Has their been a more dramatic up-and-down period to a Raptors season in recent memory? In the past week, Toronto has gone from the extreme highs of beating the Warriors (soundly!) on their home floor, to losing two close games against stiff competition. Maybe it’s because the stakes have been raised, but dang we really are experiencing all kinds of whiplash here as the Raptors look unbeatable one day, and then struggle the next.
Still, there are more explanations now. The Raptors played all four of their games this week at less than full strength. Two games were without Kawhi Leonard (both conspicuous wins), and two were without a growing list of players — first Kyle Lowry, then Jonas Valanciunas, then Pascal Siakam, and then Fred VanVleet too for good measure. If nothing else, it gives us Raptors fans a built in excuse and explanation as to the team’s sometimes faltering fate: hey, it’s tough to win when the core of your offense is not in the lineup.
Not to get too biblical here but one cannot live on Kawhi alone. Hence, a 2-2 week for the Raptors, and a modest slide in the NBA Power Rankings this week. How big of a slide? Let’s find out.
First up, let’s give it up for Kevin Arnovitz at ESPN for his take here:
3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 2)
The Raptors concluded their 2-2 trip out west banged up. Kyle Lowry missed the final pair of games -- losses at Portland and Denver -- with a thigh bruise, and Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet sat out on Sunday with back injuries. The Raps can take some consolation in Lowry’s return to form before the injury. After a lengthy shooting slump, the point guard shined in back-to-back wins at the Clippers and Golden State, converting 17 of 31 field goal attempts.
Nothing wrong at all here; the Raptors are just banged-up to hell. The fact that both the Blazers’ and Nuggets’ games still felt somewhat close down the stretch is indicative of how good this Raps squad is. (It also illustrates how exhausting it is to combat a team with less-than-adequate depth).
Moving on to our friends at Sports Illustrated, what does Khadrice Rollins have for us this week?
2. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 1)
Topping the Clippers and Warriors on consecutive nights was an impressive way to start a West Coast swing. It’s a shame the fans in Portland and Denver didn’t get to see just what Kyle Lowry brings to this team.
Shouts to Khadrice for including the below tweet in his column as well (as part of what Lowry, uh, brings to the Raptors). We still remember Butt Watch 2018 — and hopefully this latest injury to Lowry is as short-lived and un-serious as that one was. Even if the memes are perhaps better these days.
These women are ready to risk it ALL for Kyle Lowry's behind pic.twitter.com/qBdfX8dalk— Bailey Carlin (@BaileyCarlin) December 13, 2018
Moving on to more serious matters, it’s Dr. John Schuhmann of the NBA nexus:
3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
A 2-2 trip through L.A., Oakland, Portland and Denver isn’t bad, given that the Raptors didn’t have both Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard in any of the four games. Lowry got his shot back before missing the last two games with a thigh contusion, though it would be nice to see him shooting well (and aggressively) again in a game he plays with Leonard. Lowry has a higher effective field goal percentage (57 percent on 149 shots) with Leonard off the floor than he does with Leonard on the floor (49.7 percent on 179 shots), though the Raptors’ offense has been just fine (117.1 points scored per 100 possessions) in the pair’s minutes together. When the offense has struggled (scoring less than a point per possession) has been when Lowry has been off the floor. After that trip out West, the Raps have a couple of important games within the East this week. They’ve already played the Celtics, Bucks and Sixers two times each, but Wednesday will be their first meeting with the third-place Pacers.
“Isn’t bad” — there you have it, put that on a poster. Also, let us please cherish the notion published here: once again it is Lowry who continue to be the most important Raptor. Yes, Kawhi is the better player, able to win (or almost win) games by himself, but it is Lowry who gets the most out of his teammates, and, as a result, the most out of his team.
And finally, with his finger on the pulse, here’s Reid Forgrave at CBS Sports:
2. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 2)
This isn’t the first you’ve heard this, but the continued development of 24-year-old Pascal Siakam has been one of the many keys for the Raptors this season, and among the most surprising to those who haven’t followed the Raptors closely the past few years. Jonas Valanciunas’ injury will put even more of an onus on the versatile Siakam during the next month or so. Siakam used to ooze potential but would often play recklessly. As he’s matured, you can see the game slowing down for him. He’s third in the NBA in true shooting percentage.
Much love to Pascal. Let’s just hope he and the rest of Toronto’s squad is back on the court soon.
Now, on to the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 9 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, we shall never know peace
Yes, 2-2 and feeling fine
No, here comes the wave of mutilation
Yes, this unending purgatory, at once on top but never good enough, is starting to affect my sanity