The Raptors are 54-23 and just coasting along towards the end of the season. It’s astounding how quickly we’ve gotten used to this. In, say, 1998, we wouldn’t have thought this way; in 2005 we would have had trouble imagining it; and in 2011 we were ready to just forget this team even existed. And yet here we are. The Raptors own another 50-win season, home court advantage, individual awards, and a chance at immortality.
The flip-side to this good feeling is the other part of the Raptors’ identity that is still here: their temperament in the playoffs. We’ve been banging this drum all year, whether the team was good or bad in the moment, whether it was healthy or not, whether it looked like they knew what they were doing or completely clueless. Toronto still has to show up ready to go in the post-season for any of this to matter. That’s long been the point — and we’re still getting close.
Let’s take a look at the penultimate assessment of the Raptors from this week’s Power Rankings.
From ESPN, big dog Kevin Arnovitz is back with the lowdown once again:
4. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 5)
The Raptors have clinched the No. 2 seed, which presents them with a question similar to the one confronting their likely second-round opponent, the Philadelphia 76ers: How much of Toronto’s final-five-games slate should be devoted to load management for Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry, and how much of it should serve as a high-grade opportunity to allow a starting lineup with Marc Gasol that has still played only 87 minutes together to familiarize itself with one another?
My guess to Big Arn’s query: I think the Raptors will look to manage minutes for all three, with all three of the players mentioned there missing at least one game for rest purposes. Worry not, we’ll be watching G League MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Chris Boucher dunk on fools soon.
Next up comes SI’s Khadrice Rollins, who is having fun handing out fake awards:
7. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 8)
Happiest LeBron Left the East
No matter what happens this postseason, LeBron James is not going to be the guy to end the Raptors’ year. That doesn’t mean this is for sure the year Toronto finally gets out the East, because there is still plenty of competition. But, at least the ending is going to be different than the last three years, and everybody loves a little change. Especially when it involves an adversary.
I... I can’t argue with this logic. The Raptors could very well lose to the Sixers or Bucks (assuming they are their second and third round opponents, as feels likely), but at least it won’t be because of LeBron. In short: Toronto should prepare itself for a whole new brand of heartbreak!
And what does the NBA’s Dr. John Schuhmann have for us so close to the zero hour? Let’s see.
4. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 5)
Last week was one for load management in Toronto. Kawhi Leonard played in only one of the three games and, with the Raptors building leads of more than 20 points in all three, Fred VanVleet was the only one of their top seven guys to play more than 75 total minutes. Marc Gasol has started the last 10 games and, though he’s scored exactly two points in four of those 10 starts, the Raptors have been at their best (plus-23.3 points per 100 possessions) with him on the floor over that stretch. They’ve recorded assists on 68 percent of their buckets in his 512 total minutes on the floor and have allowed just 98.4 points per 100 possessions in 356 minutes with him playing alongside Pascal Siakam. The competition gets a little stronger this week, and with Detroit likely to hold onto the 6 seed, one of the Raptors’ four games will likely be a playoff preview, though not necessarily with a full Toronto rotation.
Schuhmann takes the right approach here. This week has been the ultimate “big numbers, bad teams” run for the Raptors, as they’ve mowed down the Knicks and Bulls without breaking a sweat. I am interested to know who they’ll play in the first round though — road trip to Brooklyn anyone?
Finally, the CBS Sports-man Reid Forgrave provides his invaluable take:
2. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 2)
Three blowout wins in a row over two of the league’s biggest dogs — against the Knicks and Bulls (twice). Over the past two months, the Raptors have morphed into the elite defense that I had expected them to turn into when DeMar DeRozan was shipped off for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Since Jan. 30, the Raptors rank second in the NBA in defensive efficiency. A healthy, out-for-blood Kawhi Leonard could put this team on his back all the way to the NBA Finals. Call me crazy, but I think Fred VanVleet’s performance might be an even more accurate barometer of Toronto’s success. Since his return from injury in March, VanVleet has averaged 14.4 points and 6.1 assists — compared to just 1.3 turnovers — on 44.4 percent 3-point shooting.
I don’t want to pump up Fred VanVleet too much in this little section right here, but it is cool that the Raptors basically have a second minor version of Kyle Lowry on the roster. Do not get me wrong here, Lowry is the better player, we know that, but when you put FVV out there with, well, anyone, he can make things happen too. And with the Raptors preparing to go to post-season war (note Forgrave’s use of “out-for-blood” up there), it’s nice to know Fred is back at full health. (Now if only we could get Lowry back to 100 percent...)
Now, on to the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 24 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, all the numbers say so!
Yes, beating the Bulls and Knicks without trying doesn’t count for a lot
No, the snow yesterday was a sign of the frozen hellscape to come
Yes, this really is a long NBA season isn’t it?