The past week (plus a day) saw the Raptors’ win streak reach a franchise-high 15 games before ending two nights later. In that preceding month of rip-roaring action, we were able to see a version of Toronto that had re-forged itself from a middle-of-the-pack contender into a dangerous dark horse Finals spoiler. If the squad could be this good while dealing with injuries, what happens when they get healthy? Though it feels funny to say this now, there’s a comfort in admitting we can now re-embrace that oldest of Raptors takes: they weren’t supposed to be here.
The week after All-Star Weekend allows for a bit of a pause, one in which we can reflect on what’s happened over the past week, month, and season. The Raptors got to send two of their players, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam, to compete with the game’s brightest stars. Their coaching staff was there too, and they, along with all those special players, got to put on a show. Yes, Siakam, Lowry, and Nick Nurse ultimately lost to LeBron’s team (one more time), but they all looked like they belonged. They all got to do their thing — be it wild moves with the ball, taking charges, or issuing a coach’s challenge. In short, the Raptors are supposed to be here.
And on that note, we look to the latest round of the Power Rankings for our weekly review of how the Raptors are doing. What do they say this time?
First up, Andre Snellings’ of ESPN is ready with the first shot across the bow:
3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
The Raptors had their 15-game winning streak snapped in the last game before the All-Star break and currently sit as the second seed in the Eastern Conference. While they are unlikely to catch the top-seeded Bucks, the Raptors are only three games behind the Lakers (41-12) in the loss column for the second-best record in the NBA. With a .727 win percentage and plus-6.3 scoring margin, this season’s Raptors are actually slightly ahead of their championship pace (.707 win percentage, plus-5.8 scoring margin) from last season.
It is surreal to consider this season for the Raptors going better than last year’s spectacular run. Both years, when we really think about it, had their share of concerns. (Remember how we felt in January about last year’s team, pre-Gasol trade? How about this year’s squad after they’d squandered a few close games?) But the numbers are not lying — these Raptors just stay playing well and winning.
Over at the Athletic, Zach Harper is laying out the goals for each team as they barrel towards the end of the season:
4. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
What are you playing for? The NBA Finals. A lot would have to happen for the Toronto Raptors to make it back-to-back Finals appearances. Somebody would have to get stupid hot for a series or two for Toronto. At the same time, it probably means an injury to Giannis or an improbable slump that has people wondering if something is wrong between him and his teammates. There is something to be said about that championship know-how with the Raptors, though. They are so much more confident in close games than what we saw a year ago and they were good then too. Losing Kawhi Leonard and still keeping that confidence high is not easy. The players are not rattled and Nick Nurse is quickly moving toward top-coach-in-the-league consideration. They can still shoot for the Finals this year, even if it takes some luck.
Why this ranking? It had to end at some point and there is no shame in a 15-game win streak not turning into a 16-game win streak. And losing to the Brooklyn Nets in Brooklyn also isn’t a terrible thing, especially with the way that Nets team has rallied recently. But Boston’s loss to Houston was more understandable than Toronto’s loss to Brooklyn this week, and therefore the Raptors drop a spot. With all that said, you can see the two “What are you playing for?” sections from both teams and know that I think the Raptors’ ceiling is higher.
It’s hard to disagree with Harper’s reasoning here. I think most in Toronto would say a climb to the Finals would be an amazing achievement for this squad. What’s more, the Raps in that scenario would be playing without the pressure of expectations. In fact, that may be the thing working most in their favour. When compared to, say, the Bucks, the weight does not feel so heavy.
The numbers, meanwhile, have been crunched by Dr. John Schuhmann at the NBA’s home site:
4. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
The last five games of the Raptors’ 15-game winning streak were the best offensive stretch of their season (122.6 points scored per 100 possessions). And then, with their bench shooting 4-for-19, they scored just 91 points on 98 possessions as both the winning streak and the champs’ climb toward the top-10 in offensive efficiency (where they haven’t been since Week 8) came to an end in Brooklyn on Wednesday.
If they were to remain where they are, this would be the first time in seven seasons the Raptors didn’t rank in the top 10 offensively. They’ve seen the league’s biggest jump in the percentage of their shots that have come in the restricted area, but its second biggest drop in restricted-area field goal percentage, from 63.9% (12th in the league) last season to 60.7% (25th) this season. Of course, it’s not a big jump from 12th to seventh or eighth in offensive efficiency, so a seventh straight season in the top 10 is well within reach.
The Raps have still won seven straight at home, and their four-game homestand that begins Friday is, amazingly, their longest of the season. It includes visits from the Pacers (who have lost 12 straight regular season games in Toronto) and the Bucks.
Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’m not entirely sweating the absence of a top-10 offense in Toronto. It’s felt like a nice thing to have over the past six seasons, but obviously the team’s defense has been far more important. And anyway, the concept of offensive efficiency tends to get blown up in the playoffs (see: the Raptors in, say, 2018). Toronto has a couple of bucket getters, and they have shooters, and if everything clicks at the right time they can beat anyone. We’ll shake out the numbers in the aftermath.
And finally, we get to CBS Sports and the work of Colin Ward-Henninger. It’s been so long.
3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 2)
All good things must come to an end, and the Raptors saw their 15-game winning streak snapped with a loss to Brooklyn in the final game before the All-Star break. Toronto is now 2-6 in games where they score fewer than 100 points so the book is out: Don’t let the Raptors score, and you have a better chance of beating them! Quite an enlightening concept.
Is that—? How dare Colin get cheeky with it! That’s my bit! Get outta here, Ward-Henninger!!!
Now, onto the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 18 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, and I’m so mad I had to wait an extra day to say that
Yes, nothing to prove now, just make it to the end
No, and it’s not the workday blues, I swear
Yes, but I’d like to have another day off to think about it