Holy smokes, the Raptors are on a 14-game winning streak!
The Raptors are 39-14, still 3rd place in the league, now just 1.0 game back of the Los Angeles Lakers for 2nd place in the league. The Raptors road record of 19-7 also ranks 3rd in the league, an important marker for a good team.
The Raptors will only play two games this week before taking a break for All-Star weekend in Chicago from February 14-16.
Here is a breakdown of the Raptors upcoming schedule:
- Monday, February 10th at 7:30 pm: Minnesota Timberwolves (16-35) @ Toronto Raptors
- Wednesday, February 12th at 7:30 pm: Toronto Raptors @ Brooklyn Nets (23-28)
- Combined winning percentage of 38.2
Let’s look ahead to the five most interesting storylines for the upcoming week:
1. Spreading the wealth
One thing that has become apparent recently is how many different scorers the Raptors have and, to be more specific, how many guys can create their own shot.
During the Raptors 14-game winning streak, five different Raptors are averaging more than 17.0 points including Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, and Pascal Siakam. Two more players are averaging more than 10.0 points including Marc Gasol and Terence Davis.
Even though the Raptors rely on Siakam a lot at the end of games, the Raptors run an equal-opportunity offense for the most part, making a point to get all of their key players involved.
The Raptors ability to score in multiple ways is one of the things that makes them so hard to game-plan for: even if the opposing team successfully takes Siakam or Lowry out of the game, the Raptors have five other guys who can get a bucket. It’s what helped them win a championship last season and it is even more pronounced this season with everyone taking a significant step forward.
2. Lowry’s elite intuitiveness
Among the many things that Lowry does on a regular basis that goes unnoticed is his intuition regarding which teammates need the ball and his ability to find them in a good position.
Take Friday’s game against the Indiana Pacers, for example. Lowry, who runs the team’s offense for the majority of most games, made a point to get OG Anunoby involved early after Anunoby laid an egg the previous game against the Pacers and looked noticeably frustrated with his performance. Anunoby finished with 16 points on Friday including 3/5 from behind the arc.
Lowry did something similar with Chris Boucher, who has been struggling to shoot the ball for months now. After starting the season shooting the ball well, Boucher has shot just 20.7 percent from three since the start of the new year. Lowry made a point drive into the paint and kick the ball out to Boucher above the arc in the second quarter, where Boucher had ample time to knock down his first three in a while.
Not all baskets are created equally, nor is every basket equally important. You can tell when a guy sees his shot go in and a weight is lifted off his back, which is what happened with both Anunoby and Boucher on Friday night, both because of Lowry.
Lowry has an innate sense to know which teammates are lacking confidence or are frustrated with their play and he makes a point to get them involved, meaning he gets them the ball in a position where they can succeed.
With Lowry running the offense, it’s no wonder the Raptors have a team full of confident and unselfish players.
3. Ibaka’s surprising season.
Seriously, who saw this coming from Ibaka?
The 30-year-old center is playing his best basketball as a Raptor, averaging 16/8/1 on 52/49/75 shooting on a career-high usage of 24.7 percent.
With Gasol missing 18 games and counting, Ibaka has had to play a big role for the Raptors this season and has played remarkably well at both ends. It’s not just that Ibaka has become a reliable scoring option and better passer for the Raptors, he is also playing his best defense since joining the team. Although he isn’t as athletic as he used to be, averaging career-low blocks per game (0.8), his positional awareness is much better than it used to be and he is playing so hard, hitting everything that comes through the paint.
The Raptors entered the season with Ibaka being their single most tradable contract due to it being an expiring and him not being as important to the team as Gasol was during the previous playoff run. That has all changed, as Ibaka has been the better center this season and has played so well the Raptors couldn’t justify trading him.
I have a big piece about Ibaka’s season coming out on Wednesday, including how he played so well that it became impossible for the Raptors to move him at the deadline.
4. Post-trade deadline Eastern Conference overview
The trade deadline had more movement than many of us expected, but with the exception of the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers, the top six teams in the Eastern Conference stayed pat.
The Heat traded for Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder without losing any rotation players while the 76ers traded for Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III.
Both teams got better, but the question is: by how much?
Iguodala is an elite defender who can space the floor enough to make you worry, as the Raptors know from their NBA Finals series against the Warriors. However, he is 36 years old and hasn’t played basketball since June, so what kind of shape he will be in come playoffs is the big question. Crowder, one the other hand, will add physicality to the Heat bench, but he is shooting a career-low 29.3 percent from three and doesn’t project to be a difference-maker in a playoff series.
The 76ers added shooting and were desperate for it. However, they did not solve their fit issues and still have a starting lineup that hasn’t been able to figure it out all season. Burks and Robinson should help, especially if Brett Brown mixes up his lineups more creatively, but the 76ers have shown no real signs of turning it around this season and I wouldn’t be as afraid of them in a playoff series as I would with the Heat, Celtics, or Bucks.
The 76ers never replaced Jimmy Butler’s leadership — and he is a leader who holds players accountable, regardless of if you like his methods or not — and instead relied on Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to take steps forward as players and leaders. The two of them have been unable to create a healthy culture of winning and accountability, and I don’t see that changing this far into the season.
The playoffs are still going to be a bloodbath in the Eastern Conference: six teams reasonably believe they have a chance to make the NBA Finals, which makes getting the No. 2 seed so important.
The Raptors are not afraid of anybody, while I’m not so sure the other teams in the East can say the same.
5. Win streak
The Raptors 14-game winning streak is the longest in franchise history. They are just four short of matching the Milwaukee Bucks season-high 18-game win streak.
In terms of NBA history, the Raptors would need to win 13 more wins to match the Miami Heat’s 27-game win streak from the 2012-12 season, a record for the 2000s. Going even further, they would need 19 more wins to match the Los Angeles Lakers 33-game win streak from 1971-72, an NBA record.
I realize I am getting way ahead of myself here, but NBA history is fun and the Raptors have been playing so well they are hard to bet against. In order to match the Heat record for the 2000s, the Raptors only need four wins against teams above .500 in the next 13 games including the Pacers, Bucks, Nuggets, and Jazz.