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Raptors unload playoff baggage with experienced crew on board

Raptors unload playoff baggage with experienced crew on board
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The trap is to think of these Raptors as the Raptors and even though it may be easy to reach the conclusion that the history is too recent to forget, to do so would be unwise, unwarranted and dead wrong.

This new group, this older group, this more accomplished group, bears little resemblance to the teams that have gone before it and they want everyone to know it.

Danny Green’s Raptors have kept Aaron Gordon and the Magic in check — and the playoff challenge in perspective heading into Tuesday night’s Game 5.  (Fernando Medina / Getty Images)

The struggles of the past are just that: in the past. They were real at one time, but there’s no logical reason to think they’re real today.

They don’t bristle at the suggestion that they have a hard time closing out a series, but they are amused by the suggestion.

“This team doesn’t? Or this organization?” coach Nick Nurse said Monday when asked about disappointments and failures to close out a playoff opponent in the past. “What do you mean? This team? Let’s see if they can start their own history (Tuesday).”

The Raptors do have the opportunity to close out a seven-game series in fewer than six games for the first time in franchise history, up 3-1 on the Orlando Magic heading into Tuesday’s Game 5 at Scotiabank Arena.

They understand how important it can be to end things as quickly as possible — the more non-game days there are at this time of year, the better — and they have a businesslike approach that speaks to the veteran makeup of the roster.

In the past, the team has been learning about itself in games such as Tuesday’s and learning harsh lessons. They needed seven games two springs ago to get past both Indiana and Miami, six in the first round last spring to dispatch the Washington Wizards. But this old team has been there, done that.

They know.

“We know (the Magic) don’t want their season to end and the hardest part mentally is not getting too fat and happy, or too satisfied, because we are up 3-1 and feeling comfortable and being lackadaisical,” Raptor Danny Green told reporters Monday. “We still want to have that same sense of urgency we had in Game 2 because we were down 0-1. That is the key. Just keep the mentality that the job is not done, the series is not over, and these guys are fighting for their lives and we need the same sense of urgency as we had Games 2, 3 and 4.”

Now, there are no guarantees that Game 5 will go Toronto’s way, even if the Raptors dominated Games 2, 3 and 4 and most of the second half of Game 1.

Orlando’s D.J. Augustin — he of the 25 points in Game 1 and 24 combined in Games 2, 3 and 4 — might start making shots again. Promising young forward Jonathan Isaac might actually have an impact on a game. All-star Nikola Vucevic might play well for an entire game instead of a quarter here and there.

On the other hand, Green might start making every shot he looks at. Fred VanVleet might shake off whatever offensive doldrums he’s going through. The Norm Powell of Game 4 might show up in Game 5.

They’re the vagaries of playoff basketball, when each game tends to take on its own characteristics, but on the whole it’s hard to see how the Raptors could lose. And if they do, the sense is that it will be because of their own failings rather than what Orlando does, or because of the past.

The past means nothing.

“You just don’t want to screw around in these series,” Nurse said. “If you lose this one, you’re back in Orlando, you’re adding miles, adding stress, whatever it is, to your team. It does make it important, and hopefully we’ll realize that. And I’m not trying to be rude in any way.

“I just want this team to form its identity,” the lifelong devotee of the Chicago Cubs added. “What’s happened in the past has no bearing or relevance to what’s happening now, to me. I like to steal Joe Maddon’s line and say we don’t vibrate on those frequencies of the past.”
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