Last week in this space I predicted the Toronto Raptors would lose to the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks as they opened their post-All-Star break schedule. I’ve never been Nostradamus with predictions, but dang, being right has rarely been do disappointing.
The two losses were brutal, embarrassing blowouts, and the Raptors have slipped in the power rankings this week as a result. It definitely wasn't what any of us wanted to see from the Raps coming out of the break, but you know, haven’t we all had off weeks? One of those weeks where nothing goes right, the weather stinks, work is a drag, you can’t find your car keys, and you get the wrong pizza delivered... but then the next week, the sun is shining and the previous week is forgotten?
Let’s just hope it was one of those for the Raptors! (Last night’s win over the Brooklyn Nets sure seems like a good start.)
This week, we’ll start our look at the rankings with ESPN and Tim Bontemps. I’ve given Tim a hard time lately because it feels like he isn’t putting in the effort into his write-ups that his contemporaries have been. Let’s see if he’s diving a little deeper this week:
14. Toronto Raptors (previously: 13)
It’s now losses in four of five games for Toronto after a terrific stretch of play before that. If Toronto has designs on breaking into the top six in the East, it will need to turn things around quickly; the Raptors sit 2.5 games out of sixth with 23 games to go.
Guess not! I mean, nothing wrong or off the mark with what’s Tim’s saying, but if we were in school, Tim’s teacher would be giving him feedback like “do more than the bare minimum next time.”
Thankfully, our other two power poll contributors generally make up for Tim’s lack of depth. Over at The Athletic, Zach Harper is checking in with how we’re feeling about each team at the three-quarters of the season:
15. Toronto Raptors (previously: 14)
How we feeling? I’m still very bullish on this Toronto Raptors team because they’ve been able to endure quite a bit throughout this chaotic season. Asking them to overtake Boston, after their recent run, probably isn’t very realistic, even though only two games separate them in the standings. I think the Raptors have positioned themselves quite well to still reach the actual playoffs. If Brooklyn is healthy and they don’t climb to the top six, the Nets are probably grabbing the seventh seed. But the Raptors have to feel pretty good beating Atlanta or Charlotte, even after big losses to both teams this past week. The Raptors are a far steadier team than those two, and of those three teams, the Raptors are the only competent defensive squad.
Prediction for the final stretch: Raptors grab the eighth seed for the playoffs, and set themselves up for a first-round showdown with Chicago..
Glad to see Zach isn’t too worried about the two losses this week. They were demoralizing, and Raptors fans took them pretty hard, but we all know that every team suffers a handful of losses like that in a season; not usually back-to-back, and not right after the All-Star break, and not with the accompanying news that a starter was going to be sidelined indefinitely with a finger injury... but it happens! Beating the Nets last night — and maybe again tonight? — sure helps the losses fade from memory though.
Finally we check in with John Schuhmann at NBA.com, who never disappoints with the depth he puts into his rankings. But John definitely seems more concerned about the losses than Zach does (and he’s dropped the Raptors further as well):
17. Toronto Raptors (previously: 13)
Woof. The Raptors have a relatively easy post-break schedule in regard to opponent strength, but it began with two losses to two teams that were below .500 … by a combined 59 points. Going back to the last few days before the break, they’ve lost four of their last five, with the last three losses coming by 27 points or more. Their only other loss by more than 17 points this season was the Covid-season game in which one of their five starters met the other four on the bus ride to the arena.
The Raptors’ half-court offense remains an issue, and they’ve shot 24-for-89 (27%) from 3-point range (against three worse-than-average defenses) over these last three losses. But more concerning may be the defense that has allowed more than 126 points per 100 possessions over the three games. Charlotte and Atlanta combined to shoot 71% in the paint over the weekend, with the Hornets’ 64 points in the restricted area being just two fewer than the season high for any team this season. OG Anunoby (broken finger) was missed and we’ll soon get some clarity on how long he’ll be missed. The Raptors’ starting lineup (with Khem Birch in Anunoby’s place) was outscored by 39 points over its 28 weekend minutes.
These are all very fair points; off nights do happen, but the numbers John shares are in fact somewhat alarming. You can have a night where the shots don’t drop, or you’re a step slow on D, but the Raptors were bad pretty much everywhere in those two losses.
Let’s see tonight which Raptors squad shows up!
On to the poll:
Are the Raptors ranked fairly in Week 20?
This poll is closed
Yes. They were bad losses, but the team has time to right the ship.
No — too low. The week was an aberration, the Raptors are better than that.
No — too high. Last week we saw the real Raptors, and they’re just not good enough.
I don’t know, but I’m convinced this is a stealth tank to keep that draft pick they sent out in the Dragic trade!