It was worth a double-take and a careful accounting: wait, the Raptors played only two games over the past week? Yes, it’s true. In a season in which it’s felt like Toronto has often crammed in five contests per week on a supremely gruelling timetable, the past seven days have been something of a salve — two contests, a 1-1 outcome, and some much-needed rest and recuperation (and, sure, some fun too).
Unfortunately, while the Raptors were taking a modest break, they were also losing ground in their quest for the 10th seed and their shrinking chance at a real playoff spot. They’re now two games behind the streaking Washington Wizards, who have somehow made up a ton of ground over the past couple of weeks, and staring down an urgent run of 12 games to round out the season. The Power Rankings are, naturally, scrambling to adjust.
To start things off this week, we must turn first to the fiery writing of Tim Bontemps at ESPN:
21. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 21)
Toronto won four games in a row before losing to New York on Saturday to get back into the race for the 10th seed in the East. The problem is that Washington has won nine of 10 to surge past both Toronto and Chicago and into the last play-in tournament spot. The next six games will likely determine Toronto’s chances of getting back in the playoffs, as a home game in Tampa, Florida, against Cleveland is followed by another home game against the East-leading Nets. A brutal West Coast trip featuring games in Denver, Utah and against both L.A. teams follows.
I’m still agog at that outcome: the dang left-for-dead Wizards, “led” by Russell Westbrook, have ripped off eight straight wins and look very much to be trending in the right direction. If the Raptors were going to peak, this would be it — but as Timmy notes above, they’ll have to go through some tough Western Conference opponents. To a certain extent, all we can do is hope they’re as exhausted as the Raptors.
Next up, as always, is a thematically rich text from Zach Harper at the Athletic:
20. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 17)
Old player to break the Power Rankings curse: Damon Stoudamire
Mighty Mouse was there to save the day! Or at least start the love for the NBA game in Toronto. The Toronto Raptors came into existence in 1995, and Stoudamire was tasked immediately with leading this team. Right out of the box, Stoudamire was putting up 20 and 10 almost nightly. Despite his diminutive size, Stoudamire played like a monster. He only lasted 2.5 years in Toronto before being sent to Portland, but you can’t look at those Raptors throwback uniforms without picture Stoudamire double-clutching a layup attempt before he had just enough room to kiss it high off the glass.
Why are they ranked here? Only two games for the Raptors this week, and they managed to split against two good teams. They’ve played better as of late, but I’m not convinced things are fixed. After the game against Cleveland, they have a brutal five-game stretch that could seal the fate of their season — good or bad.
“He only lasted 2.5 years in Toronto” is doing a lot of work in that sentence. Nevertheless, Harper is right, as noted: tonight’s Cleveland game will be a sizable signifier of what’s to come. Win and the Raptors give themselves a decent chance to get themselves into tenth; lose and they’ll really really be behind the eightball.
Maybe that’s a simple take, so let’s see if Dr. John Schuhmann from NBA dot com can complicate matters:
21. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 22)
Chris Boucher went down with a knee injury in the fourth quarter on Wednesday. But the Raptors had their four best players back together (for the first time since March 29) last week, they played their first two games alongside center Khem Birch, and the new starting lineup outscored the Nets and Knicks by 33 points (scoring 130 on 99 offensive possessions) in 48 total minutes. Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam combined to shoot 27-for-54 (50%) from 3-point range over the two games.
Alas, the Raptors were outscored by 39 points in their 48 minutes when all five starters weren’t on the floor. The starters did enough against Brooklyn, but they weren’t able to recover from an 18-3 Knicks run spanning the third and fourth quarters on Saturday. Last season, the Raptors had the league’s best bench. This season, their bench ranks 18th, with only the Rockets’ bench having seen a bigger drop in aggregate point differential per 100 possessions.
The Raptors’ visit to the Play-In Club was brief and they’re now two games in the loss column behind the 10th place Wizards. They’ve already won the head-to-head tiebreaker and will have the final meeting at home, but the Raps have the more difficult remaining schedule, with a stretch of five games in seven nights this week.
Reading that first paragraph and trying not to become the Joker. Could this Raptors season have been entirely different if Aron Baynes hadn’t been a complete pumpkin and the core players hadn’t all contracted COVID-19? I’m not not thinking about it, even though there’s not much Toronto could have done about the latter.
Finally, we’ll turn to CBS Sports’ Colin Ward-Henninger to bring up the grand finale here in our fourth (third?) last Power Ranking Poll column of the season:
21. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 22)
The Raptors only had two games this week, beating the Nets with a rare, full roster before losing to the red-hot Knicks. Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet all averaged 22 points or more in the two games, and they combined to go 27 for 34 from 3-point range. Kyle Lowry returned to the lineup after missing 10 of Toronto’s last 11 games, averaging nine points, seven assists and seven rebounds this week.
Facts only — and I have nothing more to add. The Raptors with a full roster are pretty good, except they’ve never had a full roster.
Now, onto the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 18 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, the Raptors just need Lowry to get back to his old self
Yes, but the Raptors need Siakam to get all the way back to his old self
No, and the Raptors have run out of time to re-discover their collective sense of self
Yes, however, what is the "self"?