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Power Ranking Poll Week 25: Going for the pinnacle

One game left, the playoffs around the corner, it is what it is.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at New York Knicks Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve been on quite a journey with the Raptors this year — they were good, they were bad, they made trades, they lost their best player, they stayed good, they got said best player back. No need to belabour the point here: this is the best Raptors squad in franchise history, the one best equipped to go the distance.

Yes, the Raptors will need things to break right, and they’ll need to collectively play the best basketball of their lives for the next two months, but we can believe in the outside shot of it all. The Raptors have instilled that kind of faith.

So, now we wind down to our final Power Rankings Poll column of the year. By this time next week, the Raptors will be a game into their playoff run (after, presumably, a 12:30pm Game 1 loss at home; some things don’t change). Let’s go to the rankings one last time.

O Captain, my captain, what do you have for us, Marc Stein of ESPN?

3. Toronto Raptors

2016-17 record: 50-31

Previous ranking: 5

DeMar DeRozan would have to score 51 points in the Raptors' final regular-season game to hike his scoring average (currently 27.3 PPG) past Vince Carter's single-season club record of 27.6 PPG. Since that's realistically too much to ask, Toronto can console itself with the knowledge that it has clinched the East's No. 3 seed and has Kyle Lowry safely back in the lineup after posting an impressive 14-7 record without him. How concerned should the Raps be that Lowry has barely played with trade-deadline acquisitions Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker? Not nearly as concerned, one would figure, as if Lowry were still out.

Go figure we’d be talking about DeMar DeRozan in the same breath as Vince Carter in 2017. Did anyone have that prediction in their back pocket in, say, 2012? 2014? Stop lying.

We go now to young gun Jeremy Woo of SI for his take:

5. Toronto Raptors (50–31)

Last Week: 5

Net Rating: +4.8

They’re locked into a top-three seed, Kyle Lowry’s back, the Raptors look great right now and the past couple years of playoff disappointments have to count for something. This is a tough, experienced group on both sides of the floor that begs to be taken seriously. I’m on board.

This one is wild because he’s got the Cavs ahead of the Raptors in the 4-spot, despite the fact they spent the week getting embarrassed by the Hawks... twice! Yes, I get that their win over the Celtics was a statement win to presumably clinch the conference, but now the Cavs probably won’t clinch the conference. Yet, still ahead of the Raps, what a world.

I need Dr. John Schuhmann to make sense of the world one more time from his perch at NBA.com:

4. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 5)

Record: 50-31

Pace: 97.2 (22) OffRtg: 109.8 (6) DefRtg: 105.0 (8) NetRtg: +4.8 (5)

Kyle Lowry isn't quite all the way back, but it's a good sign that he shot 4-for-10 on pull-up threes in his first three games coming off his wrist injury. DeMar DeRozan has carried a big load with or without Lowry, but a big reason that the Raptors had the No. 1 offense through mid-January was the point guard's improvement in shooting off the dribble. Dwane Casey used a starting big (Serge Ibaka or Jonas Valanciunas) with his Lowry-plus-bench lineup to start the second quarter last week, maybe looking to shorten his rotation in the playoffs. The Raptors will probably be the No. 3 seed, but they're the only East team in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, having been able to sustain their defensive improvement longer than the Celtics did.

This right here is facts only. The Raptors.... are good.

And now, without further adieu, the final final word shall be granted, as always, to Matt Moore of CBS Sports.

3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 5)

Dwane Casey deserves more recognition for keeping this team together, down the stretch, when the schedule got tough, without their best player. DeMar DeRozan carried the load, but Casey made sure the cargo was packed right. Toronto secures another 50-win season and will have every opportunity to return to the conference finals for a second straight year. This franchise is no longer a sidenote or an afterthought, they are a powerhouse, and GM Masai Ujiri, Casey, DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have made them such.

This... this is... beautiful. After much antagonism — not all from Matt, but from various sources — the Raptors have ascended to their true pinnacle. Would you want to play this team in the playoffs? With DeRozan playing like he is? With Lowry pissed off? With Tucker, Ibaka, Patterson and Carroll flying at you? With Jonas ready to randomly unleash hell? With Joseph and Powell and Delon and Jak coming at you relentlessly?

I humbly submit: no, no you would not.

Let’s get it. See you all next season in next year’s Power Rankings Poll.

Poll

Are the Toronto Raptors being ranked fairly?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    No, 1! 1! 1! 1! 1!
    (54 votes)
  • 69%
    Yes, I’m as pumped as possible
    (367 votes)
  • 6%
    No, but even I, depressed voter, am modestly content
    (33 votes)
  • 13%
    Yes, this 4th choice continues to be nebulous, so let’s just enjoy that it exists at all — such is life
    (73 votes)
527 votes total Vote Now