The Raptors are in first place at 41-17, which is the best record they’ve ever had post All-Star break. They have a very legitimate chance of holding onto the Eastern Conference’s top seed. (They lead the Celtics by a half game; but come on, it’s the Celtics.) Despite this information, I feel like the Raptors fanbase is still a bit — what’s the word I’m looking for — unsettled? Yeah, let’s go with that.
Is it the natural state of things to just feel nervous about the Raptors? For every win streak the team goes on (and this last seven-gamer was a nice one), it feels like a single loss resets the clock back to zero and we begin to worry anew. The problems here are manifold: maybe the team needs help at the small forward position, maybe the crunch time offense isn’t to be trusted, maybe each and every one of the Raps’ possible post-season opponents poses a unique challenge to the team. It’s all in play.
So, with 24 games left, a possible 60-win season on deck, and a serious run to the Eastern Conference Finals (if not the Finals outright) hopefully coming, we are still bracing ourselves for the worst. Maybe this is just what it means to be a fan of the Raptors. I don’t know.
Let’s see what this week’s Power Rankings have to say about the team we love.
First up, we hand it over to yet another new face on the ESPN side of things. C.J. Hangen, step right up!
3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
Raptors had their seven-game winning streak snapped on Friday in an overtime thriller against the Bucks. Despite the loss, that streak helped push the Raptors atop the Eastern Conference. Toronto has never finished atop the conference since joining the NBA in 1995-96.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. This hang-en sesh with Hangen did not exactly illuminate anything new about Toronto — we know they’ve mostly been a middle of the pack team or worse — but it did give us all something to shoot for: the Raptors are no. 1.
Who’s next? Ah yes, have the boys at Sports Illustrated finally gotten their collective act together with an updated ranking? Let’s see what Rohan Nadkarni has for us.
3. Toronto Raptors (41–17)
The Raptors keep rolling, but more importantly, I really want to commend DeMar DeRozan for speaking out about his battles with depression. That’s not an easy thing to admit, let alone discuss publicly. DeMar is having a great season, and we’re sending positive vibes his way.
Dang, I can’t hate on that blurb. Kudos for boosting it to an even wider audience, Sports Illustrated. The bottom line here: the Raptors are for real, in every sense of the word.
Up next, the uber-responsible Dr. John Schuhmann of NBA dot com provides us with the scoop:
3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 2)
Pace: 100.5 (9) OffRtg: 110.7 (4) DefRtg: 102.8 (3) NetRtg:+7.9 (3)
The Raptors have been more improved defensively than offensively this season, but their defense has struggled in three of their last four games against other Eastern Conference playoff teams. Against Milwaukee on Friday (just their fifth home loss of the season), they allowed the team that makes the third fewest threes per game to shot 13-for-26 from beyond the arc. Their starting lineup continues to have strong numbers overall, but has allowed 115 points per 100 possessions over its last four games. If they hold onto the No. 1 seed, the Raptors are going to have a role in who they play in the first round, with three remaining games against the ninth-place Pistons, beginning with a rest advantage game on Monday.
As per usual, Schuhmann gets it. The Raptors defense has often been the underrated key to their success (though shouts to the reworked offense!). When the season started, we were wondering, for example, how the Serge Ibaka-Jonas Valanciunas pairing would work, and since then we’ve been watching various combinations of it — with help from Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Jakob Poeltl — do the necessary dirty work to get wins. When you couple this frontcourt flotilla with the gritty guard work of Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, and Fred VanVleet, well, now you’ve really got something. Hopefully we don’t have to read “115 points per 100 possessions” again.
And finally, here comes Chris Barnewall carrying the torch for CBS Sports, a proper legend:
3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 2)
The Raptors honestly haven’t had a weak point this season. Their roster has just played that well from top to bottom. The only way they could possible improve is by having Kyle Lowry return to the peak form we are accustomed to seeing. His numbers are actually down this season compared to some of his previous ones.
Me personally, I am not worried about Kyle Lowry. That’s where I draw the line.
Now, onto the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 19 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, 1 = 1, it’s a law of the physical universe
Yes, easy does it Euclid, there are a couple of better teams
No, 1 divided by zero opens up a void, an abyss beyond reckoning
Yes, no math for me, thanks