During FPC NBA’s contenders series, the staff will analyze one of five teams who could potentially take home the Larry O’Brien trophy this season. These five teams include the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, and Toronto Raptors. First up, our head editor Ben Pfeifer (@Ben_Pfeifer_) tells us how the Raptors can win their first ever NBA finals trophy

Cmon’, you can do it!

The biggest obstacle that the Toronto Raptors face heading into the postseason is the mental block they face. This is a team that constantly has high expectations following the regular season, and constantly lets down their organization and their fans. In their short history, the Raptors have made the postseason nine times, and have only reached the conference finals once.

Last season, the Cavaliers swept them in the semis. Two seasons ago, they fell to the Cavaliers in their only conference finals appearance. In 2014 and 2015, the Raptors lost in the first round to the Nets in seven and the Wizards in four. For a team that has reached 48 wins or more over the past five seasons, and is looking to eclipse 50 this year, their playoff performance has been underwhelming. They, unfortunately, play in the same conference as LeBron James, who has featured in the NBA finals every year since 2011. This season, the Raptors have been on fire. The Cavs on the other hand, have been underwhelming, despite their roster overhaul.

This season, the Raptors rank third in the NBA in PPG (112), second in plus-minus (8.3), third net rating (7.9), fourth AST/TOV ratio (1.17) and second in PIE (53.8). The Raptors have the depth and the star power to make the NBA finals, but do they have the mental strength to overcome their past playoff woes?

All Star Kyle Lowry

After the Raptors’ overtime loss to the Heat in 2016, Kyle Lowry stayed after in the gym to get some shots up. Lowry just had one of the worst playoff performances of his career, scoring a measly seven points and shooting 3-13 from the field, and 1-7 from three. That season, Lowry averaged 21.2 points per game and 6.4 assists on 42.7% shooting and 38.8% from three. That same season, during the playoffs, Lowry dipped to 19.1 points and six assists on 39.7% from the field and an atrocious 30.4% from three. For whatever reason, Kyle Lowry is not himself in the playoffs.

Despite the fact that Demar DeRozan is the main scoring threat for the Raptors, Lowry is the cog that makes the wheel turn. This is the year that the Raptors have the best shot at beating the team that has stymied them for so long: Cleveland. The Raptors are the number one seed in the east, and have played like one of the best teams in the NBA all season. With Cleveland’s struggles, they may have a chance to dethrone King James. Kyle Lowry no longer has to worry about guarding Kyrie Irving, allowing him to focus on the rest of his game. If Lowry goes, the Raptors go.

Bench Success

The Golden State Warriors are not only successful due to their endless supply of star power. They rely on their excellent bench depth and role players. Players like Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are key pieces to Golden State’s championship puzzle. This season, the best bench in the NBA belongs to the Toronto Raptors. The role players, consisting of O.G. Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, Paskal Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl have formed one of the deepest teams in the NBA. Not many teams in the NBA can go 10-11 men deep, and be confident in the abilities of each man up.

The five man lineup of VanVleet, Wright, Miles, Siakam and Poeltl has posted a net rating of 28.5. This five man lineup, which remember, consists of second unit players, has the highest net rating in the NBA among lineups that have played more than 80 total minutes. That lineup also has the fourth best AST/TOV ratio at 2.65, the fourth highest assist ratio at 22.2, the fifth highest effective FG% at 61.4%, the second highest true shooting percent at 64.8%, and the third highest PIE at 65.1. This lineup has been destroying other teams’ starters on a nightly basis. With the Raptors’ young roster, great defense, and explosive bench, they will look to run teams out of the gym this postseason.

Ben Pfeifer is the Managing Editor of the Colts for Full Press Coverage, the AFC South Division Editor, and head NBA editor. Want to continue the discussion? Contact Ben Pfeifer on Twitter @Ben_Pfeifer_ and @FPC_Colts.

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