Usually this opening paragraph is reserved for some weekly rambling Raptors observations (or worse, movie talk). You know the drill. But this week, the stars have aligned. The Raptors are considered the third best team in the league by all four of our usual ranking members. Odds are this has happened before, but it has never happened at such high a number so late in the season. This, folks, is the best Raptors team we've ever seen.
As a reward, I'll spare you the long preamble. The Raptors should be worried (at least a bit) about playing the Chicago Bulls in the first round, but let's be fair: this is a team that can, when healthy, compete with any roster in the league. They've beaten the Spurs, the Cavs (twice), the Thunder and the Clippers (twice). Their Eastern Conference competitors? Toronto is 33-11 against them, including 11-1 against their division foes. Hell, they even went toe-to-toe twice with the Golden State Warriors.
Fifty wins (that's 5 and 0) is inevitable. I know I say this every week now it seems, but I'll repeat: whatever happens in the playoffs happens. At least we got this season to enjoy, this super awesome tremendous season. Now let's get to the rankings.
First up, please welcome our dear leader Marc Stein of ESPN and his thoughts:
First, let me just get this out of the way: a Mike James sighting!
Now then, this is quite a summary. We know DeRozan and Lowry are basically basketball playing machines at this point, but those Biyombo stats are eye-opening. It's hard not to love a guy who has improved as visibly and dramatically as he has over six months. (It'll be sad when Biz leaves this summer for a big pay raise. I'm already sad about it.)
Next up, the man who would be king, Jeremy Woo of SI stakes his claim:
3) TORONTO RAPTORS
LAST WEEK: 4
RECORD: 48-21 (4-1)
Two more wins mean the first 50-win season in franchise history, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are averaging 26.9 and 24.6 points in the last 12 games and the Raptors have put up at least 100 in each of those. Drake is releasing a new album. It's been a solid year for Toronto.
Third, John Schuhmann of NBA.com, the buttoned down genius of the operation, weighs in:
3) Toronto (48-21)
Last week: 4
Pace: 95.4 (28) OffRtg: 107.2 (5) DefRtg: 102.5 (11) NetRtg: +4.7 (5)
A four-game winning streak has the Raptors within a game of the Cavs (and holding the tie-breaker) for first place in the East. Cleveland has the easier remaining schedule, but Toronto has been playing better defense. Not only has Bismack Biyombo averaged 11.0 points, 15.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks as a replacement starter during the streak, but the Raptors have allowed just 94 points per 100 possessions in his 127 minutes.
Look, Schuhmann's words just carry extra gravitas. I don't know if its his serious author photo, with just the hint of a smile, or his math-based wizardry. (Maybe it's the seemingly extra consonants in his name? I don't know.) When you get the seal of approval from Schuhmann, you've made it. The Raptors should be cheered by this assessment.
And finally, hey, cheers to our pal James Herbert, filling in for Matt Moore on CBS Sports, and laying down some nice words:
3) Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
Five games in seven nights, and the Raptors won four of them while resting rotation players. They keep finding new ways to lose to the Bulls, but other than that, things are great. If you take out the two games against Chicago, Toronto has only lost twice -- at Detroit and vs. Houston -- since hosting All-Star Weekend. Shout-out to Bismack Biyombo for playing himself into what will be a huge payday after Charlotte decided not to pick up his fourth-year option.
Final anaylsis: the Raptors just keep on winning.
Let's head to the poll.