The Toronto Raptors have won four straight games, and after last night’s victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, are guaranteed a winning record on their current six-game road trip.
My prediction in this space three weeks ago, of the Raptors going 12-13 in the final 25 games, seemed pretty accurate to start — the Raptors were 3-5 in their first eight after the break, as I predicted. But the next two? Well, I sure didn’t have them beating both the Denver Nuggets and the Phoenix Suns!
So the Raps are now 6-5 since the break, and at 38-30 remain just one game back of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the coveted sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. (Tomorrow night’s opponent, the Los Angeles Clippers, could have done us a huge favour by beating the Cavs last night. Frankly, it’s the least they could have done after strip-mining our resources the past three years! Alas.)
All of which is to say, perhaps I was wrong (again!) about this Raptors team. I had them out of the playoffs in my preseason expectations and was (very!) wrong them, and I seem to be on track to be very wrong in my post-break predictions.
Either I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about (probably true!) or I’ve been traumatized by so many bad Raptors teams in the past 28 years that I simply know to keep my expectations low every time.
Have our Power Rankers adjusted their stance on these Raptors? Let’s fine out!
We’ll start with John Schuhmann of NBA.com, who seems to have enjoyed this Raptors Vision 6’9” experiment, but has deftly used the numbers (as he always does!) to point out areas of concern. (Remember too, these rankings come out on Monday, so last night’s game doesn’t factor in).
14. Toronto Raptors (previously: 16)
Since the All-Star break, the Raptors have lost to four teams — Charlotte, Atlanta, Detroit and Orlando — that have losing records. But they’ve suddenly won three straight games, and their victories in Phoenix and Denver over the weekend are one of the most impressive back-to-backs any team has had this season. The Raptors have the league’s 14th best record overall, but they have the eighth best record (17-18) in games played between the 16 teams currently over .500. That includes an 8-2 mark since late January, with the Raptors having scored 116 points per 100 possessions over those 10 games.
They’ve scored almost 122 per 100 over this winning streak, even though they haven’t got the best (or all) of Fred VanVleet. Pascal Siakam has been running more, averaging a league-high 6.4 fast break points in March (up from 3.0 prior to that). Scottie Barnes (with VanVleet out) had a career-high 10 assists in Denver, and Gary Trent had a huge game (42 points, 8-for-11 from 3-point range) in Phoenix, having otherwise shot 8-for-46 (17%) from beyond the arc over his last six games.
That fast-break-point stat re: Siakam is fascinating. I also wonder (I’m not deft enough with NBA.com advanced stats!) how many assists Siakam is getting in transition, because that number seems to be up too. And of course, transition stats are usually a result of defensive effort, and the Raptors are fifth in defensive rating over the past two weeks (not counting last night’s win). It’s also fascinating to see that they’re actually decent against the good teams, which has been a knock against the Raptors in the past.
One final schedule note from John:
This team has had its ups and downs on both ends of the floor, but it’s now just a game behind the Cavs for sixth place in the East. The Cavs have won the first three meetings, but the final one (next Thursday) is in Toronto and the Raps have more games remaining (7) against teams currently below .500. That includes two gams against the Lakers this week, and Toronto will have a rest advantage in L.A. on Monday.
Once again I am keeping my expectations low, but man... catching the Cavs really does seem possible!
Let’s check in now with Zach Harper of The Athletic. This week, Zach is checking in on every team’s playoff chances, as calculated by our friends at Basketball Reference. For the Raptors, these are the three most likely scenarios:
- 18.1 percent 6-seed
- 51.4 percent 7-slot
- 14.2 percent 8-slot
Here’s what Zach has to say:
14. Toronto Raptors (previously: 17)
Don’t look now, but the Toronto Raptors can be the team that disrupts everything the rest of this season. They’ve got a real chance at escaping the Play-In Tournament. Overtaking Cleveland might work out better for them than hoping to get through Kevin Durant and then possibly a red-hot Atlanta offense. But the Raptors are also playing some of their best basketball right now. They’ve won 14 of their last 21 games, and they’re now in a position the rest of this regular season to get comfortable at home. Eight of their final 10 games on the schedule happen in Toronto, so these homestands aren’t really broken up too much with travel. Don’t be surprised if the Raptors not only push Cleveland into the Play-In but maybe even grab the No. 5 seed.
Five seed?? Come on now Zach, let’s not get crazy!! Interesting to see Zach’s “won 14 of 21” note there. As fans we can get a bit of “missed the forest for the trees” vision; things seems so awful that first week after the break, but those four losses to Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit and Orlando were definitely anomalies in the Raptors’ recent play.
Finally, a cursory check-in with Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Take it away, Tim:
14. Toronto Raptors (previously: 15)
A week ago, Toronto seemed like it had little chance of getting out of the play-in. Now, after sweeping a road back-to-back in Phoenix and Denver, coupled with Cleveland continuing to spiral down the standings, the Raptors are suddenly within striking distance of the East’s top six.
As always, Tim tells no lies, but also doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.
On to the poll:
Are the Raptors ranked fairly in week 22?
This poll is closed
Yes. Those losses to Detroit and Orlando linger.
Too low. Did you see those wins against Denver and Phoenix?
Too high. Talk to me when you can beat Dwane Casey.
Dammit, I guess the lottery is out of the question now.