Toronto Raptors Roundup: Raps Locked Into Two Seed?

Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors split this week’s games losing to the Thunder and the Hornets, firmly entrenching them into the second seed. What should they do about it?

The Toronto Raptors managed to go 2-2 this week. At the moment, they sit firmly in second behind the Milwaukee Bucks, four games back in the hunt for the top seed. The Bucks, however, hold the tie-breaker, essentially putting them five up on Toronto with only eight games remaining.

It would be difficult, though not impossible, for the Raps to catch the injured Bucks with a reasonably easy schedule the remainder of the way (the week ahead – Bulls twice, Knicks once). But should this be a route the Raptors take?

Nick Nurse doesn’t seem to be too concerned about that top seed. When asked this week about whether the Raptors are going for it, he responded,

"“We’re trying to win each night. [But] where we end up seeded, we end up seeded. “It just doesn’t seem to have much relevance to our team, and the situation that our organization is in,” Nurse said. “Yeah, we want a decent seed, but we can’t get caught up in it.”"

Raptors fans would most likely agree. Too often have they seen their team finish a fantastic regular season with a high seed yet not accomplish their ultimate objective – winning deep into the playoffs. Last year was just another example of this. “I think somebody won it last year not being a No. 1 seed. But I’m not sure, ” said Nurse when asked about the relevance of finishing with the top seed.

With only eight games remaining at this point, the Raptors focus must be on getting guys clicking while avoiding injury. The return of Kyle Lowry after missing a few games due to an ankle injury caused the Raptors faithful to breathe a collective sigh of relief. The Raptors cannot afford to go into another year’s playoffs anywhere short of full health.

Another focus should also be their “turnover problem” that’s reared its ugly head once again this week. In four games, the Raptors turned the ball over 65 times, including 21 in their loss to the Thunder.

If anything is certain, it doesn’t matter what seed you are, or how many games you play at home,  taking care of the ball come playoff time is an absolute must. And that’s where the Raptors should be looking at this moment.

Here’ a closer look at this week’s games.

Game Recap

New York at Toronto

The Raptors took care of business against the New York Knicks Monday night, winning 128-92. The Knicks, who are in complete tank-mode, had very little to offer in response to the Raptors who were up 19 by half-time.

The Raptors had eight players in double digits including team leader Jeremy Lin who one of his best nights as a Raptor finishing with 20 points. As a team, the Raptors shot 56 percent from the field including going 43 percent from deep. The team managed to pull in 45 defensive rebounds off of many Knick misses.

With all the good on this night, there was some bad. The Raptors will have to wait to field a healthy line-up as Kyle Lowry who went down in the third with a right ankle injury.

Coach Nick Nurse said Lowry’s latest injury was not “terribly bad” while Lowry himself admitted that he was “able to walk, a little bit slower, but I’ll be all right.”

The Raptors will have to balance rest vs rust as they enter the final stretch of the season before playoff time.

Toronto at Oklahoma

The Raptors marched into Oklahoma without Kyle Lowry and played an impressive game against the Thunder coming away with the 123-114 win.

The Raptors looked to be firing on all cylinders for the first three quarters, outscoring the Thunder by 14 going into the fourth. But some lack of ball movement on the Raptors part ignited a Thunder defence which led to the improbable comeback sending the game to overtime.

The Raptors found their groove again in the extra period allowing the Thunder (without Paul George who had fouled out) to score only four points. The entire starting unit looked solid on this night, with every player scoring in double digits. Pascal Siakam continued to shine scoring 33 points as did Fred VanVleet who had 23 points and six assists.

Oklahoma at Toronto

Toronto hoped to take the two-game home and home series against Oklahoma, but some very decent Oklahoma three-point shooting prevented the two-game sweep for the Raptors. The Thunder shot nearly 50 percent from deep on this night including Paul George and Dennis Schröder hitting nine themselves. as Oklahoma defeated the Raptors 116-109.

The Raptors had strong performances from a couple of players, including a stellar night from Leonard who finished with 37 points, six rebounds and four assists. Siakam scored 25 points and Green had 19 in the loss. The Raptors bench, however, was not able to find any consistency, managing only 18 points, 11 of which were from Ibaka (in his first game back from his three-game suspension).

The Raptors were unable to match the Thunder’s energy in the second half, getting outscored 68-51 in the last two quarters.

Charlotte at  Toronto

What. A. Finish. The Toronto Raptors lost to the Charlotte Hornets 115-114 after a buzzer-beating prayer from past half court that was reminiscent of MoPete. Jeremy Lamb ended up with the ball getting knocked out of hands with only three seconds left, yet managed to re-gather and get a desperation heave up that somehow found the backboard and then in.

The Raptors jumped out to an early first quarter lead and looked like they might run away with this one against a Hornets team that had played the night before. But they were then jumped by a Charlotte Hornet’s team desperate for that eight and final playoff spot in the East.

The Hornets had seven players in double-digits including shooting 44 percent from deep.

In what has been a recurring problem for the Raptors, they continued to turn the ball over at a high rate.  As a team, they had 13 turnovers (the lowest amount in the last four) including five from Siakam alone.

The Raptors fielded their entire line-up for the first time in over a month, getting Lowry back from the ankle injury that had him out for two games.

The Week Ahead

Chicago at Toronto

Despite a winning percentage below 30% and finding themselves more than 30 games back, Bulls coach Jim Boylen has recently gone on the record to say that the Bulls are not tanking.  “We’re trying to build a competitive spirit, a team that’s going to honor that Bulls across their chest and play for the city. We don’t feel shutting people down is a way to build that.”  The Bulls though, have shut down Wendell Carter Jr. (left thumb) and Chandler Hutchison (right foot) for the remainder and of the season and may sit Zach LaVine and Otto Porter Jr as well. The Raptors will face off against that competitive spirit Tuesday.

Toronto at New York

The Raptors managed to take care of the New York Knicks last week in an impressive showing. They hope to bring the same professionalism this week as they visit the Mecca of Basketball on Tuesday night. The biggest questions for the Raptors this week might be who plays and who does not as Toronto plays three games that are certainly winnable in a span of five days.

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Toronto at Chicago

Toronto will travel to the Windy City on Saturday night to play the Bulls again. The Raptors will have five games remaining after this game, only one of which at the time of writing was against a team with a winning record (Brooklyn).