Our collective moods should not be affected this much by the whims of the Toronto Raptors. On Friday morning last week — hell, on Thursday night, before even the strike of midnight — we were all furious with our home team. In truth, they certainly sounded frustrated with themselves. The Raps began 2019 with a strong win against Utah, and looked set for more — injury-riddled though they were. But then came that Thursday night beatdown in San Antonio, and instead we looked to the heavens in fury.
So now, a different thought. Maybe we should calm down and remember: these Raptors, when locked in, when healthy, when playing the way we all know they can play, are the best team in the NBA.
Don’t believe me? The Raptors went into Milwaukee, down their starting point guard and emotional leader, and bullied the Bucks into defeat. To be clear, we’re talking about the Bucks who were (briefly) first in the East, the team with the second-best defense and offense, league-wide.
Then, just for fun, the Raptors returned home and played the third place team in the East, the Indiana Pacers. It was less than 24 hours after their previous game ended, and this time they were playing with out their MVP candidate. Did Toronto fold? No, they surely did not. They ran their offense, they locked on on defense, and they won.
The Raptors are 30-12, the first team to achieve that number of wins in the NBA. They continue to set the pace for the rest of the league. So, what do the Power Rankings saying this week?
First up, here’s the official line from ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, who should get a proper nickname:
3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
The Raptors recovered from Kawhi Leonard’s unceremonious and ugly return to San Antonio with a pair of convincing back-to-back victories over two of their top Eastern Conference opponents -- Milwaukee and Indiana -- both of whom rolled into the matchups with momentum. Sunday’s win over the Pacers, in which Leonard sat, also marked the return of Kyle Lowry. The Raps can look to fatten up over the next couple of weeks, with five of the next seven at home against sub-.500 teams.
So, despite getting a win over two of the next best teams in the East, the Raptors do not move up the rankings at all. Who would like to bet that after they “fatten up over the next couple of weeks,” Toronto will suddenly find itself back on top... where they belong?
What’s the takeaway from Khadrice Rollins at Sports Illustrated? Let’s investigate:
2. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
So the return to San Antonio wasn’t ideal. The fans said some things, the team took a bad loss and now it’s all water under the bridge. In the game that actually mattered most for the Raptors last week, Kawhi Leonard put up 30 points with only eight made field goals as Toronto picked up a win in Milwaukee.
And prior to his lukewarm performance against his old team, Leonard set a career-high with 45 points in a hard-fought win over the Jazz.
You would love to see Kawhi play in a back-to-back at some point this season, but you would also prefer he be healthy all year. So, we’ll all deal with him regularly missing a game here and there if it means we know he’s available to produce a career-high 27.2 points a game and supply lockdown defense like the five steals he had against the Bucks on Saturday.
As Leonard continues to look better than ever while playing for one of the top teams, it’s going to be hard to avoid looking at him in the MVP race. But at the same time, his team is performing so well with or without him that it might be hard to properly value him.
One interesting stat about the Raptors thus far:— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) January 7, 2019
In games Toronto has both Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors are 15-6.
In games one of them is missing, Toronto is also 15-6 (8-2 with Lowry playing, 7-4 with Leonard playing).
Because as good as the new-look Raptors have been, Leonard is the most important factor in the new-look and the main reason people would feel comfortable picking this team to avenge its ghosts of postseasons past.
This is a long entry (with an ESPN-branded tweet in the middle, for kicks). In the interests of time and space, I’ll give you the TL;DR version here: Kawhi good. Raptors also good. On to the next one!
What’s up doc? Here’s Dr. John Schuhmann with the come thru from the NBA online home base:
3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 4)
The Raptors got their butts handed to them by DeMar DeRozan and the Spurs on Thursday, but they recovered about as well as they could have hoped, shooting 51 percent (including 31-for-64 from 3-point range) as they swept a weekend back-to-back against two of the league’s top three defenses (and the second-and third-place teams in the East). Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard still haven’t played in the same game since Dec. 9, but Leonard scored a career-high 45 points against Utah’s top-five defense last week, Lowry returned from a six-game absence to dish out eight assists in 32 minutes against Indiana on Sunday, and the pair should be in the lineup together against Atlanta on Tuesday. Leonard has yet to play both games of a back-to-back, but because they’ve played the league’s busiest schedule to date, the Raptors have the fewest back-to-backs (four) left on their schedule. They also have the league’s easiest remaining schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage, with 27 of their final 40 games against teams that are currently at or below .500.
Really John? The Raptors needed to be put below the Spurs this week because of one (admittedly embarrassing loss)? Read the rest of the blurb there and tell me how the Spurs — solid win streak or no — are better than the Raptors this past week. They’re just lately getting themselves a decent number of games above .500! Come on!
Finally, our erstwhile friend at CBS Sports, Reid Forgrave, has the final word:
4. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 2)
Doesn’t feel quite right putting the Raptors this low. I could certainly have them at No. 1. But that blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs is still fresh in my memory, so here we are. Anyway: Do you know what the most valuable shot in the NBA is? It’s the corner 3. Did you know that only three teams shoot more corner 3s per game than the Raptors, who average 9.1 corner 3s per game? Specifically, it’s Danny Green, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam who are taking those shots.
What is this equivocation? Very grave indeed. (How’d I do? Did I keep my cool well enough through this run of Power Rankings this week? I feel like emotions continue to run high in Toronto even as the team puts itself together and finds its footing. Is there any doubt that with a healthy roster and an easier schedule, the Raptors will be the team to beat down the stretch? To me, there is no doubt.)
Now, onto the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 12 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, 3-1 week against 3 tough teams. 3!!!
Yes, the 3 is not falling as well as we’d like
No, I wish I had 3 people on hand to comfort me
Yes, did you know that if you average the rankings out for the Raps it equals... 3?