Outside of the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, who have squared off in the last three NBA Finals, no team in the Association has won more playoff games over the last two seasons than the Toronto Raptors (14).
LeBron James and the Cavaliers ousted Toronto on both occasions, including a four-game sweep in the second round last year. Falling to a more talented roster with the greatest player on the planet at its disposal is being held against this Raptors core, and head coach Dwane Casey can't understand why.
"The last couple of years, we lost to a champion and a Finals team," Casey told ESPN's Zach Lowe. "I bristle when people say we are failures."
Toronto owns the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a 49-17 record but doesn't appear to be garnering an appropriate level of respect. The franchise's triumphs in the regular season since 2013 are widely known, but without a strong playoff resume, many have elected to take a wait-and-see approach with the Raptors.
"The league is respectful, yet skeptical. We take that disrespect," said All-Star and Raptors leading scorer DeMar DeRozan, "and carry it into games."
A "culture reset" from Casey, his coaching staff, and president Masai Ujiri was sorely needed. The Raptors turned away from the isolation-heavy, star-driven basketball they were once known for to establish a more free-flowing offense where passing (assist percentage up from 47.2 percent last season to 57.9) and outside shots (32.9 3-point attempts per game - third overall) are encouraged.
"One thing we know: Going to Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar over and over didn't work in the playoffs," added Casey.
All the Raptors can really do to overcome their past sins is go on a deep run and try to reach The Finals for the first time.
"That's all I hear is 'playoffs, playoffs, playoffs,'" Lowry said. "People only look at what happened before. You just have to have thick skin."