Opinion | Raptors’ win streak hits six after road win against Hornets
Don’t look now but the Raptors are one of the hottest teams in the NBA, an emerging squad making the case that the present is just as bright as its future.
The Raptors extended their winning streak to six games with a 116-101 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Monday. They have won 15 of the last 21 games to climb the standings and cement their status as a viable playoff contender, arguably a year ahead of schedule.
Pascal Siakam led the way again on Monday. A few hours after being named the Eastern Conference player of the week, Siakam had another well-rounded game with 24 points and 11 rebounds while falling two assists shy of a triple double. Gary Trent Jr. chipped in with 24 on 8-of-16 shooting while Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby each added 20.
“We always thought we’d be able to compete, just seeing our personnel and the guys we have,” Siakam said. “I think it was about having everyone together, having a game plan and sticking to it. Having the length and the guys that we have on the team, understanding that we can compete against anybody … I think as long as we come in with that intensity, we’ll be all right.”
With Thursday’s trade deadline just around the corner, the Raptors’ resurgence could not have come at a better time. At the beginning of the year, speculation centred around which assets would be traded away. Now it seems more about finding the right players to complement the core, not subtract from it.
The Raptors are 20-10 since Dec. 1, the third-best record in the East over that stretch. They were in 12th place as late as Dec. 11 but, after Monday’s win, they moved half a game ahead of both the Brooklyn and Boston for sole possession of sixth.
The Toronto Star’s Doug Smith reported last week that the Raptors are aggressively shopping Goran Dragic and his $19.4-million (U.S.) expiring deal. Add in some draft pick capital and the Raptors might be able to pull off a similar trade to the Cavaliers’ deal for Caris LeVert, one that could help not only this season but next year as well.
For the guys in the locker room, talk is just that until something happens. Last year, everyone knew they were preparing for the departures of Norm Powell and, eventually, Kyle Lowry. This year, they are worrying more about the standings and stringing together as many wins as possible.
“I don’t sense a ton of buzz or a lot of chatter from the team, or our players, or anything,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I think we’re just trying to get these guys here to focus in, and I think they’re doing a really good job of it right now.”
The Raptors and Hornets might have similar records, but they are trending in opposite directions. While the Raptors are thriving, Charlotte has lost five consecutive games to drop into ninth spot and a team that previously was accused of overachieving might be crashing back to reality.
The last time these two teams faced each other on Feb. 7, Charlotte’s defence was no match for the Toronto offence, and it was more of the same Monday. Led by Siakam, the Raptors scored 35 in the first quarter alone to take an early 14-point lead. They extended that lead to 21 in the second and eventually went into the break up 13.
The second half was tighter after the Raptors came out flat. Charlotte opened the third on a 9-0 run and a Miles Bridges layup shaved the lead to three with 2:33 remaining. VanVleet responded with a momentum-breaking 20-footer and the Hornets never got closer than five the rest of the way.
That gave the Raptors a win in what might prove to be the most difficult matchup of their three-game road trip. Next up is Oklahoma City and Houston, for a pair of games against the two bottom feeders that are a combined 41 games under .500.
The goal should be to have two more wins on the board before Thursday draws to a close. With a bit of luck, they might have a couple new recruits as well.
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