here in this position, it’s good. We did what we set out to do in the regular season which was (to) have a good regular season … and get us a spot where we feel like we belong. Now it’s time to go see what we can do.”

By virtue of their 118-105 road loss to the Brooklyn Nets combined with a surprising win by the Orlando Magic over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, the Rockets (20-60) secured the worst record in the NBA and can maintain that standing with losses in their final two games against the Raptors and Atlanta Hawks, whom the Rockets will host in their home finale on Sunday.

Before their current five-game skid, the Rockets were dangerously close to climbing out of the NBA cellar after winning three of four games. But then Houston opted to sit veterans Eric Gordon, Dennis Schroder and Christian Wood and yield control to its youngsters to intriguing results.

Rookie guard Jalen Green, the second overall pick in the 2021 draft, has five consecutive 30-point games. That flash of brilliance has been a ray of sunshine through the losing.

“The main goal is to try and end the season strong,” Green said. “With that being said, you’ve got to come out and play your game and attack every situation. We have some guys out, too, so you’ve just got to find ways.”

–Field Level Media