This week was supposed to be easy. After cruising through the tri-state area and crushing New York and Brooklyn (twice), the Raptors were going to march into the end of January with their heads held high. First, they’d see the 76ers, playing well but not quite a real NBA team, then the Hornets, their nemesis but also their lesser, and then the Suns, against whom there would be no question.
The Raptors lost all of these games.
As you would expect, the power rankings discussion this week has reflected this abject sadness and disappointment. There is the faintest whiff of 2014-15 hanging around this version of the Raptors — they are an elite offensive team (at times) with serious defensive problems (most of the time). This could be bad, is my point.
Let’s get to the rankings and see where we’re at.
We begin the week once again with a check in to Marc Stein of ESPN, the godfather.
8. Toronto Raptors
2016-17 record: 28-16
The Committee's brief visit to suburban Toronto for the D-League Showcase was frankly spectacular. The weather was as nice as it gets in January. The pre-trade deadline chatter at the Hershey Centre was plentiful (and the undeniable comfort that stems from simply being in a BlackBerry-friendly province ... incalculable). The Raptors, however, just endured their worst week of the season while we were soaking up the goodness of Mississauga, Ontario. They followed up a frustrating loss in Philadelphia with a 35-point humbling at Charlotte, then returned home to absorb a shocking defeat to Phoenix. Along the way, Toronto also lost its impressive standing as the league's No. 1 team in offensive efficiency to (who else?) Golden State.
There was a lot of doom and gloom up there in my opening paragraph — and more in Stein’s weekly assessment — but I can’t help but be charmed here. Look how excited Stein is to visit Mississauga! The idea of Marc Stein being ferried down, say, Hurontario Street can’t help but make me smile.
Moving on, what does our young compatriot Jeremy Woo at SI have to say about all of this?
8. Toronto Raptors (28–16)
Last Week: 4
Net Rating: +6.4
In midst of their first three-game losing streak since November 2015, should the Raptors be worrying us? Considering that the losses came to the Sixers, Hornets (by 35!) and the Suns off a back-to-back, the answer is a hard, definite maybe. My one, dedicated Raptors fan friend says he’s concerned, citing a small margin of offensive error and teams applying high ball pressure on Kyle Lowry and All-Star starter DeMar DeRozan and forcing the other guys to figure it out. A lot of this rings true, considering the overall good health that backcourt has had and the number of games their core guys have logged over the last couple years, Olympics included.
Whoa, Woo gave the Raptors the longform treatment once again. His take, if you dare to read it, is... not wrong.
With that, we turn to Dr. John Schuhmann, the dean of critical thinking on NBA.com:
6. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 5)
Pace: 98.0 (20) OffRtg: 112.3 (2) DefRtg: 105.9 (17) NetRtg:+6.4 (4)
The offense that ranked No. 1 just five days ago has scored just 92.3 points per 100 possessions over a three-game losing streak, with Kyle Lowry and the Raptors' role players going so cold that DeMar DeRozan has been their best 3-point shooter over the last five days. Toronto needs an upgrade at power forward, but still misses Patrick Patterson and Lucas Nogueira when they're out. Jared Sullinger made his regular-season debut last week, but didn't make much of an impact and the losing streak got so bad that Raptors' fans were ejected from Sunday's loss to Phoenix.
Amazingly, Schuhmann does not slide the Raptors too far this week — a mere one spot down to six. I think he makes light of the return of Sully, which can only be a good thing, but I’m happy he called out some dumb fans. Folks, don’t be dumb at a Raptors game.
And finally, with much trepidation, we get to Matt Moore of CBS Sports. What’s up, my man?
8. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 6)
After their loss to the Hornets -- by a whopping 35 points! -- Kyle Lowry said the team wasn't panicking despite its recent dip. Then they lost to the Suns, at home. The good news is they have the Spurs coming to town next, so that should fix things right up. Gulp.
Without DeRozan for most of it. Gulp, indeed.
If there had been a poll this week (and I’m sure one day they shall return), I imagine the results would be, let’s say, anxious.