Many online have been making the point that these Raptors, swamped in the midst of a five-game losing streak right now, recall past iterations of the team. Think back, if you dare, to say 2011, or 2005, or even all the way to the late 90s. In those times, the Raptors were quite often severely talent-deficient and could be counted on only to lose games. Sure, there was sometimes a quality player or two around, but overall Toronto could just not get it together.
The difference here, of course, is that the Raptors are a talented team. Their core lineup, the five best players on the squad, could give almost anyone in the league a run for their money. Yes, when Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunuoby, and Pascal Siakam are clicking, it sometimes feels like they’ll never lose a game. But sadly, due to what now sounds like a case of COVID-19 tearing through the ranks in some form or another, we do not know how this quintet will look when they next play together (which could be this Wednesday). In fact, setting speculations aside, we really should just worry and hope for everyone’s health and well-being. There’s losing on the court, which stings, and then there’s what this is, which goes much farther than that.
And yet here we are again with another Power Ranking Poll. Somehow the league marches on, which means so too must the Raptors — and so too must we. Let’s see what the Rankers have in store for us this week.
First up, the cheery certainty of ESPN comes in thanks to the words of one, Tim Bontemps:
20. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 16)
The Raptors have now lost five in a row without 60% of their starting lineup after Sunday’s blowout loss to the Bulls. The good news is that Toronto is set to get Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby back this week. The bad news is that the Raptors now find themselves sitting outside of even the play-in games in the Eastern Conference after an ugly two weeks.
To flip it back to good news again, at 17-22, the Raptors do have 33 games left and are only two games out of eighth. Also, some of the teams ahead of them are, uh, the Knicks and Hawks, who, forgive me, do not inspire as much belief that they’ll be able to get it done down the stretch.
Next up in our emotional gauntlet this week, we turn to the Athletic’s Zach Harper:
21. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 15)
What’s the realistic goal? Avoid the play-in tournament.
With all of the ups and downs for the Toronto Raptors this season, being able to climb up the standings to sixth or better, avoiding the play-in tournament, would be massive. They just continue to struggle to find their good stretch of basketball, and it might be due to the idea that the roster isn’t good enough. I think it is good enough. It would help if Aron Baynes could rekindle some of that play we saw from him the last couple of years. It would help if Pascal Siakam would give them consistent leadership as the top guy in the offense. It would help if just everything was a little better. But they can absolutely get back on track and grab No. 6 or higher.
Do they need an acquisition to accomplish that? They don’t need someone, but it couldn’t hurt. I’d love to see the Raptors just remain healthy for the rest of the season and see what the continuity could breed. As long as they don’t send Kyle Lowry to a contender before the deadline, they should be good enough to climb the rankings.
I appreciate Harper’s comments here. He’s absolutely right that this Raptors roster, even with their inconsistent bench play, is a good enough team to make it to sixth place in the East. And while they should avoid the play-in tournament — because of how volatile the potential outcomes could be — the Raptors at full-strength could win out there too. Now we just have to see them, you know, do it.
Setting projections aside, let’s go to the hard math of Dr. John Schuhmann at NBA dot com:
23. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 18)
The Play-In Tournament offers salvation for a team that’s been hurt by COVID-related absences as much as the Raptors have. And the Heat have just shown us how quickly a team can climb from where Toronto is right now (11th place) into the top five in the East. But in regard to climbing the standings, the Raptors just lost three of their most important games in the second half schedule, blowing a seven point lead with less than a minute to go against Atlanta, and then shooting 38% against in Charlotte and Chicago. They should get some bodies back this week, but there’s no getting those games back, and the Raptors have just five remaining against the five teams between them and sixth place in the East.
The Raps have thrown a lot of stuff at the wall over the five games in which they’ve been without Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam; Henry Ellenson returned to the NBA after a 14-month absence over the weekend. But if the Raps aren’t winning Kyle Lowry’s minutes then they’re probably not winning. And over the five games, they’ve been outscored by 16.6 points per 100 possessions in Lowry’s 181 minutes on the floor. Amazingly, at five games below .500, they still have a positive point differential (they’ve outscored their opponents by 17 points) for the season.
The rug gets installed here and then pulled out from under us. The Raptors can absolutely play their way back into things, but they also blew their chance recently to do that against some other mid-pack East teams. Of course, missing core guys hurts, and someone like Ellenson is not the answer. Much love to the doctor though for giving us some brutal news (the Raptors getting wiped out during Lowry’s minutes) but still having a positive point differential (which means they’re still good, dangit!).
Finally, as always, we turn to CBS Sports and stalwart ranker Colin Ward-Henninger to bring us home here:
23. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 16)
Tony Snell’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer broke the Raptors’ hearts in their first game back from the break, with Toronto still missing several key players due to health and safety protocols. It turns out it really could have used that win, as the depleted roster simply ran out of gas in losses to the Hornets and Bulls to close out the week. That’s now five losses in a row for Toronto, but Nick Nurse said he expects at least some of the sidelined players to be back for Wednesday’s game against Detroit... so at least that’s something.
A digression: I was watching Canadian David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers on the night of the Hawks game. It ended before the fourth quarter, so I was able to tune in and watch the Raptors take a decent lead and then slowly blow it down the stretch. It was so clear Toronto just did not have the juice left to fend off the annoying Hawks, leading to that absurd shot from Snell. This also means that somehow despite watching Dead Ringers, the film about twin gynecologists whose lives are pointedly intertwined in a bevy of weird and uncomfortable ways — it was not the most disturbing thing I saw that evening.
Now, onto the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 12 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, these aren’t the real Raptors!!!
Yes, we just gotta take our lumps for now given the rude circumstances
No, even I feel a bit bad about all of this though
Yes, and let me add: those surgical devices in Dead Ringers give me the dang creeps