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Power Ranking Poll Week 21: Can the pre-Break Raptors please stand up?

There’s only so much more of this we can take.

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Toronto Raptors v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Wow, that was a rough few days. Three straight losses for our Toronto Raptors, two of them to the two worst teams in the entire NBA, and the third to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team the Raptors are chasing (were chasing?) for the sixth and final guaranteed playoff spot.

The losses aren’t too surprising; after all, the Raptors are missing two starters, and when those two are two of your best three shooters, and Gary Trent Jr., stuck in the iciest of shooting slumps, is your third, well, that’s a recipe for disaster.

How bad is it?

Uh-huh, right, good.

Ultimately the week’s losses are a reinforcement of something we’ve been seeing since the very beginning of the season: the margin for error with this Raptors team is extremely thin.

The Raps aren’t the only team dealing with injuries and absences of course; others are similarly struggling (the Brooklyn Nets), while others, with deeper benches, or players making a leap, or MVPs doing MVP things (hello Nikola Jokic!), are faring better.

And that’s the NBA in a nutshell! The Raptors don’t have an MVP, and none of their players have made a significant leap (at least, not with consistency; Trent has been better on the season than expected, but the current slump is unfortunately ill-timed. Precious Achiuwa has been great since the All-Star break, but still has moments of head-shaking curiousity).

And now, with a six-game trip ahead, things are not exactly looking up for the Raptors. Let’s see where they landed on last week’s power rankings before we hit the road.

We’ll start with Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Take it away, Tim:

15. Toronto Raptors (previously: 14)

It’s now three losses in a row for the Raptors, who have fallen three games behind sixth-place Cleveland and have an uphill climb to escape from the play-in tournament. Much of this is out of Toronto’s control, given the injuries to Fred VanVleet (knee) and OG Anunoby (finger), but if the Raptors don’t get into the top six at the end of the season, they’ll likely look back to this week as when things began to slip away.

I agree with Tim that much of this is beyond the team’s control, but I don’t believe there was ever a real chance at a top-six seed, not after the start they had; the only reason they’re even in 7th is because of all of Brooklyn’s issues.

Over at NBA.com, John Schuhmann shockingly has the Raptors moving up one spot!

16. Toronto Raptors (previously: 17)

The Raptors have lost three straight games and seven of their last 10, with the league’s 28th-ranked offense (105.9 points scored per 100 possessions) over that extended stretch. Pascal Siakam had a couple of good shooting games last week (23-for-35 in a back-to-back), but they came in losses (at home) to the Pistons and Magic. And his post-break effective field goal percentage (42.9%) ranks 97th among 106 players with at least 50 field goal attempts. Gary Trent’s (35.0%) ranks 105th.

Not making me feel very good, there, John!

But the Raptors just finished a stretch where they played seven games (with three back-to-backs) in 10 days. They’ve been without OG Anunoby since the break and were without Fred VanVleet for all of their five-game Week 20. They have a top-10 post-break defense and their two post-break wins came in their two most important games, a home-and-home back-to-back with the Nets. Scottie Barnes totaled 46 points (on 20-for-27 shooting), 26 rebounds (12 on the offensive glass), eight assists, six steals and two blocks over the two games.

Hey, look, there’s the bright side! It’s true that the defense has been solid post-break, but, also... look at the competition. Pistons, Magic, shorthanded Nets... I don’t know, I’m not putting too much stock in those games.

Finally, we swing by The Athletic, where Zach Harper is breaking down clutch play for each team.

17. Toronto Raptors (previously: 15)

As part of the Toronto Raptors showing resilience and finding a way to claw through wins throughout this season, their clutch performances have mostly been really good. Maybe that’s just the moxie of a team that won a title a couple of years ago, and the remaining core players possess poise forever in these tight moments. Or maybe it’s just a team getting healthy and trusting its leaders to pull it through those pressure situations. Whatever it is, the Raptors have been good in most clutch games.

Clutch profile: 18-16 | Offense: 113.8 (7th) | Defense: 105.7 (11th) | +8.1 net rating (9th tied)

Go-to guy: Fred VanVleet | 74 points on 63 shots | 34.9/45.9/81.3 shooting splits | 18 assists, 7 turnovers

Potential liability: Fred VanVleet | 74 points on 63 shots | 34.9/45.9/81.3 shooting splits | 18 assists, 7 turnovers

VanVleet is a bit of a mystery. He’s been killing opponents by knocking down 3-pointers, but he has to be able to get easy buckets going toward the basket too. He’s been really bad inside the arc in the clutch. He could correct that moving forward, or maybe it’s just something he can’t figure out right now. Either way, the Raptors continue to put together a great playoff-worthy campaign.

(Nice of Zach not to take the opportunity to slam Pascal Siakam’s clutch shot-making, there.)

The Raptors have certainly had their share of clutch moments this season; before the break, it seemed like four out of every five games went down to the wire. VanVleet struggling inside the arc is nothing new for Raptors fans, as it’s the one knock against his game — and pretty much the one thing he can’t fix. When defenses collapse on him, his size makes it really tough for him to get up a good shot (or to even find a teammate).

But, yeah — Siakam being able to hit a clutch shot would certainly help.

Well, thanks for re-living the misery of last week with me. Let’s hope Schuhmann is right, and VanVleet’s return is imminent!

On to the poll:

Poll

Are the Raptors ranked fairly in week 21?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    Yes. Rough week, but it was out of their control.
    (21 votes)
  • 34%
    Way too high. No excuses for losing to the Magic and Pistons.
    (14 votes)
  • 4%
    Talk to me when Pascal sinks a shot in the clutch.
    (2 votes)
  • 9%
    We’re definitely keeping that draft pick, right?
    (4 votes)
41 votes total Vote Now