Full disclosure: I've never been to London, England, though I hear it's nice. If you've been following along on the site this past week or so, you would have noticed that more often than not I made sure to add "England" every time I wrote "London." I didn't want to confuse people; Ontario has a London too!
I mention all of this because the Raptors recently went on the road trip of a life time, playing one game in eight days and enjoying life in London (England). That they won the game against the Magic was the cherry on the sundae, or, I don't know, the bangers with the mash. Or something.
Now they return to Toronto for a lengthy seven game run of home contests. Look, I know by some metrics Toronto (or, yes, even London, Ontario) does not measure up to a city like London, England--with its history, and culture, and still existing monarchy. There's still no place like home, though. So I say let's just let the good vibes wash over us.
Inspiring stuff. Now let's get to the rankings.
First up, chief Marc Stein of ESPN is our point man on NBA real talk:
Last Week: 6
|Friday marks the 10th anniversary of Kobe Bryant's 81-point detonation against the Raps, but things are going too well in the present for us to get too nostalgic. Toronto is one of just five teams in the league currently ranked in the top 10 in bothoffensive and defensive efficiency, which sounds even better when you see the other four. (Hint: It's the top four teams on this list.)|
Only Stein could begin what is a very positive review with that 81-point sucker punch. Look how far we've come, guys. He also establishes the trend for this week's rankings. There are four great teams (plus the streaking Clippers, depending on how you feel about them) and then the Raptors. (Spoiler alert.)
So with that, what does Jeremy Woo of SI.com say? Let's watch [UPDATED]:
6) TORONTO RAPTORS
LAST WEEK: 7
RECORD: 25-15 (1-0)
The Raptors have made out well considering they've yet to realize their best lineup combinations, given the time missed by Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll. Led by the East's top backcourt, there will be pressure for this group to advance past the first round.
See what I mean? The Raptors are in after those four great teams and the streaking Clippers. I had the wrong link before. Let's just move on before anyone can start in on a Woo-related dogpile.
Now I know John Schuhmann of NBA.com will, as always, have my back. Let's get to it:
6) Toronto (25-15)
Last week: 6
Pace: 95.8 (26) OffRtg: 104.2 (6) DefRtg: 100.6 (10) NetRtg: +3.6 (6)
The Raptors' latest starting lineup (James Johnson at SF) has been brutal offensively (88 points scored per 100 possessions) in the five games since DeMarre Carroll was lost to a knee injury, but winning games with their bench is nothing new. They finished the first quarter of Thursday's win in London with a 16-0 run by DeMar DeRozan and four reserves, and their best two-man combinations have been Kyle Lowry and bench guys.
This is a curious entry. First, it highlights a disquieting trend with regards to James Johnson. (Get well soon, DeMarre!) Then, it mentions that it's been the bench unit that has gotten the job done for the Raptors. The latter fact is true as of late, but at times the Raptors' bench, featuring the remains of Patrick Patterson and Terrence "Let's take a trip" Ross, has been, uh, concerning. It's a tense situation sometimes, is what I mean. Still, at least Schuhmann got the ranking order right.
Let's bounce on over to our final ranking, provided of course by Matt Moore of CBSsports.com:
5) Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 7)
I'm ready to firmly say I believe this is the second-best team in the East. It's not just the resume, the formula, the star power, the eye test, etc. It's the consistency. They're the team that has the fewest "wait, how did THAT happen?" games, either way. They're not threats, but at full strength, in rhythm, this team is very good.
A part of me feels like the Raptors are more consistent than even Moore realizes. The team still finds ways to put us into a heart attack machine, still finds ways to botch leads or kill their late game execution, still finds ways to frustrate and yet, and yet, and yet...
As the song says, Ontario is a place to grow and the Raptors are very good.