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Toronto Temperature: The Raptors keep winning, so what’s the problem?

The Raptors went 3-1 over the past week, and got some strong and surprising performances from different players. You know what time it is.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

It is decidedly not cool to be tired of being on top in the NBA, but with the Raptors right now it is definitely something we’re getting used to. This is a weird sentiment to share, especially considering the team’s long and storied history of, uh, not being anywhere close to the top. (And yes, I realize mathematically the Bucks are first in the East, but the Raptors have more wins so forget that whole rationalization.)

Anyway, the Raptors just went 3-1 to keep pace with the rest of the league’s up-swinging teams — the Bucks, Nuggets, and sure, some team called the Warriors. Was it disheartening to lose to the Celtics again in Boston? Sure! But it was also nice to see the team come together in different ways to reel off three more wins. It’s all about perspective (something I’ll say to my dying breath).

That said, it’s Wednesday afternoon which means it’s time to take the Toronto Temperature. Let’s get to it.

Who’s Hot?

C.J. Miles!

Boy howdy I’ve been hoping to be able to put C.J. Miles’ name in this section for what’s felt like weeks. The Raptors sharpshooter was, let’s not forget, one of the very best gunslingers in the NBA last season, a danger every time he caught the ball with his shoulders even remotely squared towards the basket. Which is to say: it’s been tough watching Miles go through it this season.

But now, Miles has put up consecutive deep shooting lines of 3-of-5, 2-of-6, and 4-of-5 — that’s the C.J. we know! And what’s more, he’s looked much smoother when making moves off the line, and being present on defense (Miles’ five steals vs. Memphis were, perhaps, fluky, but still: he got’em). What a turnaround for Miles, the former Bench Dad. Let’s just hope he can keep it rolling.

Danny Green!

But wait, let’s not forget the Raptors’ starting shooting guard, who has been Toronto’s best deep threat all season. In 47 games, Green is still bombing away at 42 percent from three on 5.5 attempts per game. This represents the highest mark Green has hit in both percentage and attempts in almost five years.

And just for fun, Green decided to go off in particular this past week. Rare is the situation when an elite “role player” gets a chant from the crowd, but when the Raptors were in the process of blowing away the Grizzlies, the “Danny” chants came on fast and furious. That happens when you hit seven threes in a quarter, and go wild for a career-tying eight in a game. Yeah, no matter what else happened, Green is hot this week.

Three-Point Shooting!

Let’s just call it a team-wide thing. Norman Powell went off for 57 percent from deep; Miles, as mentioned, pitched in at 56 percent; Green kept things going with 48; Delon Wright put down 40 percent. The Raptors’ three-point shooting looked and felt much better for the week, despite the absence of Kawhi Leonard and OG Anunoby.

Of note only Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet had below average weeks, posting 29 and 33 percent for the week. But both had sterling games last night against the Kings, and both looked to be rediscovering themselves as forces of nature anywhere on the floor. Couple that with the uptick in the rest of the team’s performance from deep, and the Raptors have something to smile about.

Who’s Not?

Kawhi Leonard

Rare is the opportunity to put Leonard in the “Not” category, but what choice do we have? Kawhi’s only game this week was that rough loss to Boston in which, despite his 33 points, the Raptors crumpled down the stretch. Since then it’s been a run of “load management” games, which, sure, fine, rest him, I get it, there are a lot of commas here — but also, should we be worried?

I don’t want to tumble down this road, but I concur with the sentiment expressed here:

Greg Monroe, NBA Player

Monroe, the man they call Moose, was once a lottery pick and a semi-foundational piece for a (bad) Detroit Pistons squad earlier this decade. He’s now firmly in the back half of his career, the ceiling of which calls for him to soak up as many minutes as he can without doing too much damage. The Raptors are relieved to have him, given Jonas Valanciunas’ long absence due to injury. But also, did you watch him play in a couple of the games this past week?

The nadir comes to us from last night’s performance against the Kings. Now, Sacramento has a lot of springy youth, players who have supplanted Monroe in terms of ability and style, but players who could, theoretically, be pushed around by his specific skill-set. Instead, somehow, Monroe went scoreless in the game, missing all four of his shots in and around the rim, getting blocked at least once (that I can remember), and, for good measure, missing all four of his free throws. If not for a couple of nifty give-and-go passing plays, you’d have to wonder why the Raps don’t just roll the dice with more Chris Boucher minutes.

Trade Deadline Deals

I don’t want to get everyone too worked up here one way or the other, but I suspect the Raptors and Masai Ujiri will not be involved in the trade deadline much. Unlike Toronto’s one monstrously big deadline day, back in 2017, when it was clear the team needed to do something to shore up their dilapidated superstructure, this year poses no obvious way forward. Yes, you could try to shake loose a guy like Robin Lopez (as Monroe insurance), or you could talk yourself into some big trade involving, say, Tristan Thompson (as a theoretical upgrade over JV). But are those things actually going to happen?

I think the feeling right now is this: the Raptors have almost barely been healthy for most of the season. And on top of that, key rotation players have not performed to their usual standards. And on top of that, this team is really, really good, so it’s not like there is some obvious massive hole that needs to be filled. They’re tops in the dang league already! I realize trade speculation is part of the fun of the NBA season, but I’m going to go ahead and throw cold water on the situation ahead of time.