Since we are confining ourselves to the events of the past seven days in the world of the Raptors — looking Monday to Monday — the situation is not too bad. Toronto went 2-1 over the past week, with rousing wins over the Rockets and Bucks and a tough loss to a top team in the Los Angeles Clippers. That they return home now for a six game stretch is a nice consolation anyway, even before considering the broader aspects of the road trip they were just on, and the team’s current place in the league.
It’s worth mentioning that the Raptors have the best net rating in the NBA when they lose. More immaterial consolation perhaps, but it points to Toronto’s ability to resist the blow out — when they lose, they lose small. If you’re going to beat the Raptors, you’ve got to really take it to them. They will not go quietly into that good night. They just will not. The team is 10-6 and still finding its footing in certain ways — e.g. adjusting to DeMar DeRozan’s gradual regression to the mean, figuring out just how many minutes of rest Kyle Lowry can get, deciding what the big man rotation should actually be, etc.
But in other ways the Raptors are clear: they are good and, though sometimes frustrating in their wins, are absolutely unrelenting in their losses. So let’s keep that in mind as we roll through this week’s Power Rankings Poll.
First up, our deep thinker and hype man (all rolled into one!) Marc Stein of ESPN has his account:
2016-17 record: 10-6
Previous ranking: 7
A five-game road trip that felt even longer because of what happened in Sacramento is over at last for the Raptors, who squeezed out a 3-2 finish with a narrow triumph in Milwaukee. The Raps also wedged a good bounce-back win in Houston into the journey and will relish playing the next six games back on Canadian soil, even though they surely know the protest they've filed in hopes of getting a re-do of those last 2.4 seconds against the Kings has pretty much no shot.
In all the commotion I had almost forgotten about that angry Sunday night on the west coast. The Raptors were screwed, but also, as seems to be the case again and again with the Kings, played down to their competition. A 3-2 road trip is fine though, so let’s just move on before my rage boils over.
What does the young whippersnapper Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated have for us this week:
5. Toronto Raptors (10–6)
Last Week: 5
Net Rating: +4.5
DeMar DeRozan has grabbed headlines, but tip of the cap to Masai Ujiri and the Raptors’ scouting and development: unheralded guys like Norman Powell and Pascal Siakam are making contributions, too. It goes a long way toward sustaining success.
There is a non-zero chance Jeremy did not watch a single second of Raptors basketball this past week. (A week in which Powell played in one of three games for a total of 26 minutes. Whoops.)
No mistakes are made where Dr. John Schuhmann of NBA.com is concerned. He is, as always, on it:
6. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 7)
Pace: 97.7 (21) OffRtg: 110.7 (3) DefRtg: 106.2 (23) NetRtg: +4.5 (7)
DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry saved the Raptors in another close game (Friday in Milwaukee) and rank fifth and eighth, respectively, in points scored in the clutch. But it's another season where Toronto's starting lineup has been underwhelming (and rather bad defensively), getting outscored by 0.9 points per 100 possessions in 160 minutes together. And once again, they've been at their best with Kyle Lowry on the floor with reserves. After a 3-2 trip, they begin their longest homestand of the season (six games) on Monday.
Business as usual for the Raptors... pic.twitter.com/EAhMjYqmtZ— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) November 27, 2016
Yes, he included that tweet in his post to solidify his point. Nothing, and I mean nothing, gets by Dr. John.
And finally we get to our favourite mountebank, Matt Moore of CBS Sports:
5. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 6)
Their defense has fallen off a very steep cliff on this road trip, despite a strong finish with a win over Houston. They're very Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde on that end. However, there's a growing sense that this is clearly the second-best overall team in the East.
A couple of notes here. One, the Raptors’ defense did struggle at times, but to its credit the struggles came against some powerful offensive teams (L.A. Clippers, a loss; and the Rockets, a win). The Kings game remains inexplicable in all facets. And I admit it would have been nice to see Toronto bury the Bucks and Nuggets in a more convincing fashion, but one cannot have everything.
Second: Woooooo, we did it, we made it to number two! Let’s party!!!
To the poll everyone!