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Lewenberg: Calm before the deadline storm for Raptors

Josh Lewenberg
2/20/2014 1:50:59 AM
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TORONTO - The Raptors learned a little bit about themselves in a narrow defeat to the Chicago Bulls Wednesday, a game with playoff-type intensity and their third consecutive against an opponent directly behind them in the standings.

On Thursday they'll learn even more.

Despite the cloud of uncertainty that has followed them around from the moment general manager Masai Ujiri was brought in to put his stamp on the franchise, the Raptors have surpassed all pre-season expectations. They have navigated through early-season tank speculation, they've come together after a momentum shifting seven-player deal and they continue to block out the noise emitting from the incessant batch of rumours surrounding their starting point guard.

At 3:00 PM et Thursday afternoon all that noise will be muzzled until the offseason, all the uncertainty finally put to bed.

Finally, they will all know where they stand, at least for the next couple months.

So, with the big day rapidly approaching, will Kyle Lowry - the primary subject of trade speculation - be losing any sleep on the eve of the deadline?

"Nope," scoffed the Raptors' point guard, as that question was posed following his team's 94-92 loss to the Bulls. "Not at all."

"Any other questions about that," he asked, daring the hoard of local media to try their luck again.

There were no more questions.

It was worth a try, after all, it's the question that's on everyone's mind. Will Lowry be wearing a Raptors jersey when the team hosts the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday? Still, it was a futile attempt to get a rise out of a player who has been relatively unshakable all season.

Lowry, like the rest of his teammates, is fully aware of what's at stake as he waits to learn his fate. The upcoming deadline has been on the their minds, whether they care to admit it or not, but its not a subject that's welcome for discussion in the locker room.

"Thankfully on this team, no, no one's talked about it, no one's mentioned it," said Patrick Patterson, ahead of the team's win in Washington Tuesday. "The only thing I've seen is just stuff on Twitter, the internet, Bleacher Report, whatever, yada, yada, yada, rumours but as far as this group of guys from the coaching staff on down to each player on the roster, no one has mentioned anything."

Patterson arrived in the trade from Sacramento on Dec. 9, along with Kings teammates Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes. Since then, this team has gelled in a way that no one could have possibly imagined, going 22-12 with the new additions in uniform.

Chemistry is a word that's been used to describe this group both on and off the floor and, as Ujiri has insisted, it's something the Raptors' general manager values above all else.

Ujiri, in conversation with TSN.ca over the weekend, expressed a reluctance to disrupt that newfound chemistry unless the right deal comes along. He's not alone. Dwane Casey wouldn't mind seeing 15 familiar faces in the locker room when he comes into work on Friday.

"I like our guys," Casey said. "I know Masai is working 24/7 on the phones and looking at different scenarios. We talked a long time today. But I like our guys. If we (bring) our team back I'm happy."

"I always said since I came (here), the players will dictate where we go and the team will dictate where we go," Ujiri told TSN.ca on Sunday. "That's kind of how it's been."

The players have spoken. The Raptors hold third place in the Eastern Conference, a 1/2 game in front of the fourth-seeded Bulls after Wednesday's loss. They were outplayed on both ends of the floor in the second night of a back-to-back. It was a brutally physical and fiercely competitive game in which seven technical fouls were handed out. The Raptors were down and out early but they fought back, as they have done time and time again, showing mental and physical toughness.

They're a resilient bunch, they've proven that, and they believe they've earned the right to see this thing out.

"I believe that nothing will (happen Thursday)," Patterson predicted. "No trades will be made due to the success that we've had since the (Sacramento deal)."

"Why break up something that's been going so well," he asked, rhetorically. "None of us are talking about trades, none of us are talking about wanting to leave and everyone is happy with the current situation."

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