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Power Ranking Poll Week 19: The Raptors look ahead to the final stretch

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The Raptors’ seven game win streak was snapped, but so what? Toronto is still finding its feet, and their on-paper talent level has never been higher.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It feels weird to say this, but that was the least memorable seven-game Raptors win streak I can recall. Maybe we’ve become spectacularly spoiled (it’s possible), maybe it was because of the All-Star break lay-off (it’s definitely possible), maybe it felt like Toronto somehow lost one of those games in there somewhere (it’s philosophically possible), but this latest win streak kind of just came and went with nary a strong word to say about it.

Of course, there’s another implication here: the Raptors just rattled off a bunch of wins in a row, then split a pair of games this week, and yet still find themselves behind the Milwaukee Bucks. (Is now the time to mention that the Bucks may have been collaterally cursed by Ja Rule? Nah, let’s leave that be.) Even after all the deadline transactions and the restorative week off, it’s not so easy to say that the Raptors are the favourites in the East — and harder still to call them the best team in the league.

Nevertheless, as we do every week here — much thanks to John Gaudes for stepping in to keep the ball moving — we look to the NBA’s finest Power Rankers to decide just how Toronto stacks up against the rest of the league. I’m happy to be back.

First up, captain-at-arms Kevin Arnovitz at ESPN has some words:

3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)

The mutual love between Raptors fans and DeMar DeRozan genuinely displayed on Friday was one of the best moments of an NBA season beset by superstar discontent and transactional intrigue. On the heels of the big win, the Raptors suffered a letdown loss without Kawhi Leonard on Sunday at home to Orlando. By no means do the Raptors have an easy schedule ahead (not with Boston coming to town on Tuesday), but they will be favored in their next 10 games.

It’s true in the micro that the Raptors have a bit of a touch schedule on deck — but there are yet more trips to New York and Chicago to come as well. And yes, I believe we’re dealing with the emotion of all of this quite well, thank you very much.

Could our guy (he doesn’t know us) Khadrice Rollins at SI shed some new light on anything this week? Let’s see:

7. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 5)

Sunday’s loss to the Magic stopped a seven-game winning streak and moved the Raptors to three back of the Bucks in the loss column. With 15 of their final 21 games against teams below .500, they’ll have an opportunity to make up ground in the standings, but they won’t have too many more shots to compare themselves to other title contenders before the playoffs start.

Which is why Tuesday’s game against Boston is the one to watch for Toronto. Additionally, this is a time for the Raptors to show just what type of killer instinct they have. The turmoil in Boston appears to have reached a fever pitch. The Celtics just lost to the Bulls by 10, Kyrie Irving is upset over people talking about his friendships and the team is still only fifth in the East.

Toronto has a chance to put to bed concerns that they are destined to flame out in May, showing the world that trading for Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol really did move this team into the league’s highest tier.

Words cannot describe how much delight I take in Boston’s ongoing melodrama, and since this is a Raptors column so I won’t go into too much detail here. Let me just add, while I think Rollins is off-base a touch in giving Toronto seventh (!) billing here, I respect him for calling out the Celtics game on Tuesday for what it is: a chance to send a message. These Raptors shouldn’t be messing around.

Speaking of which, is Dr. John Schuhmann back from parts unknown? Checking in at NBA dot come for an answer returns this:

5. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)

There’s still time for the Raptors to tinker with lineups and figure out how their new pieces best fit together. But it’s not clear if there’s anything to glean from Marc Gasol’s first start (Sunday against Orlando) in that it was an ugly afternoon game in which Kawhi Leonard didn’t play. Another issue in regard to data collection is that their game against the Celtics on Tuesday is the Raptors’ last within the top five in the East. With three games in the loss column separating them from the first-place Bucks and another three games in the loss column separating them from the third-place Pacers, no team (well, other than the Bucks) is more locked into its playoff seed than the Raptors. After hosting Boston and Portland this week, they will play 15 of their final 19 games against teams that currently have losing records. They do have eight games remaining against potential first-round opponents (the five teams that currently rank No. 6-10 in the East). Amazingly though, the next four of those are on Sundays.

So, in summary: most of the rest of the regular season is a chance for the Raptors to test out their lineup combinations, gas themselves up with (relatively) easy wins, and then head into the playoffs as the presumptive number two seed with only a theoretically inkling of who and what they are. Sounds.... great.

All right, I’m back from vacation, what do you have for us at CBS, you rapscallion Reid Forgrave?

3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)

Worst-case scenario: It turns out the Marc Gasol trade doesn’t work out as well as hoped, and the Raptors can’t quite find an identity post-Gasol. (This worst-case scenario, by the way, is the exact opposite of what I expect will happen.) Kawhi Leonard doesn’t find another gear, Nick Nurse shows his lack of coaching experience and the Raptors get handled in the second round of the playoffs.

In a world of relentless change and tumult, I salute CBS Sports for keeping the Raptors in at number three. But also, get all the way out of here with your worst case scenarios! Can we just enjoy this a little first please — it’s not every day an Eastern Conference team ends up with three or four of the more significant figures from out West in the past decade on the same team. That’s cool right?

On to the poll.

Poll

Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 19 of the Power Rankings?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    No, I believe in the Magic of Marc Gasol
    (137 votes)
  • 26%
    Yes, and I too believe in the Magic of Marc Gasol
    (113 votes)
  • 3%
    No, who is Marc Gasol?
    (16 votes)
  • 37%
    Yes, I both welcome and worry about the playoffs (but only the former when it comes to Marc Gasol)
    (160 votes)
426 votes total Vote Now