This was, definitively, not a very hot week for the Toronto Raptors. For the fourth time in what seems like an eternal season, Toronto suffered a three-game losing streak — one that has now stretched to five straight losses — and needs a big bounce back to stay in the playoff hunt.
During this most recent losing skid, the Raptors produced some of the ugliest basketball they’ve played all year. Can you fault them, though? The Raptors have been playing without Pascal Siakam for six games as well as Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby for the past five due to NBA health and safety protocols around COVID-19. That’s three out of five starters missing for over 10% of the season. While 10% doesn’t sound like a lot, in a condensed season that has Toronto scrapping to get back into the playoff picture, missing over half of your starting lineup hits a little harder.
But... a return is forthcoming! All of Siakam, Anunoby, VanVleet, Malachi Flynn and Patrick McCaw were cleared to practice yesterday and it appears a return is on the horizon. Who’s excited for rusty-Raptors basketball?
With all of that terrific news, let’s jump in and take the temperature.
Chris Boucher, Big Ballin’ Off the Bench
If it weren’t for the losing streak, this week would have been extra sweet for Most Improved Player candidate Chris Boucher, who climbed into some rare air.
Chris Boucher’s amazing season continues tonight pic.twitter.com/R2rMEvpZwA— Raptors Nation (@RaptorsNationCP) March 11, 2021
Boucher has been a revelation for the Raptors this season and with Aron Baynes underperforming, a necessary revelation at that. Against the Hawks, Boucher gave the Raptors a little bit of everything and would have been the hero if not for, well, you know.
Keeping Up With The Canadians— NBA Canada (@NBACanada) March 12, 2021
Chris Boucher | vs. Atlanta
2 THREE POINTERS
2 BLOCKS#WeTheNorth | @Raptors pic.twitter.com/YMkUl7kWHK
Boucher managed to round out his week with a 16 point, 6 rebound and 3 block night against the Hornets and a 17 point, 4 rebound, 1 block night against the Bulls. Chalk up another win for Masai Ujiri and the Raptors scouting department.
Norman Powell, Illustrious Trade Chip
Disclaimer — this section is not necessarily suggesting that Norman Powell should be traded.
Having said that, if the Raptors were going to trade Powell, then they would be getting the highest possible return on him that they’ve ever seen. Is that something that Toronto should entertain? Absolutely! GMs should always entertain trade offers — especially when it’s for players who are playing the best basketball of their career in a contract year that, by all assumptions, will lead to the player commanding very big dollars on the free agent market. Don’t think Norm is going to command big money? Well, feast your eyes on this:
This is how teams are defending Norm Powell these days pic.twitter.com/At4bF4SYMp— (@AaronBenRose) March 12, 2021
Yes, it is painful to admit that Atlanta is doing the right thing here with Norm getting sandwiched by a rolling Chris Boucher, who brings his defender with him, and is flanked by noted not-great three points shooters Yuta Watanabe and DeAndre’ Bembry. However, this is top-tier player treatment that Norm’s receiving and he seems to be relishing the moment.
Norm Powell says he kind of likes being the No. 1 guy on offence right now. "It's a good learning experience for me." Hasn't had this much attention since his high school days.— (@AaronBenRose) March 12, 2021
That mentality, coupled with the sticky salary cap situation the Raptors would find themselves in if they kept Norm and the fact that Norm is balling out of his mind might make Powell the most interesting trade chip at the quickly-approaching deadline of March 25th.
Chad Sanders, Executive of the Year
Every time something bad is happening with (or to) the Raptors, it’s important to remember that Toronto has one of, if not the best, G League outfits in the league, in the Raptors 905. Adding yet another illustrious award to their shelf, it has been announced that 905 GM Chad Sanders has won the Executive of the Year award!
While the season didn’t see the 905 bring home the Bubble championship, it’s still great to bask in Raptors recognition wherever it comes from.
The Raptors as a Whole, 1-8
As alluded to in the opening of this article, the Raptors have not been doing very well. Not only did the team lose the three games during this week’s stretch being covered, they’ve lost eight of their last nine games and have managed to do it in pretty much every fashion imaginable.
This week alone, they blew a comfortable lead they had built in the third quarter against the Atlanta Hawks only to lose on a buzzer-beater by none other than noted Raptors killer and almost-out-of-the-league-guy, Tony Snell. Heck, Norm Powell — a near 90% FT shooter — even managed to miss both free throws with less than a minute to play that lead to the buzzer beater even being possible.
Norm Powell landed on his wrist shortly before missing the late-game free throws, but says he doesn't want to use that as an excuse. "Still gotta make those free throws. That's totally on me."— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) March 12, 2021
Couple that stinging loss to Atlanta with an absolute blowout at the hands of the Charlotte Hornets and a loss to the Chicago Bulls where the Raptors managed to stay in the game yet only lead for under two minutes and you’ve got a hat-trick of trash for Toronto’s short week. While all of that is not great, it’s important to note why the Raptors find themselves in the situation they are in and to put basketball into perspective.
tonight, fred vanvleet talked about his experience after testing positive for covid-19 pic.twitter.com/bxkH36meeD— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) March 17, 2021
COVID-19 has been part of our daily lives for over a year now, so it can be easy to forget how serious of an illness it can be. Millions of people have died and hundreds of millions of people have contracted the disease.
With almost the entirety of the Raptors coaching staff missing a stretch of time due to COVID, followed by the players mentioned at the top of this article, the Raptors have been one of the hardest-hit franchises in the NBA. This has directly translated to on-court performance and subsequent record.
But that is ultimately not important. What is important is putting basketball aside, and acknowledging that the toll of having the disease and the fear of contracting it will be felt both physically and mentally by these players, coaches and their families for some time to come.
Taking the Temperature During Losing Streaks, No Fun
Please let this hellhole of a season end with the Raptors in one piece.