At times, it can feel difficult not to panic. You're watching basketball and things appear to be going as they should. The ball moves around the court, the shots fall, sometimes you witness an amazing play. It looks right. But the numbers suggest otherwise. The numbers suggest the Raptors' defense may be falling apart. Yes, it's very difficult not to panic.
At this time last year the Raptors were in the midst of a 1-9 stretch that saw them lose to everyone from the eventual champion Warriors, to the deeply hopeless pre-Kristaps Knicks. Their lone win in those ten games? Why, it was against the professional basketball organization known as the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers. I don't have to specify why this is a glum set of historical facts.
The fact is, we are all nervous about the Raptors. Even as they scale past 40 wins, and move towards a probable 50 win season for the first time in franchise history. This team, this franchise from Toronto, still hasn't won a playoff series since 2001. They've been beaten, even as a higher seed, twice in the last two years. And the bottom of the standings in the Eastern Conference, looking every day more and more like a growing mass of orcs preparing to lay siege, induces fear. To gaze into that abyss and see a healthy Chicago Bulls team, or a Paul George-led Pacers, or even those maniacs in Charlotte, is to see that fear made flesh. The panic is there.
But for now, let's get to the rankings.
First up, chief Marc Stein of ESPN let's us in on some facts:
Yes, yes, you can't win every game. But to give up 36 points to that deeply frustrating Houston team has got to make you mad, right? Dwane Casey is probably mad.
The take of Jeremy Woo from Sports Illustrated says the same thing:
4) TORONTO RAPTORS
LAST WEEK: 4
RECORD: 41-20 (2-1)
The Raptors keep cruising on offense but have regressed defensively, allowing nearly 113 points per 100 possessions in their last 10 games, the NBA's fourth-worst rate. DeMarre Carroll can't get back soon enough.
Woo puts some numbers to it, and yes, it does not look pretty. The Raptors defense is in a funk. DeMarre Carroll (who is good and all that is sacred) still isn't back. I bet Dwane Casey is mad.
What of the good doctor, John Schuhmann of NBA.com? What does he say?
5) Toronto Raptors (41-20)
Last week: 4
Pace: 95.4 (27) OffRtg: 107.1 (5) DefRtg: 102.9 (13) NetRtg: +4.2 (6)
The Raptors' defense hasn't been very good over the last five weeks and their 12-game home winning streak came to an end with 36 Houston points in the fourth quarter on Sunday. After one Norman Powell start, Dwane Casey went back to the starting lineup that has allowed 114 points per 100 possessions in 178 minutes since mid-January, though bench minutes were the bigger problem this time.
Ah yes, our old friend the starting lineup. You know the one, don't you? The one that features Luis Scola and Jonas Valanciunas chasing around small-ball lineups that gradually cut this team apart and allow for gaudy three-point shooting numbers? Yes, yes, that is the one. I must say, Dwane Casey is presumably steaming mad right now.
And finally, what of Matt Moore at CBS Sports? Here's his take on this whole situation:
4) Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 4)
They had won six of seven including another impressive win over Portland before the Houston loss. I am a bit concerned that they are in the 20s defensively over the last month. They need to tighten up on that end of the floor.
Indeed, they need to tighten up on that end of the floor. I wonder if Dwane Casey has told the team that?
Now, on to the poll.