In Kawhi Leonard’s defense, he did not get a say as to which elements of Raptors’ drama he was to be involved in. He had to know that the Toronto-San Antonio feud would be a big deal, with cheers and boos going one way or the other (mostly against him). But did he sign up for the city’s loaded history with Cleveland? Or LeBron? Or the Dwane Casey-led Pistons? Let’s unpack.
First, I doubt Kawhi has given the Cavaliers a single thought since, well... ever. The Spurs last seriously dealt with them in 2007 and then never heard from them again in any meaningful playoff scenario. Yes, it’s true that Kawhi and LeBron have some competitive history, obviously, thanks to the Miami Heat, but that too came to an end some time ago. (And LeBron’s Lakers are not a problem to anyone anymore, except LeBron himself.) The Raptors’ horrific history vs. LeBron doesn’t have anything to do with Kawhi — and really, Leonard has been on the better end of it.
Meanwhile, the Raptors and Pistons now circling each other makes no real sense to Kawhi. I’m sure he could look into it and connect some emotional dots. But while we may be singing all kinds of paeons to their inevitable post-season meeting (which feels unlikelier now), Leonard is probably going: who cares?
All of which is to say, despite the Raptors’ 1-2 week, it’s not as heavy as all that. It’s just some late-March basketball, some of the Raptors were banged up (or suspended), and it’s clear to all involved — Kawhi especially — that it’s time for the playoffs. Anyway, let’s see what the Power Rankings say this week.
We get right down to it at ESPN as Tim MacMahon takes a turn at the Power Ranking wheel:
4. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
The Raptors’ odds of catching the Bucks for the East’s top seed are slim after a 4-4 start to March. They keep failing to take advantage of opportunities to make up ground, getting beaten by the Pistons (twice) and Cavaliers after Milwaukee losses this month.
[points to noggin] Can’t be disappointed by not getting the number one seed if you’ve already made peace with never actually getting it. Kudos to the Bucks, they just wanted it more. I am not looking forward to the Eastern Conference Finals — assuming the match-up we “want” is the match-up we get.
Meanwhile, over at SI it appears Khadrice Rollins has given himself over to a poetry experiment:
7. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
Now or Never
Something new awaits
This April and May. Or else
Nobody will stay
The Raptors lost by 25 in Cleveland but beat LeBron by 13 points this week.
After shooting 27.6% on threes in February, Kawhi Leonard is now shooting 45.9% from deep in March and went 13-for-24 last week.
I will summarily disregard Khadrice’s poetry efforts and just get to the meat of his blurb: yes Kawhi Leonard is a lights out shooter and no one should have ever doubted him. If nothing else, Leonard has looked more and more ready to go ahead and play in basketball games with something at stake.
Naturally, Dr. John Schuhmann keeps it all business on NBA dot com, even if he too has the Raps riding a wave:
5. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
When Fred VanVleet was lost for more than a month with a thumb injury, Jeremy Lin seemed like a timely addition for the Raptors. But, with Lin having shot 36 percent (including a brutal 6-for-35 from 3-point range) in his 12 games with his new team, VanVleet’s return to health couldn’t have come sooner. VanVleet had a careless and costly turnover late in the Raptors’ loss in Detroit on Sunday, but played 31 minutes and shot 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, replacing Lin in the starting lineup at the start of the third quarter (with Kyle Lowry missing his second straight game). Their game against New York on Monday is the second half of the Raptors’ final back-to-back of the season. But with Lowry dealing with an ankle injury, Serge Ibaka suspended for one more game, and Kawhi Leonard bound to take at least few more games off, it appears that continuity will remain an issue for this team as it enters the postseason in less than four weeks.
It says something that VanVleet can come back after a month long injury to his hand (which is, as you may know, a part of the body involved with shooting the basketball), and immediately be more productive than Jeremy Lin, and his two healthy hands. I hate to say this but, well, perhaps we got a little too excited about the presence of Lin in Toronto. Dang.
And finally, props to CBS Sports and our new best friend Reid Forgrave. All is forgiven!
2. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 2)
The Big Question: Can this team fully morph into the elite defensive unit that you’d expect from this personnel? Well guess what: The transformation has already begun. Over the past 15 games -- right around the time they acquired Marc Gasol -- the Raptors have ranked fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency.
Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! And CBS kept them at number two! We made it!
Now, onto the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 22 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, they’re just playing coy!
Yes, fine fine fine, I agree — let’s get to the playoffs
No, we know what will happen in the playoffs. We know
Yes, sub-poll: do you enjoy the word "playoffs" or "post-season" more?