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Power Ranking Poll Week 17: The Raptors are sitting pretty once again

Orlando Magic v Toronto Raptors
Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Toronto handed out a few nights off to its most exhausted — and central — players, and yet the team found a way to win three games ina row. What do the Rankings have to say to that?

The Raptors have proven us wrong once again. While some people — like this noted jabroni — were writing Toronto off, urging or gently encouraging them to steer into the tank, the temm itself was banding together. The results speak for themselves over the past seven days: despite a few nights off for luminaries Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet, the Raptors went 3-1, including their first three-wins-in-a-row stretch since mid-February.

Yes, Toronto’s opponents in that time were not exactly the giants of the league, but still: the team got it done. And what’s more, they’ve now put themselves into a three-way tie for tenth place with the Bulls and Wizards, which means the play-in game to this year’s postseason is still very much up for grabs. (For the record: Chicago has the tiebreaker over Toronto, so they’ll have to finish ahead of the Bulls to claim tenth.) Who thought we’d be here with the Raptors? Surely not I — but let’s see what the Power Rankers think this time out.

First up, the furious Tim Bontemps of ESPN tells us to chill and listen while he expounds:

21. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 23)

The Zombie Raptors won’t go away. Even after all of the disasters that have befallen the team over the past several weeks, Toronto still finds itself back in the final play-in spot in the East after winning three straight games last week. The schedule doesn’t get any easier for them moving forward, but if the Raptors want to finish 10th, they should have more than enough to hold off Chicago and Washington.

That’s really what gives us pause now: the Raptors do not have an easy schedule for the season’s final 14 games. Usually by this point they’ve played all their west coast games, except this time out we can look forward to a few 10pm starts — along with showdowns against tough teams like the Nuggets, Clippers, Jazz, and Nets. Now, will some of those teams be easing themselves into the playoffs by then? It’s possible, but it’ll still be hard work for Toronto.

Up next, we’ve got Zach Harper from the Athletic with another sneaky missive:

17. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 20)

Three-quarter grade: C-

Every time I think the Toronto Raptors have turned the corner and gone back to their winning ways, something happens to knock them down again. I continue to harp on this, but it’s wild they have to go through a season like this in a city that isn’t theirs. It’s similar to the Hornets going to Oklahoma City, but a lot more extreme because of the situation. If the Raptors are healthy and available the rest of the season, they’ll make the playoffs. I think…

Goal for final stretch: Make and win the play-in tournament. The Raptors have been through a chaotic season, but they should be better than what we’ve seen this season. One good, healthy stretch and they’ll be fine for making the postseason.

Why are they ranked here? Raptors had a 3-1 week, and they’ve won six of their last 10 games. It’s not going to remind everybody of the 2019 team, but they’re headed in the right direction.

Once again, we do have to note the situation — and this underrates the fact that the roster got torn apart by COVID right when things had been trending in the right direction — but we’re here now and there’s still time for Toronto to make the best of it. I would probably give the Raptors a B- minus for their three-quarter season run, but I take Harper’s point on this.

Next up, a dose of reality from Dr. John Schuhmann of NBA dot com:

22. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 24)

It’s not clear that the Raptors are happy that this is the case, but they enter Week 18 in 10th place, holding a percentage-points edge over the Bulls and Wizards for the final Play-In spot in the East. They’ve won three straight games, even though Kyle Lowry has missed all three… and while Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam have each played in exactly one of the three. They beat the Spurs with only Anunoby and Siakam, the Magic with only VanVleet, and the Thunder with only Trent.

Paul Watson, who has looked like a pretty disruptive defender at times, scored 30 points on Friday. Rookie Malachi Flynn has 46 assists and just 10 turnovers over his last seven games. And Khem Birch might be the steady and sturdy center the Raptors have been missing all season. They’ve outscored their opponents by 10.4 points per 100 possessions in 80 total minutes with Birch and Chris Boucher (“La connexion montréalaise”) on the floor together.

If the intent is to compete for the Play-In berth, last week’s DNPs (no matter how they were explained) will have the Raptors’ best players extra fresh when they face Brooklyn on Wednesday after a two-day break. Ten of their final 14 games are against teams that are currently over .500, and the Raps have lost 10 of their last 11 games against that group (though, in true Raptors fashion, all 10 losses have been by single digits).

I’m not entirely convinced “La connexion montréalaise” has the legs to get over as a nickname, but I appreciate the doctor tossing it in there. And when you take the wide view, as Schuhmann does above, it does suddenly make sense for the Raptors to give their stars some days off. Now Toronto is healthy and hungry — gearing up for who knows what. (Well, we know: the playoffs.)

Finally, let’s turn our attention to this post’s metaphorical little brother, Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports:

22. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 22)

Try as they might, the Raptors weren’t able to out-tank the Magic and Thunder this week, winning both games without Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. They also beat the Spurs earlier in the week after losing to the Hawks, and they were fined by the NBA for not adhering to the rules of rest and injury reporting — quite an eventful sequence of events! Toronto got contributions up and down the roster from players like Paul Watson and Yuta Watanabe, while Malachi Flynn has held down point guard duties with Lowry on the shelf, averaging 14.8 points and 5.8 assists this week on 41 percent 3-point shooting.

Lost in the shuffle here is that Malachi Flynn has been holding his own as Toronto’s lead guard, they are indeed getting stout contributions down the bench from Paul Watson and Yuta Watanabe, and while this could all be blown apart by the superior firepower of one of the league’s leading teams, the Raptors are perhaps now stronger for having come through all the adversity they’ve just faced. Dare we dream it?

Now, onto the poll.





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