The Oscars were last night, which are, in a way, the ultimate bit of power ranking. You need to have a great campaign, a great performance, a great narrative, a great presence, even the potential of a great speech. It takes a lot of work to win an Oscar -- even more than Leo's crawl through a bunch of dirt and debris in The Revenant. Things have to break right.
The Raptors are gunning for the equivalent. They want the NBA title, the championship, the number one spot. We know it won't happen. They stand opposite two historically awesome teams, and another -- led by LeBron James -- who currently sits atop them. Hell, there are even a few lower seeded teams that still scare the hell out of Toronto (the fans more so than the players). The Raptors have some of those elements I listed above -- the campaign has been something to watch, the performances (like Lowry's heroic Friday night) have been special, and who wouldn't want to see a speech from a tearful Dwane Casey on the dais?
Ah, what a dream it would be, to claw through 82 games of rough-and-tumble basketball, to fight the bear every night, over and over, and get to the promised land at the end. Wait, what do you mean Spotlight won?
Let's get to the rankings.
First up, the big cheese Marc Stein of ESPN has his thoughts:
Last Week: 5
|The Raps were on a best-in-franchise-history tear of 17-3 before they beat Cleveland at home in a nail-biter that pushed 'em to 11-8 in games this season when held to less than 100 points. San Antonio is the only other team in the league this season with a winning record (12-7) when held below triple digits, so there really couldn't have been a much better time to rest Kyle Lowry than Sunday night.|
Young man Jeremy Woo of SI.com has this to say about the Raptors good fortunes:
3) TORONTO RAPTORS
LAST WEEK: 6
RECORD: 39-19 (3-1)
It's not just DeMar DeRozan making a living at the basket: the Raptors lead the league in average points per game off drives by a wide margin, per NBA.com tracking data, and now hold the league's fifth-most efficient attack, putting them in elite company. They're 19-6 since the New Year began, which rates as tops in the East.
This is an amazing stat, especially given last year's jumper-heavy offense. The Raptors are making lots of drives, and playing as big as they can in the paint. Keep it up, guys.
But what does Professor Dr. John Schuhmann of NBA.com have to add to this? Let's read:
4) Toronto Raptors (39-19)
Last week: 6
Pace: 95.4 (26) OffRtg: 106.6 (5) DefRtg: 102.4 (12) NetRtg: +4.2 (6)
Kyle Lowry deserved a day off after Friday's huge performance (43 points, nine assists, no rest in the second half, and a step-back game-winner) against the Cavs. But it would have been interesting if, holding the tiebreaker, the Raptors drew within one game of Cleveland with a win in Detroit on Sunday. They didn't, but they've still won 10 straight at home and begin a a seven-game homestand on Wednesday.
Yes indeed John, it would have been interesting. Still, Lowry needed the rest. And now, with multiple days off coming until the Raptors/Jazz game on Wednesday, he's going to get it. It's a bit more abrupt than I think many of us would have liked (going from 43 minutes to zero) but it's a start.
And finally, how does Matt Moore, our main antagonist and friend at CBS Sports, feel about all of this:
4) Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 7)
The Cavaliers win was their best of the year. Boston stays in front due to the Pistons loss, but that was mostly a rest loss for Toronto. The trick for the Raptors is going to be managing their energy and making sure they don't peak too early. They're in a great spot right now.
A great spot!
Now let's get to the poll.