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Toronto Temperature: After another down week, the Raptors are on the brink

Despite being in some games this past week, the results were not what the Raptors were looking for. At least they saw some friends along the way.

Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Clippers
Khem Birch secures the basketball against Reggie Jackson.
Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

The math is in, and the Toronto Raptors could still make the play-in tournament! Of course, going 1-3 hasn’t helped that math get any prettier, but finagling a single win out of games on the road against the Nuggets, Jazz, Lakers, and Clippers is certainly something, and that something is that the Raptors were in the thick of the all of those games up until the final buzzer. It might be that reality that prompted Fred VanVleet to unleash this gem.

While crawling towards the finish line admirably is nice, it certainly feels like the Raptors are headed towards a redux on old-time Raptors basketball — finishing in an undesirable spot in the NBA Draft! From 2002 through to 2012 — the last time they were bad — the Raptors have picked in the top five only three times. While three out of eleven drafts may seem like a lot, it’s important to remember that the Raptors were certainly bad enough to finish at or near the absolute bottom for the majority of those years. Due to never fully embracing the tank — a good thing in most respects — the Raptors consistently found themselves with middle-of-the-pack lottery picks that never really moved the needle with the exception of DeMar DeRozan at 9th in 2009.

And this is where the Raptors find themselves now, looking at the play-in tournament fade away while the reality of 7th to 10th draft pick awaits them.

Let’s take the temperature.

Who’s Hot

Reunions, A Balm for the Soul

After that absolutely inspiring opening to this article, it’s important to pivot to the good times. What better way to pivot out of drudgery than with a visit from old friends? Mired in their worst season in nearly a decade, the Raptors were fortunate to suffer alongside former teammates this week, starting with Matt Thomas in Utah, followed by Marc Gasol with the Lakers, and then Serge Ibaka and Kawhi Leonard with the Clippers.

Nice to see you again, Kawhi!

Khem Birch, Continued Inspiring Play

It might be belabouring the point at this juncture, but after playing the entirety of the season in the desert of Aron Baynes, Khem Birch’s mere existence as an NBA centre who can catch, shoot and pass the ball at an above-average clip for a man in the middle has been a living-oasis for Raptors fans. Birch once again set his career-high in points this week and though the Raptors are losing games at roughly the same rate as the Orlando Magic (ugh), it must feel nice for Birch to at least be playing impactful minutes on the court.

Kyle Lowry, Half Great/Half Resting

No Raptor had a completely positive week this week, so the final Who’s Hot slot came down to Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam. Both players logged two really good games and then either missed two due to injury or played below average. Because his time as a Raptor could be running short, it only feels right to write about Lowry as much as possible, so Kyle gets the nod!

As he should, Lowry has been playing sporadically with the Raptors mostly out of the playoff mix and his varying “old” ailments flaring up. But when he’s played, he’s consistently shown that he still has a boat-load left in the tank. With the Los Angeles Lakers reeling and desperate for a win, Lowry put up a ridiculous 37 point, 11 assist double-double on a 60/62/83 shooting slash.

While his night against the Nuggets was a little more muted, one can’t help but wonder what it would have looked like if coach Nick Nurse decided to push his players to an attainable W as opposed to starting the fourth quarter with a lineup of DeAndre’ Bembry, Rodney Hood, Yuta Watanabe, Pascal Siakam, and Freddie Gillespie in a game they were only down by two points.

Who’s Not

The Injury Report, As Long as Ever

Another week, another tome of an injury report for the Toronto Raptors. Over just the past four games, here’s the amount of time missed for the very-shorthanded Raptors:

Gary Trent Jr. - 4 Games Missed
Paul Watson Jr. - 4 Games Missed
OG Anunoby - 2 Games Missed
Kyle Lowry - 2 Games Missed
Fred VanVleet - 2 Games Missed

Not. Good. At. All.

The Schedule, A Menace

Thursday’s game against the Washington Wizards will either put the final nail in this wretched season’s coffin or further prolong what might be an inevitability. Either way, after tomorrow night’s game, watching Raptors basketball could be challenging as they’ll either be fully eliminated from the play-in tournament, or they will have a razor-thin margin to scoot into the tournament.

On the plus side, the Raptors play the Clippers a final time which means we’re sure to get a couple more doses of moments like this.

The End, Make it Stop

Likely out of the playoffs. Likely looking at a middling draft pick. Games that are fun for three quarters until the fourth rolls around and then suddenly aren’t. Yes, the end is drawing near, Temperature fans. See you at the next check.