It feels like a lot is happening in the NBA right now — what with Anthony Davis mania reaching a fever pitch, the Warriors turning back into the Warriors, and various other dramas playing out constantly in real time. But where does all of this leave the Raptors?
I’ll tell you where: right back where Toronto usually appears to be. Good, possibly great, but with many questions and concerns. We continue to be a nation riven with anxiety, of this much I know to be true. The Raptors played four games this week, went 2-2, lost two high profile games — including one against the Rockets — and had Kawhi Leonard back on the court for only half of the time. There are some reasons for the wins, and for the losses, but do you want to hear them again? Do you already know what they may be? Of course you do, we’ve been living here for years!
Also, good lord have you seen the snow outside yet? Let’s just get to this week’s Power Rankings and figure out how Toronto is doing this time around.
The ESPN express from Kevin Arnovitz never slows down:
4. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
The Raptors squeaked by Dallas on Sunday to salvage a bumpy, three-game road trip ahead of their nationally televised showdown vs. Milwaukee on Thursday. Let’s hear it for load management! Kawhi Leonard returned from his four-game hiatus with a vengeance in a two-game explosion: 32.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and four assists with a true shooting percentage of 65.1.
I see what Arnovitz is doing here — har har load management! — but if it gets Kawhi fresh for April (and gets him to believe in Toronto’s investment in his health), then it’s all good. The future of the franchise, this season and beyond, is riding on Kawhi, so it feels like small sacrifice (e.g. a win or two now) to secure it. If the Raptors make it to the Finals, we won’t be talking about load management ever again.
The Sports Illustrated machine, with Khadrice Rollins working his part, continues on apace:
6. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
After consecutive losses to open up a three-game road trip, the Raptors got a much-needed win over the Mavericks to close out the week. You never want to lose three close games in a row, even if they are away from home. And now Toronto gets to rest up before a meeting with the Bucks Thursday.
This glosses over the weirdness of all three road games. The Raptors lost to Indiana even after the Pacers lost Victor Oladipo, but as many Raps fans were saying, it felt like a fair loss. Toronto was on the second night of a back-to-back and playing without Kawhi (and OG Anunoby, and Jonas Valanciunas). The Rockets loss should not have been close and it continues to be inexplicable both how the Raps came out so glassy-eyed — and also how they managed to make it a close game down the stretch. And the Mavericks game, I don’t know, did you enjoy that offensive execution from the Raptors? I grow weary.
The singular efforts of NBA dot com’s Dr. John Schuhmann are to be lauded:
9. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
“Load management” remains a thing with the Raptors, who sat Kawhi Leonard for four straight games before pulling him out of bubble wrap for a pair of weekend games in Texas. And maybe Victor Oladipo’s injury, which occurred right in front of their eyes on Wednesday, was a reminder that the cautious path with their star is the correct one. Even with Leonard having missed 14 games (in which the Raptors are 11-3), and even with the Raptors having allowed 118.6 points per 100 possessions over their last three (losing in Indiana and Houston), they can take first place in the East back from the Bucks (and even the season series at two games apiece) on Wednesday. They’ve won 10 straight at Scotiabank Arena, with the Bucks responsible for the last loss on Dec. 9.
There I was talking about the sometimes desperate-looking Raptors offense and I forgot to mention: ack, the defense! It would feel nice to sometimes see Toronto stop an opponent at the point of attack (and it feels appropriate for the Doctor to dump the Raps all the way down to no. 9).
Against the Rockets it felt like every pass or cut was pushing them further from the net, not closer. In the game against Dallas, Toronto eventually pulled out their zone defense and executed well — but at a certain point one-on-one coverage has to amount to something. I don’t want to say this is on Kyle Lowry, because he is a brilliant defender in all other aspects, but I do worry once again. What a time.
What’s left to say at CBS Sports? Here comes Reid Forgrave to figure it out:
3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 1 — this was the ranking two weeks ago)
Single biggest question: Can regular-season success translate to postseason success for a franchise that’s had plenty of the former and not much of the latter? Any Raptors fan can recite the litany of times when this team has gotten the fan base’s hopes up only to die too early in the playoffs (mostly because of LeBron James). This season, though, with two-way studs Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green on board and one-dimensional DeMar DeRozan not, seems different. I can hear Raptors fans cringing at those high hopes, and the inevitable jinx that they bring.
There it is, the question on everyone’s mind in Toronto once again. I have no other way to address this other than to say: we just have to make it to April, healthy and ready to go. What else is there?
Ah yes, I know: now, on to the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 15 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, you and everyone you know has no idea what you’re talking about
Yes, a quiet week gets a quiet result (and we resume our nervous watch)
No, I can feel the powerrrrrrrrrr
Yes, and don’t worry, the REAL solution is coming: Jonas Valanciunas! (Right?)