Somehow this Raptors season has been one of the most entertaining in recent memory, and the most exhausting. The highs of Toronto’s run — the scrappy wins, the exuberant 15-game streak, the All-Star caliber performances — have occurred at the same time as one injury after another. At the start of the year, it was thought the Raps were one downed player away from disaster. Instead, they’ve survived multiple injuries to their core, endured missed games up and down the roster, and continue to soldier on.
One has to wonder how long it will last though. The Raptors just lost three games in a row for the second time this season. Two of those losses came against high quality opponents — the Bucks and Nuggets — and while the Raps did their best to keep it close, it was clear by the end of 48 minutes that they just did not have the manpower or high-end talent to compete. (The Hornets game was more of an old school screwup than anything else, and frustrating in its own specific way.)
With Toronto suddenly even with the Celtics in the East, the Raptors will somehow have to dig deep once again to weather the absences of almost half of their core players. Will Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol return soon? It’s quite possible — but it feels just as likely something else bad could happen too. That’s another thing this season has going for it in Toronto: we’ve become ultimate believers in this team, sure they can beat any squad put in front of them, while also doubting we’ll ever see them all healthy.
On that note, let’s see what this week’s Power Rankings have to tell us about how the Raptors have fared.
First up, ESPN decided this was the week to turn the controls over to Kevin Pelton:
4. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
Nick Nurse has to be wondering whether he’ll ever have his full complement of players healthy. Just as Norman Powell returned to the lineup, the Raptors lost starters Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka, who joined Marc Gasol on the sideline. Toronto has dropped three in a row, including two games without Ibaka and VanVleet.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Technically nothing wrong with this assessment, and it’s nice that KP only dropped Toronto by one spot considering, but I just went over all of that in my intro. We’re looking for fresh takes here!
Let’s move on to Zach Harper at The Athletic, who tends to provide some additional scaffolding to his posts:
8. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
Positive Takeaway: The offense has showed up in clutch situations. The Toronto Raptors still aren’t in the top 10 in offensive rating this season. They currently sit 12th in the league. Their offense has been a bit all over the place this season, but their clutch offense remains extremely impressive. Maybe it’s the championship knowhow they possess after last season, but they’re not rattled at all in these high pressure situations. They have the sixth best offense in the NBA in clutch situations (game within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime). They have the fifth-best true shooting and the 10th best turnover rate in the clutch. Nick Nurse’s team is ready to step up in the big moments now. I guess those rings give you confidence.
Negative Question: Will the offense be consistent enough? At times it feels like the Raptors have figured it out on offense. But it’s tough to judge with how often they don’t have close to a full squad available. I believe in the defense of this team because Nurse is a genius. With the offense, I’m skeptical of how it might hold up in a seven-game series when the opponent can game plan with so much more detail. Nurse will have wrinkles to throw in, but the Raptors will have to ultimately make shots.
The Positive Takeway provided above actually does make me feel positive about the Raptors. Obviously the makeup of the team has changed over the years, but Toronto has not often been thought of a clutch team. Yes, there have been outliers (Vince Carter’s late-breakers back in 2000-01, or every time Kawhi had the ball late in 2018-19); but you wouldn’t exactly have lost money betting against the Raptors in the dying seconds.
This is kind of what makes that Hornets loss so crazy — it felt for sure like the Raps would put it away. They’ve become that kind of solid late-game team, even if, yes, they can’t stay healthy (which is presumably why Harper dropped them a whopping five spots this week).
How does Dr. John Schuhmann at NBA dot com feel though? We need to know.
7. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
Norman Powell and Patrick McCaw returned from (nine- and three-game) absences over the weekend, but Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka took their places on the shelf and Marc Gasol hasn’t played since late January. The Raptors’ top seven guys have missed a total of 94 games, with OG Anunoby being the only one of the seven that has missed fewer than 11.
Anunoby had the best game of his life (32 points, seven rebounds, three assists and seven steals) in Denver on Sunday, keeping the champs in a game they never led. But Kyle Lowry (11-for-40) and Pascal Siakam (21-for-58) have combined to shoot 33% over the Raptors’ first three-game losing streak since early December. They came out strong against the Bucks on Tuesday, but just couldn’t sustain their offense when they weren’t getting much in the paint against the league’s best defense. And they followed that up with two of their seven worst 3-point shooting games of the season. Their loss at home to Charlotte on Friday, capped by a Rondae Hollis-Jefferson dead-ball foul that allowed the Hornets to win the game, was arguably their worst of the season.
Now the Raps are in a real fight with the Celtics (who have a slightly easier remaining schedule) for the 2 seed in the East. Boston has a 2-1 head-to-head edge, but the final meeting (March 20) is in Toronto.
The Raptors’ offense drying up behind a cold spell from Siakam and Lowry is predictable — especially with the lack of other shot creators and makers on the roster — but that doesn’t necessarily make it comforting. This is where they really, really miss Gasol, who was shooting 40 percent from three on the season, and who finds open players for easy shots. He provides a presence that also opens the floor for Siakam to find space in which to work. There’s nothing else to add here except: please tell me Toronto is just playing it cautious with Gasol and that he’s due back soon in peak health. The streets need it.
Finally, we turn to CBS Sports and Colin Ward-Henninger, a stabilizing force:
7. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
In a rare off week, the Raptors lost to the Bucks, Hornets and Nuggets amid injuries to Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka, with Marc Gasol already on the shelf. The losing streak is a bit surprising given how this team has overcome injuries all season long, but this is what happens to normal teams when they’re missing key parts. Speaking of injuries, Norman Powell returned to the lineup and contributed immediately, averaging 23 points in two games, while OG Anunoby set a career-high with 32 points in Sunday’s loss to Denver.
Points were made. And sure, let’s end this on a positive note: OG Anunoby really did play the game of his life on Sunday in Denver. He’s still not much of a one-man offensive force, but on defense, when he decides to take over, my god, it really does feel like Anunoby is all over the court. More of that please!
Now, onto the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 20 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, YOU try stopping Jokic without a centre
Yes, YOU try stopping Giannis at all
No, YOU try stopping to commit a foul before the bal has been inbounded
Yes, YOU try stopping to stop