It’s hard to quantify which week has been the strangest for the Raptors at any given moment this season. Let’s sum up the most recent one. Over the past seven days the Raptors lost to a team that had been on a 20-game losing streak. Then they won a laugher against one of the league’s leaders to break their own nine-game losing streak. At the same time, it seemed like we were all bracing for the departure of Toronto’s heart, Kyle Lowry. Then, scratch all that. The Raptors did make a few trades, kept Lowry, and it felt like maybe things would turn around for the better.
Instead, the Raptors lost two more close games — to the Suns and Blazers. These are both solid Western Conference teams, and in a vacuum it is no shame to lose to either of them on any given night in the NBA. But Toronto is now 18-28 and sinking further into a hole of their own making. The Power Rankings will surely reflect that, even if the play-in game is still within reach and the playoffs are not out of the picture. The question is: just how bad is the situation for Toronto?
To start with, we bring in the ever-ambling Tim Bontemps from ESPN to set the scene:
24. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 22)
Toronto promptly dropped two games in a row after breaking a nine-game losing streak, leaving the Raptors closer to 13th than 10th in the standings at a rather late stage of the season. There’s still time for Toronto to right itself, and keeping Kyle Lowry will help — assuming the right foot soreness that held him out of Sunday’s loss to Portland doesn’t linger. But the idea this team can be a problem for an opponent in the first round is looking more and more remote by the day. As a result, whether it can leap up in a loaded lottery is looking like the much more relevant question.
This really is the question that hangs around in my mind. Let’s say the Raptors do indeed squeeze themselves into the playoff picture. It’s mathematically possible, as Bomtemps notes — but are they really going to give any team serious trouble? I suppose coach Nick Nurse could press his core rotation — the small-ball starters plus Chris Boucher, Rodney Hood, and maybe DeAndre’ Bembry — towards something like victory. But will that be enough now?
For more answers we turn to the Athletic’s Zach Harper and his usual generous and sharp-eyed assessment:
23. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 22)
One sentence to sum up the trade deadline for this team: I love the fact that Masai Ujiri held firm in not trading Kyle Lowry away from the Toronto Raptors because it was a power move for the future in showing teams that if you don’t come correct with a trade offer, you’re not going to get him to break his stance.
Why are they ranked here? I was hopeful that the Raptors beating Denver this week and then not trading Lowry was going to catapult them into the win column some more. But they lost their last two games of the week, pushing this latest stretch to losing 11 of their last 12 games. The Raptors still are well within reach of the play-in tournament, but maybe getting a high draft pick and drafting someone for the future is the better play.
You can feel the strain here from Harper. He wants to give the Raptors credit, they should be better than they are right now, but it’s also getting increasingly difficult to assume they will get better. Due to forces outside their control — e.g. a gotdamn global pandemic — the Raptors may not be able to actually catapult themselves in the win column. Nevertheless, kudos to Masai Ujiri for controlling what he could indeed control.
Anyway, the facts are in once again from Dr. John Schuhmann of NBA dot com and as always it will be hard to argue with his logic.
26. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 27)
Other teams made bigger trades, but the Raptors led the league in deadline-week drama. Their eight-game losing streak went head-to-head with the Rockets’ 20-game losing streak and theirs was the streak that survived. Wednesday was Kyle Lowry’s last game as a Raptor, except that it wasn’t, and the streak came to an end with a blowout win against one of the best teams in the league. Lowry wasn’t traded, but Norman Powell was, and he got to play his old team three days later.
With the Raptors playing small, OG Anunoby spent most of Wednesday and Friday guarding Nikola Jokic and Deandre Ayton. He did an admirable job, and the Raptors continue to have much better numbers with Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Anunoby and Pascal Siakam playing alongside another guard or wing (+11.8 points per 100 possessions in 146 total minutes) than with a center (+0.9 per 100 in 206 minutes).
Alas, continued late-game misfortune has the Raptors at 18-28 and three games in the loss column out of 10th place, having been outscored by four total points over their 46 games. After that easy win over the Nuggets, the Raps lost by nine total points to the Suns and Blazers. They’re now a painful 7-19 (with nine straight losses) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, having seen, by far, the biggest drop in clutch winning percentage from last season, when they were 25-12 (third best).
They’re seemingly primed for a surge, and the schedule offers an opportunity to put some wins together over the next couple of weeks. Six of their next seven games are against teams with losing records and the only exception is a visit from the shorthanded Lakers.
There it is: a slight uptick in the ranking from Schuhmann — and an acknowledgement that the Raptors have been a tad unlucky and are potentially due for a chance to get some wins. There’s not much more we can add here except: man, I hope it works out the way we want.
Finally, we engage in a battle of wits from afar with Colin Ward-Henninger, that rogue from CBS Sports:
24. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 27)
The Raptors flipped the script on the trade deadline, hanging onto Kyle Lowry and making a Norman Powell-for-Gary Trent Jr. swap that might eventually end up as a net positive. They did not flip the script on the court, however, as Toronto lost three of its four games, including one to the Rockets, who had lost 20 straight. The Raptors played brilliantly in their win over the Nuggets, which everyone thought was Lowry’s last game as a Raptor (maybe even Lowry himself), but overall they’ve dropped 13 of 15 games. That being said, they’re still within striking distance of a play-in spot, and could make for a difficult matchup if everyone’s healthy and clicking by then.
A note of optimism from CWH, and quite frankly, that’s all I need right now. The Raptors are flipping scripts all over the place, the season has been weird as hell, and maybe we’ll see one more bizarre thing before the clock strikes midnight on this year.
Now, onto the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 14 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, the walloped the Nuggets and it’s just all bad luck, bad luck I tell ya!!!
Yes, the modest incline in some of the rankings suggests some optimism though
No, and I’m supposed to be the delusional one?
Yes, hey, is it me or are these columns getting later and later in the day? What gives?