Winning cures all, they say, and the Toronto Raptors are buying into that mantra.
After having long been considered an afterthought by the media across the border, NBA.com and Sports Illustrated’s latest Power Rankings have recognized the Raptors’ incredible success this season by awarding them the top spot ahead of the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors for the week of March 12.
ESPN isn’t quite as hot on the Raptors just yet, keeping them third behind the Rockets and Warriors.
The Raptors got a signature win on Friday, outscoring the Rockets, 45-27 from 3-point range, with their defensive scheme keeping Houston’s threes in check and with Kyle Lowry making seven of his nine attempts from beyond the arc.
For the season, only Brooklyn (28 percent) has allowed its opponents to take a lower percentage of their shots from 3-point range than the Raptors have (29 percent), with Toronto having seen the biggest decrease from last season (when 33 percent of their opponents’ shots came from beyond the arc).
While the win over Houston was huge, the Raps were the first team to clinch a playoff spot because they lead the league in TCB (takin’ care of business), with a 29-2 record against the 12 teams currently under .500 after beating the Hawks, Pistons and Knicks last week. One of the two losses was in Dallas on Boxing Day, and the Mavs will have a rest advantage when the two teams meet again in Toronto on Friday.
The Raptors have won eight in a row and nine of their last 10. It’s not too late for Drake to re-make the “God’s Plan” video and add one scene of DeMar DeRozan holding up the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
The Raptors are an NBA-best 15-1 since Feb. 2, and one of the main reasons has been bench production. During that span, Toronto leads the NBA in bench scoring at 48.9 points per game with a plus-10.1 point differential.
Winners of 15 of their last 16 games — the only loss coming in overtime against the Milwaukee Bucks — and firmly atop the Eastern Conference, Toronto made their biggest statement of the season yet with a thrilling 108-105 victory over the Rockets. The win clinched the season series since they defeated Houston 129-113 on Nov. 14 as well.
Toronto has an outside shot at the best record in the league, trailing Houston by three games in the loss column heading into Monday’s slate of games. With the rest of the East slipping further behind, there is reason to believe this team could reach the NBA Finals. They have lost one more game than the Warriors to this point, and so if they can finish with a better record, it’s conceivable that they could have home court advantage in the NBA Finals if both teams were to get that far.
The Warriors have slipped of late in the absence of Steph Curry, losing to Portland and Minnesota after winning 10 of 11. Curry has missed 17 games this season, which could be something to watch out for as we head down the stretch.
This has already become a truly memorable season for the Raptors, and there’s likely plenty more to come. Dwane Casey looks like the favourite for Coach of the Year, DeMar DeRozan is one of the top candidates for MVP, and the Raptors’ entire bench unit may be the Sixth Man of the Year.