There’s little doubt now the Raptors are treading water thanks to a soft schedule and the muscle memory that comes with being defending champs. They’ve been trading wins and losses since Christmas, and dealing with injuries to numerous to recount again here. (Add Fred VanVleet to that pile, by the way.) On one hand, the Raptors are undefeated against teams below .500, which helps a lot. On the other, of course, that means all of their losses have come against, perhaps, superior opposition.
But it’s not Toronto’s fault! If there was a worst case scenario to consider here, this would be it. Last season the team got extremely lucky with injuries and was able to build a surplus of momentum as the squad headed towards the playoffs. This season, well, not so much. The Raptors are 24-12 so it’s not like they’re jagging through some kind of lost season, but it definitely feels like it could be going better. Again, injuries, not their fault, you know the drill.
So while it’s nice to go 2-1 for the week and beat up on the hapless Cavaliers and similarly afflicted Nets, it’s hard not to recall how ugly that game against the Heat was. The blueprint for beating this hobbled version of the Raptors is right there — zone-up, dare them to make 3s, and feel comfortable in the knowledge they don’t have enough play-making elsewhere to capitalize on all that ball movement. Toronto still has a strong defensive identity, and Lowry in particular isn’t one to just fold, but how much respect does that get a team?
Let’s find out from this week’s Power Rankings.
First up, Andre’ Snellings, of ESPN glory, hands off his take:
7. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 7)
The Raptors continue to battle, turning in two blowout victories and a close loss to the Heat this week despite the continued injury absence of three of their top six rotation players. Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell are all still “a ways away” from returning, according to Raptors coach Nick Nurse, but the Raptors have a good short-term schedule with six of their next seven games against teams with losing records.
Damn, that’s.... that’s everything I just said in my opening bit. I can add no more commentary to this except to say: yes, this is exactly the situation. We carry on.
The Athletic’s Zach Harper is looking at rankings and X-factors this week:
7. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 10)
X-File: This team’s health.
While the Raptors have quickly become one of the top standards in developing players, they still have a depth issue when it comes to this roster. Mostly that gets exposed when Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol are out with injuries, which of course that’s going to affect how this team looks. They’ve still been a good team, but they’ll need a full squad healthy and available in order to make some noise in the playoffs and cause a lot of problems for the rest of the East. This Raptors team is on the brink of being good enough to march back into the conference finals. They might even be good enough to surprise a lot of us and return to the NBA Finals. That may depend more on the other East powers, but it’s still a real option for their success the rest of the season. They just can’t have these injuries continue to linger or rear their ugly head at the wrong time leading up to the postseason.
After Lowry and Serge Ibaka were injured back in November and the Raptors kept winning, the discussion about just how good Toronto could be really started to amp up. Then the squad was made whole and the team was in the midst of a five-game winning streak, and it was like look out. Now, what Harper says there is quite fair. It is unclear what exactly the Raptors are now — playoff fodder or true contender, buyer or seller, a fearsome team or an injured mess. We wait and wait and wait.
(Also, while we’ve moved on from using the Sports Illustrated Power Rankings here, props to them for making a move towards unionization in the face of whatever the hell the Maven is trying to do to their once storied brand.)
The one-man show that is Dr. John Schuhmann of NBA dot com is still at work:
10. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 10)
The Raptors remain undefeated (19-0) against the 17 teams currently under .500, picking up wins over Cleveland and Brooklyn last week by outscoring the Cavs by 21 points from 3-point range and committing 16 fewer turnovers than the Nets. But they have the league’s biggest differential between their winning percentage against those 17 teams and their winning percentage against the 13 teams currently above .500 (5-12, 0.294). The bigger difference in those games has been on offense, and in Miami on Thursday, the champs scored five points (on 2-for-16 shooting) over a nine-minute stretch of the fourth quarter, turning a one-point game into their worst offensive performance of the season. The Raptors have had their opening-night starting lineup for just 11 games and Pascal Siakam’s return from a groin strain doesn’t appear to be imminent, but they’ve lost all five games in which they’ve had all five guys against the over-.500 group. Their win in Brooklyn on Saturday began a stretch where they’re playing 13 of 15 games against teams currently below .500.
Credit to the doctor for laying the numbers out like that. This is what I was getting at in my opening ramblings. The game against the Heat was absolutely the “worst case scenario” but what we find ourselves in now with the Raptors is something more like limbo. We know they can (or will) go through most of the next sub-.500 teams, but what then? (Maybe limbo is too soft a word; maybe, as with all waiting, this is indeed hell. Perhaps it’s too early to tell.)
Can the good tidings of Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports turn things around?
8. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 10)
Toronto lost a slugfest with the Heat this week, but also picked up solid wins over the Cavs and Nets. This team is a true Eastern Conference contender with all the pieces intact — we just never get to see it. Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol remain out, with no imminent return in sight. But, as always, they figure out ways to win with their big guns on the sideline.
Two different times this week Norman Powell has been erased from the injury books. I feel bad for Norm, and I feel bad for the Raptors of 2019-20 who’ve gone through all kinds of adversity, continue to plug away, and will either become the story of the post-season (it’s possible) or just fade away into injured nothingness. Damn.
Now, onto the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 12 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, I’m the Conductor in Transit
Yes, I’m Georg in Transit
No, I’m the Architect in Transit
Yes, I’m Marie in Transit, though this one may be a bit of a stretch due to the nebulously defined terms of the fourth entry in this ongoing series