At this point, imagining what the Raptors would, could, or will be with a healthy Kyle Lowry is its own part-time job. I know I’ve lost many man hours to it over the past three weeks. Updates are scarce, but as the Raptors scale up the defensive rankings — long their weakness — while hanging in there on the offensive end does cause the mind to run wild. I’ve overheated at least twice this week.
And this is before we consider that the team is on a five-game win streak, beat the Bulls to break the dang curse, and has found roles for all of its players, new and old. (With some Bebe-sized exceptions.) Delon Wright’s been doing things, Jakob Poeltl’s had his moments, and of course Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker are doing their mutual things. It’s an exciting time.
Yes, the standings watch has us a bit on guard as of late, what with the Raptors still ensconced in fourth place, and the Wizards and Cavaliers offering up different scares. (The Celtics don’t scare me at all.) But you know what? Let’s worry about tomorrow — and the return of Lowry — when it comes. For now, the Raptors are playing good basketball. That’ll do. Now let’s go to the rankings.
We go to roman numeral number one, a.k.a Marc Stein of ESPN, for the real first take:
5. Toronto Raptors
2016-17 record: 44-29
Prior to the All-Star break, Toronto was 16th in the league in defensive efficiency. The Raptors are up to eighth in that same category now despite the ongoing absence of All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, with coach Dwane Casey and his assistant in charge of the defense, Rex Kalamian, taking full advantage of the various gifts on D possessed by trade-deadline newcomers Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker. The Raptors' considerable improvement on the defensive end, paired with a slower pace, has enabled them to go 11-5 since the break while Lowry's injured wrist heals. As of Monday morning, Toronto was one of only four teams in the league perched in the top 10 in both offensive efficiency (fifth) and defensive efficiency (eighth), joining Golden State (No. 1 and No. 2), San Antonio (No. 6 and No. 1), Boston (No. 8 and No. 10). Last week's win over Chicago, meanwhile, not only brought a halt to Toronto's 11-game losing streak to the Bulls but also ranks as the Raptors' sixth comeback win this season from 15-plus points down, which matches Indiana for the league lead.
Read that paragraph again, but this time stand on top of something, like a box, or upon a dais, and really bellow it out. Maybe take your shirt off to project the energy, the heat, of the moment. Really sell it with gusto. This is damn exciting stuff.
Now, deep breath, let’s gather ourselves for the exuberance of Jeremy Woo over at SI:
6. Toronto Raptors (44–29)
Last Week: 9
Net Rating: +4.8
Currently on a five-game win streak, the Raptors have clinched a playoff spot for a franchise-record fourth straight season. With Kyle Lowry on the mend (they’re 11–5 without him, too) and the defense making strides, Toronto looks as dangerous as it has all season.
OK, my shirt is definitely off right now.
Shall we tempt fate and introduce the mellow, thoughtful takes of Dr. John Schuhmann at NBA dot com? Let’s go for it.
8. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 10)
Pace: 97.2 (22) OffRtg: 109.7 (5) DefRtg: 104.9 (8) NetRtg: +4.8 (4)
The Raptors have won five straight games, with their best stretch of defense (93.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) of the season. Along with the Celtics, they've climbed into the top 10 in defensive efficiency to give the East as many teams as the West in the top 10 on both ends of the floor. Though their rotation is much different (no Kyle Lowry, new faces, young guys getting time) than it has been previously, they're still much better when they go to their bench. With the improved defense, depth and versatility, all eyes turn toward Lowry's wrist. If he gets healthy, this is the best Raptors team we've ever seen.
Raptors' post-break rotation a lot different than pre-break or previous seasons, but bench lineups are still > starting lineup. pic.twitter.com/RBmu5rXQXT— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) March 26, 2017
Oooh, John got us on the simmer here. Only a modest jump from 10 to 8 in the rankings, but look at that final line: it’s true, it’s true. [takes off shirt again]
Bring it home Matt Moore of CBS. Bring. It. Home.
5. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 10)
DeMar DeRozan is a mid-range jump-shooting, foul-draw-dependent, high usage player. He is also a tremendous player who has stepped up big time, not only in scoring, but in defense and passing, with Kyle Lowry out. DeRozan's leadership during this stretch where they've won five of six to get back into competition for the third seed is MVP-caliber. Toronto is not going into that 4-5 matchup quietly.
[Lil Jon voice] Whhooowhaat? 4-5 matchup? Gotdamn.
Let’s go to the poll.
Are the Toronto Raptors being ranked fairly?
This poll is closed
No, top O, top D, just need Lowry!
Yes, I project only guarded optimism
No, have we learned nothing? NOTHING???
Yes, but can you believe the previous answers emotion? Get a grip, guy.