There’s something odious about sitting in 11th place and looking up at the Washington Wizards. Before the start of the 2020-21 season, none of us would have predicted that outcome for the Toronto Raptors — and yet with seven games left in the season, that’s where we are right now with the squad. It’s disappointing, especially given pre-season expectations, but the Raptors still have some fight left in them.
That is the remarkable part of all this. Despite the re-location to Tampa, the injuries, the COVID infections, and everything that has come along with that, the Raptors keep on winning just enough games to hang around. They went 2-3 over the past week, and while 1-4 would have totally sunk them, they instead united against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night — on the second night of a back-to-back and without both Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby — and secured a rousing win. Like I said, remarkable.
In any case, now we have to face the Power Rankings of this reality. The Raptors are still in 11th, their chances of making even the play-in tournament are small, but they put together at least one signature win this week — and that should count for something. Let’s see what the rankings say.
21. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 21)
Sunday night’s impressive road win over the Lakers still leaves Toronto with a very steep hill to climb to make it into the play-in tournament, as the Raptors are 2.5 games behind the Wizards with nine remaining. What will likely matter more in the end to the Raptors is where they finish alongside the Bulls and Kings for positions seven through nine in the NBA draft lottery.
The combination of extreme schedule compression (e.g. five games a week) and injuries (e.g. Fred VanVleet’s latest on-and-off turn thanks to a sore hip) have forced the Raptors to get creative with their lineups so as to not totally exhaust themselves. (Note: they are still quite exhausted.) Astute eyes will note, however, it has also allowed the Raps to slide gracefully into decent lottery position. Will that matter for Toronto? Time will tell.
Next up, we turn to the smiling eyes of Zach Harper at the Athletic:
22. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 20)
Prediction for the final stretch/playoffs: We get rumors about a mass exodus from Toronto.
Raptors fans, notice I used the word rumors. Not that it happens. But it feels like we could see plenty of hemming and hawing about where the Raptors go from here after this season. They’re not even making the play-in tournament, so it’s going to feel like a real low point compared to the last couple of seasons. Any time you talk to someone about the Raptors and their future, Masai Ujiri not having a contract extension comes up. There’s also Kyle Lowry’s impending free agency. And with the way Pascal Siakam has struggled at times this season, questions about his role on the team have and will continue to come up. That doesn’t mean things are bad. They had the most chaotic season of all, and this organization getting back to normal life will see them surge next season.
Why are they ranked here? Brutal schedule this week that can’t be boosted by a win over Cleveland or even the Lakers. They fall a couple of spots because the others around them are a bit better.
Tragically, I think Harper is right in that it is a bit disconcerting that Masai’s contract situation has yet to be resolved. Is he about to step out of the NBA entirely and move onto bigger things? Does he want to re-dedicate himself to re-building the Raptors after this muted and disappointing season? Does he just want to be back in Toronto finally? These are all worthwhile questions to wonder about. As for Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam, believe me: I am not concerned.
Can Dr. John Schuhmann of NBA dot com clarify the situation here? Let’s see:
21. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 21)
Playing five games in seven days last week, the Raptors didn’t put their full starting lineup on the floor in any of the last three, with Fred VanVleet missing two games and Kyle Lowry resting for one. But they were competitive in Denver and Utah before scoring running out of gas in the fourth quarter both nights. And with Lowry catching fire (and playing 41 minutes), the Raptors beat the Lakers on Sunday. They’re now 9-14 (with a positive point differential, of course) against the 11 teams that are currently at least eight games over .500, having yet to play Kawhi Leonard’s Clippers. The first meeting is Tuesday and the Clippers are in Tampa a week later.
It’s hard to see month-to-month or every-10-game progress in Pascal Siakam’s numbers, because he still has some rough nights, like when he shot 2-for-16 against Brooklyn on Tuesday. His effective field goal percentage for the season (49.2%) is still a career-low mark. But the good games have been a little more frequent of late, and he scored a season-high 39 points on 15-for-26 shooting in the win over the Lakers.
The Raptors last chance to make the race for the last Play-In spot interesting is Thursday, when they host the Wizards, having already won the season series. They would still need additional help, but it wouldn’t be uncharacteristic for the Wizards, even after a strong last four weeks, to lose to teams they’re supposed to beat.
Let’s just acknowledge, as the doctor does above, that this season has been rough for Siakam regardless of what his final numbers end up saying. Also, to a certain extent, this has decided the Raptors’ season. There are a lot of other factors in play here, but still: Siakam settling into a role that is not the undisputed number one option for Toronto seems inevitable at this point. To be clear: that’s OK. There are usually less than 30 of those players in the league at any one time — usually less than 15 if we’re being honest — and the Raptors have put Siakam in a position to succeed in his way for a long time. What happens next will, quite frankly, be more up to the team than Pascal himself.
Once again, we look finally to CBS Sports and the man of three names, Colin Ward-Henninger:
23. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 21)
In a rare five-game week, the Raptors beat the Cavs and Lakers with losses to the Nets, Nuggets and Jazz. Sunday’s win brings Toronto within two games of the Wizards in the loss column for the final play-in spot. With regulars Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby back in the lineup, it wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world to see a late run from the Raptors.
A rare five-game week? I’m not doing the math, but I’m almost positive this has happened at least a few too many times this season for the Raptors. Maybe I’m imagining things, maybe it only feels like this happened more than once or twice, but man alive, it sure has felt like Toronto — and all NBA teams, really — have had to cram a lot of games into a too-short period of time. That said, it’s on the record now: CBS says it would not be crazy to see a late run by the Raptors.
Now, onto the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 19 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, the Raptors are making the play-in game
Yes, the Raptors are not making the play-in game
No, the play-in game is an illusion
Yes, the end of the season will offer a reprieve for the Raptors... and for us