There was a Toronto Raptors basketball game yesterday, and I swear I watched it, but I can’t contextualize any of it.
It’s hard to contextualize anything in the 24 hours since learning — in the middle of a house hunt somewhere in Winnipeg’s West End — that Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash. I didn’t know Kobe, I know there are complexities to loving his career, but his death still comes with the fog that only comes with the grief of losing someone you care about.
I won’t go too far aside here on it, and there are plenty of writers who followed Kobe’s career who have written poetically on him — I’d recommend Howard Beck from the perspective of a beat writer, Charles P. Pierce on his complicated legacy, Jackie Mac with yet another classic — but it’s especially hard getting back into the routine of a regular season, power rankings, and all the churn of late January in an NBA season.
For many SB Nation writers of my generation, Kobe was the player we grew up watching. So many things happened in the context of Kobe Bryant’s career — including much of the story written about the post-Vince Carter, pre-Lowry/DeRozan days for the Toronto Raptors — something acknowledged in yesterday’s statement by the team.
Sure, Toronto basketball was just another punching bag for an insatiable talent, but the team will always be an 81-point-sized footnote in his career and — as sad and strange as it is to type out today — his life.
I actually like that for us.
As Kobe would want, though, the drum of basketball continues to beat on. The Toronto Raptors have won seven straight games with many more winnable games to come in the next week: Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago.
They’re the second seed in the Eastern Conference and all trends point up for a roster that finally has most of its rotation healthy and playing well.
To see how they’re faring in this week’s Rankings, let’s start with ESPN and Andre Snellings’ assessment:
5. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 7)
The Raptors have won seven straight games and have moved back to the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference. Led by All-Star starter Pascal Siakam, they are second in the NBA in team defensive rating with only 104.5 points allowed per 100 possessions. The Raptors are 26-9 in games that Siakam has played, a 74% win rate that would trail only the Bucks and Lakers for best in the NBA this season.
There are many shocking stats about the Raptors this season, and the one on Siakam here is not one I’ve heard before. It’s crazy to think that this team can be good enough to contend again — but here they are in the same statistical company as the odds-on favourites.
Nothing from The Athletic this week, so we go to the doctor himself. Will Mr. Schuhmann give the Raptors an upward trend as well?
8. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 9)
The Raptors haven’t lost since they got all their guys back. They’ve won seven straight overall to climb into second place in the East. And while Pascal Siakam outscored the Spurs (25-21) by himself in the first quarter on Sunday, the scoring has been remarkably balanced - six guys averaging between 12 and 20.1 points per game - over the winning streak. The Raptors aren’t afraid to rotate defensively, but they punish opposing defenses for doing the same, ranking fourth in 3-point percentage (37.5%) and leading the league with 4.3 secondary assists per game.
Their biggest win of the streak - over the Sixers on Wednesday - came with a comeback from 14 points down. After another comeback from an early deficit in New York on Friday, the Raptors lead the league with 12 wins (and are one of four teams with a winning record) after trailing by double-digits. After their win in San Antonio on Sunday, the champs have also won seven straight on the road, scoring more than 117 points per 100 possessions over those seven games.
Absolutely brutal owning of the stats heads by the Toronto Raptors here. I know we’re all praying for the Raptors to stay healthy — because look at how goddamn good they are with everyone gelling together!
Need I remind you that Toronto opened the season with a super tight rotation, then proceeded to go through two months of nonstop injuries, before getting to this point. It’s amazing.
Finally, we go to Colin Ward-Henninger at CBS Sports, who used his Power Rankings time to draft up the best possible trades for every team. As someone who is firmly in the ride-it-out camp, I will grit my teeth and press CTRL+V here...
6. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 8)
Marc Gasol/Serge Ibaka: Take your pick of either veteran big man, both of whom are on expiring deals for around the same salary (roughly $25M). Personally I don’t think the Raptors will part with either of them, but if Masai Ujiri sees a deal he likes, including Ibaka or Gasol makes the most sense given their contract situations.
Please no, Colin! I love my large adult sons equally, without even mentioning the fact that the Raptors’ offence would lose so much character and flow without Gasol’s ability to facilitate. For me, there’s no good trade that improves the Raptors if Gasol is leaving. Ibaka is a bit of a different story, but I still will not be convinced.
Now, let’s get into the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 15 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
Yes, we are riding high
No, get at me when we’re top three
Yes, slow and steady climbs rule
No and NO TRADES