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Toronto Temperature: A fully healthy Raptors squad is not to be trifled with

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The Raptors go 4-0 in a packed week full of surprises.

Toronto Raptors Temperature: A fully healthy Raptors squad is not to be trifled with, Marc Gasol
Marc Gasol letting opponents know that the Raptors are at full health.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It’s here! So many moments that Raptors fans have been waiting for. Can you feel the excitement? Is it palpable? I think it’s palpable!

THE RAPTORS ARE FULLY HEALTHY!!!

It’s been a very, very long time coming but the day has finally dawned when Raptors fans can look at the starting lineup with some calm as all bodies have recovered and the Raptors can finally field their full roster, however Nick Nurse so chooses.

And you know what? I’ve been hard on a lot of the bench players who were filling in for various maladies but those players deserve a ton of credit for not only keeping the boat afloat but performing at such a high level that the Raptors are two games off of their championship-year pace. So, no Kawhi Leonard, no Danny Green and the 6th most man games lost due to injury? I mean, look at this.

Time to run it back.

Who’s Hot

Norman Powell, Heat Check Deluxe

From the moment the Raptors traded Greivis Vasquez to the Milwaukee Bucks for Norman Powell and a 1st round pick that ended up becoming OG Anunoby (LOL), it’s felt as if there have been expectations on his play. As a rookie, those expectations may have been out-sized but as the years went by, Raptors fans wondered (aloud and often on Twitter) whether or not Norm was going to plateau as a streaky wing who could tantalize in a stretch of games and completely disappear (and worse) in others or if he would materialize as a dependable top-end bench piece or fringe starter.

Well, it would be fair to say that Stormin’ Norman is obliterating those expectations. It’s also fair to say that he is defying his critics by sustaining his current level of obliteration and that maybe, just maybe, it’s time for Norm to be relied upon to produce consistently.

Raptors fans would be wise not to create a brand new tier of expectations based on his recent supernova play, but something about Powell constantly leaves Raptors fans thirsting for more. “If he can do this, surely he can do that, right?” Can he keep up his blistering shooting? Will that blistering shooting continue to allow him room to drive the lane where he has actually been finishing at the rim?

Has Powell thrown his last turnover after he’s left his feet? Probably not, but this is the most consistent and most enjoyable stretch of Powell’s young career. Let us bask.

Marc Gasol, Rested

Surely it has crossed the minds of many Raptors fans since the beginning of the season: Marc Gasol looked tired. After playing the most games he’s ever played in a season, winning a championship, celebrating that championship with, let’s say, gusto and then almost immediately playing for Spain, winning yet another championship and celebrating yet again with gusto, is there any surprise that Gasol started the year the way he did? Big Spain is a big boy and there isn’t a whole lot of evidence that lumbering big men in their age 35 season stay ultra productive and fresh.

And yet, we circle back to expectations and Marc finally playing up to those held by Raptors fans. Like Norm, he’s also exceeding them. His threes are dropping. He’s beautifully orchestrating the defense with precision and he remains one of the best passing bigs in the league.

Too bad Embiid isn’t playing tonight.

OG Anunoby at Shooting Guard, Beast

Ever wonder what the Raptors would look like if they put out their most suffocating defensive lineup possible?

Each one of those guys is a plus defender even with Ibaka’s slight defensive regression this year. The true menace in that starting five is OG and that’s because when you play Anunoby at shooting guard it unlocks one of his greatest assets as a defender and that’s that he has plus-mobility for his size. On the other side of the ball, here’s an extremely small sample size alert of what he put up in the first two games of the 4-0 slate this week.

19.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4 apg, 3.5 spg

While playing at the two does take OG a little further from the paint where he has shown himself to be an adept help defender on the weak-side, you take those numbers every single day if that’s the trade off.

Who’s Not

OG Anunoby at Small Forward, Opposite of Beast

Sticking with the four game week small sample size, here’s what Anunoby put up in the back half of the schedule against the Timberwolves and Hawks.

3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0 spg, 0 bpg

Woof.

While there is certainly much more data of OG starting at the small forward position this season and outperforming those very not good numbers above, one can’t help but wonder what OG would look like as a full time shooting guard. As the roster is constructed that’s not going to happen, but Nick Nurse and Masai Ujiri may have been given a glimpse of another pathway of what could become of young OG.

Raptors Playing With a Big Lead, Sloppy

In two of the four games over this week the Raptors nearly blew leads of 18 and 21 points. Matt Devlin would lead you to believe that leads just aren’t as safe in today’s NBA with the deluge of three point shooting. While there is a kernel of truth buried in there, it’s also hard to maintain leads when you trot out your secondary players and stick with them while they’re getting bludgeoned.

To be fair, the Raptors took care of business against the Wizards as they held their big lead and expanded on it to the tune of a franchise high 140 points, but the end of the Atlanta Hawks game has to give the Raptors brass a modicum of pause. On three straight possessions, Toronto was barely able to inbound the ball and when they did, they managed to throw the ball away almost immediately. That action forced Nurse to reinsert almost all of his starting lineup which stemmed the bleeding. The problem here is the “almost” in the previous sentence. Care to wager who from the bench unit stayed on, despite being directly responsible for much of the slop-fest that had just ensued? Surely the next part of this column might help.

Patrick McCaw, Enough Has Surely Got to be Enough

Can it end now? Please? Pretty please?