There were always going to be little dips in the quality level of the Raptors season. Last week, with the defense waxing and waning on the perimeter and at the rim, some of us — including me! — were ready to tailspin into full-on (late 2014-15 season) anxiety mode. The team had lost some bad games, two in a row in fact, and it was a concern.
For most of the game against the Boston Celtics, it looked like the Raptors were heading towards another loss and a period of intense introspection. But it didn’t happen that way. Toronto snapped to, turned things around, and now, after beating up on the truly hapless Nets and Knicks, find themselves rising once again. DeMar DeRozan just won Player of the Week, Kyle Lowry continues to sit above everything, and even DeMarre Carroll is rounding (finally) into form.
All that being said, let’s see where the Raptors sit in the Power Rankings this week.
First up, the head honcho Marc Stein of ESPN gives us some perspective:
5. Toronto Raptors
2016-17 record: 27-13
It was another good week for fans of Toronto's "Huskies" look. The Raptors were indeed sporting their retro duds when they beat Boston in the latest battle for Atlantic Division supremacy. No one, by the way, loves the Raps more than ESPN's Basketball Power Index, which listed Golden State versus Toronto (31 percent) as its most likely NBA Finals matchup -- ahead of Warriors-Cavaliers (26 percent) and Spurs-Raptors (12 percent) -- when we dialed it up Sunday morning. As for the All-Star debate we sparked north of the border: I realize many Raps fans regard Kyle Lowry as this team's most important player, but the contention here is that DeMar DeRozan has had the better season so far. And I'm not budging.
The last point there from Steiny-Mo is a good one. Lowry is the Raptors’ driving force, their whole reason for getting where they need to go; but DeRozan really is doing something spectacular right now, far beyond what we thought he was capable of. The Raptors won’t beat the Cavaliers in the playoffs, but hoo boy, I’m ready to watch that matchup again.
Let’s slide on over to Jeremy Woo, young gun of Sports Illustrated, for his take:
4. Toronto Raptors (27–13)
Last Week: 6
Net Rating: +8.0
It’s telling that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are both among the league’s 15 highest fourth-quarter scorers this season. For perspective, the only other set of teammates in that mix: LeBron and Kyrie.
Is it... telling? I mean, they are the best two players on one of the best teams in the league. It’s telling that good players are good. Yes. OK, I will cede this point: it is telling that DeRozan and Lowry are below LeBron and Kyrie. That’s telling.
Enough with the telling, I want Dr. John Schuhmann of NBA.com to show me something. Let’s see it, doc:
5. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 6)
Pace: 98.0 (19) OffRtg: 113.6 (1) DefRtg: 105.6 (16) NetRtg: +8.0 (3)
Down the stretch against Boston on Tuesday, with Patrick Patterson hurting, the Raptors went to a lineup - Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas - that had somehow played just one minute together prior. And it ran off a 21-4 run to keep the second best record in the East north of the border. Jonas Valanciunas had two big blocks and a bunch of key rebounds in that game and averaged 14.7 points and 16.3 boards in just 26.7 minutes in the Raptors' three wins last week. Only seven of his 19 offensive rebounds in the three games were off his own misses.
There was a dream a season and a half ago of a closing lineup for the Raptors featuring the five names mentioned there. You’ve got some superb ball-handling, stout defense, shooting, and a big man who can rebound and score at the rim. It’s everything. That the Raptors may finally have this lineup (along with the Lowry plus bench lineup with — holds breath — a health Patrick Patterson) is a huge boon. Finally.
As always, we reshape all opinions in this space with the hammer that is Matt Moore of CBS Sports. Here’s the last word:
6. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 6)
The Raptors will climb higher than this in the next two weeks. They're right there with Boston and Houston on a tier of really good teams. Their defense is starting to pick itself up off the dirt and they're in a great position for the second half of the season.
First sentence: true. Second sentence: damn... probably true (but I dislike having the team lumped in with the gotdamn Celtics.) Third: Hallelujah, this is true.
On to next week.