Though it does not appear to be on the internet in any substantial form, it was refreshing to hear ABC/ESPN’s Doris Burke call out the lack of a Raptors Christmas Day game. Having the Warriors/Cavaliers rematch makes sense, and of course New York and Los Angeles will get a game un the 25th until the sun explodes, but was there any non-”big market” reason to put Bulls/Spurs in there? Is San Antonio even much of a big market? Mysteries abound — even as the Raptors remain as a top-2 team in the East, and one of the better teams in the league.
Despite 2016 in general being a relatively terrible year, the Raptors had a hell of a time. The end of last season was tremendous, and the start of this season, through almost 30 games, has been remarkable. The Raptors are for real. And really, that’s all that needs to be said. If you’re a non-believer, you’re on the wrong side of history.
So, let’s get to the rankings and see what’s what.
First up, our pal and champion Marc Stein of ESPN has a few words:
4. Toronto Raptors
2016-17 record: 21-8
All the focus, when it comes to the Warriors, has naturally been on their Christmas Day reunion with the Cavs. But Wednesday night in Oakland holds some promise as well, with the Raptors visiting Oracle Arena. Although Toronto didn't score one of the 10 featured slots on the Christmas schedule, it does still boast the league's most efficient offense, ahead of even Golden State, despite the fact that the Raptors are No. 21 league-wide in pace and No. 29 in assisted baskets, compared to the top-ranked Dubs. Question for you in the interim: Does anyone out there think J.R. Smith's thumb surgery opens the door for the Raps to steal the top seed in the East?
Marc, as always, we thank you for your service.
What could Jeremy Woo of SI (who we do enjoy to jib and jab sometimes) have to say?
3. Toronto Raptors (21–8)
Last Week: 3
Net Rating: +10.6
Add the Raptors to the list of teams we all would have liked to have seen playing on Christmas. Boxing Day isn’t good enough!
Fight the power young Woo, you speak the truth and the good word of the Raptors. Also, the awesomeness of the Raps’ net rating has yet to abate. Only the Warriors (at 12.3) are better.
Now let’s check in with the doctor, John Schuhmann of NBA.com for a diagnosis:
5. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 5)
Pace: 97.5 (21) OffRtg: 115.1 (1) DefRtg: 104.5 (15) NetRtg: +10.6 (2)
DeMar DeRozan has increased his scoring and efficiency once again, but Kyle Lowry remains the heart of the Raptors. He had a huge fourth quarter (25 points on 9-for-10 shooting) in Friday's win in Utah, is now tied with Chris Paul for the best non-Warriors plus-minus (plus-290), and has shot a ridiculous 53 percent from 3-point range since Thanksgiving. The three other players who have shot at least 50 percent over the same time have done so on about half as many attempts. The Raptors have won six straight road games and have five - including visits to Oakland and San Antonio - on the post-Christmas portion of their trip.
In case you didn’t know: Kyle Lowry is your king. Recognize. Would Dr. John lie to you about that?
And finally, the enfant terrible Matt Moore of CBS Sports has his say:
4. Raptors (Last Week: 5)
Toronto usually struggles on this long West road trip, and they face the Warriors and Spurs in the next 10 days. But this team is best situated to turn a challenge into an opportunity over the duration of the road trip which also has winnable games vs. the Lakers and Suns.
There you have it. The Raptors are in tough for a long road trip, but there’s no reason to doubt them as much anymore. On to 2017!