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Toronto Temperature: Beating the best feels really good

Going 3-1 against juggernauts in the East has the Raptors in a position to catapult up the standings. It’s time to take the Temperature.

Philadelphia 76ers v Toronto Raptors Photo by Scott Audette/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s all starting to come around for the Raptors and their fans after a 3-1 week in which Toronto handed Milwaukee their second loss in a row and beat the Philadelphia 76ers without their leader, Kyle Lowry. After starting the season a league-worst 2-8, the Raptors are now 16-16 which is good for fifth in the Eastern Conference — and it lands them in knocking distance of the three-seed Bucks. And all of this without an All Star!

But before jumping into this piece, it’s important to make mention of the Doug Smith debacle of a tweet where he called Dwight Howard a “thug”. A lot of digital ink has been spilled on this already, so I’m going to ask that you head over to Josh Kern’s Five Thoughts to take a read on white writers and their use of coded and racist language.

Let’s dive into some hot and not moments for the past week.

Who’s Hot

Norman Powell, Full Time Starter

Bench be damned when Norman Powell is going as hot as he’s been going since becoming a starter.

Coach Nick Nurse made mention that he hoped that Powell would be able to play at this level whether he found himself in the starting unit or on the bench in his usual sixth man role. Since making those comments, Norm has been wisely and firmly entrenched in the starting lineup for the Raptors with no indication that a change would be forthcoming. This could indeed be the new norm.

Aron Baynes, Magician

Before diving into what might one of the funniest sequences in NBA history — and the reason why Aron Baynes is in this section in the first place — it’s important to note that Baynes has been more than serviceable since coach Nick Nurse moved him to the bench. While “more than serviceable” isn’t that great of a bar, it is a gigantic step above worst centre in the league who’s has hands are made with stronger concrete than Bismack Biyombo’s.

Speaking of Baynes’ hands:

There is so much to absorb and love in this moment: a professional basketball player shooting the ball backwards, Matt Devlin’s “woahhhhh,” Nick Nurse throwing his hands up in disgust, Embiid throwing the ball away, and, finally, Nurse’s measured applause at the end. Simply a masterpiece.

Kendrick Perkins, Believer

It seems impossible to believe, but Kendrick Perkins might be the biggest Raptors fan in the universe.

And the pièce de résistance

The moral of the story? Don’t @ Big Perk — he’s just a guy who loves the Raptors and thinks Pascal is more skilled than the back-to-back MVP and two-time DPOY.

Who’s Not

No Lowry/No Problem, Busted

As the overwhelming majority of Raptors fans know already, Toronto is not better without Kyle Lowry. While a record of 16-0 is incredible to post without your best player and leader, it leaves out the very real notion that the entire reason the Raptors can win without Kyle Lowry is because they have been tutored by Lowry himself.

There has already been a deluge of Ninja Turtle memes depicting Lowry as the grizzled veteran leading his young pups, or clips of Lowry after a personal-best lauding his teammates before mentioning himself, if he even mentions himself at all. Moments like those illustrates the point that Lowry is the Toronto Raptors. His DNA is interwoven throughout every meaningful, recent Raptor who has walked through that door — from guys who left like Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, to the young guns that remain in Norm, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.

(Kawhi Leonard could possibly be the exception to this, as, he is a hard-wired machine who feels nothing — just kidding, just kidding.)

Fred VanVleet, Shooting and Shooting Alone

Let’s get this out of the way right off the top: Fred VanVleet is one of the best players in basketball right now.

He’s one of the top defenders in the league and is a threat to pop off for 30+ points on any given night if his shot is falling. Herein lies how Fred has been relegated for this week despite what he did to Giannis.

VanVleet shot an abysmal 31 percent from the field over the four-game stretch for the Raptors and is, perplexingly, shooting a career worst from the field (save for his rookie season) and from beyond the arc in a year. All of this is happening while he has ascended to a higher tier of basketball player then ever before.

This begs the question: can Fred find a return to his career averages? If so, the league is in trouble.

Yuta Watanabe, Detonated

It was a very, very rough week for Yuta Watanabe. Returning from injury and seeing limited minutes, Watanabe got some extended run in Toronto’s incredibly ugly victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves. You’ve surely seen this by now, so please, enjoy one of the most vicious in-game dunks in the history of the NBA one more time as it sent off a bench favourite to two straight DNP-CDs in the two games following.