After kicking off their West Coast road trip with a loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Toronto Raptors closed out strong to take four-consecutive wins back to Toronto.
They defeated the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings before wrapping things up with a tough win in Utah over the Jazz.
It was a three-headed attack from Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka to snap the Jazz’s five-game win streak. Siakam finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high eight assists while Lowry added 21 points and seven assists and Ibaka had another monster double-double of 27 points and 13 rebounds.
The Raptors will have some time to rest as they don’t take the floor again until Sunday when they host the Detroit Pistons.
For more on their West Coast road trip, we have you covered with some key takeaways below.
Norman Powell’s hot streak
Nothing has been able to cool down Norman Powell’s career year… except injuries.
The Raptors guard has been on a season-long tear and despite various different injuries, with the latest being a sprained ankle suffered against the Jazz.
First, it was a shoulder injury that caused him to miss 11 games from mid-December to mid-January. He came back and picked up right where he had left off. Then, it was a broken finger that caused him to miss nine games throughout February. During his five-game return, he was playing the best basketball of his five-year career.
– Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 6, 2020
Powell’s performance over the course of this road trip earned him his first ever Eastern Conference Player of the Week honours. Over the team’s five games away from home, the 26-year-old posted ridiculous scoring numbers of 29.5 points shooting a blistering 55.4% from the field and 40.6% from beyond the arc to give Toronto’s healing roster a much-needed boost.
This recent stretch adds on to what has been a remarkable season for Powell, who is averaging career-highs across the board while nearly doubling his scoring average from last season, shooting more efficiently than ever before.
Unfortunately, he’ll likely have to miss more time with his recent ankle injury. Luckily for him and the Raptors, they’ll have four days before they have to take the floor again.
Pascal Siakam’s search for consistency
There’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of Pascal Siakam in his first season as the Raptors go-to guy, but that’s to be expected when you’re named an All-Star starter.
The 25-year-old’s consistency has wavered at times this season, and this recent road trip was no different. He had some great games, and some not-so-great games, and Toronto really needs their star forward to bring it night-in and night-out if they’re going to have a shot at making another deep postseason run.
Siakam flopped in the Raptors loss to the Nuggets to kick off the road trip – he scored just 16 points shooting 6-for-21 (28.6%) from the field and 1-for-7 (14.3%) from three while Denver’s All-Star had one of his best games of the season.
He bounced back in a big way with 33 points and seven boards against the Suns, but shriveled in Toronto’s very next game against the Warriors, going 5-for-17 (29.4%) from the field and 0-for-7 from beyond the arc despite his team pulling off a win without his presence felt.
Siakam closed the road trip strong, coming up clutch in the win over the Kings, stuffing the stat sheet while burying some massive buckets down the stretch. He then went for a career-high eight assists against the Jazz in a near-triple-double effort with 27 points and 11 rebounds.
There’s no doubt that Siakam is capable of being the star the Raptors need to lead them deep into the playoffs. The question is can he bring it consistently?
Needing help from the second unit
It was a successful road trip for the Raptors but there was a lot of reliance on the starters.
Part of that is the team is still recovering – which heavily impacts their depth – but they still need more out of their bench to take some pressure off of their starting five.
Toronto’s bench failed to score over 20 points in any of their five road games. There were some strong individual performances (see: Chris Boucher’s career-game of 19 points and 15 rebounds in the win over the Suns) but there was not a single game where multiple reserves stepped up at once.
Missing key rotational players like Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet forced typical bench players to step into the starting lineup, which makes a difference in the lack of the second unit’s production, of course.
When the team gets back to full strength, it will add talent to the second unit which will certainly help this problem, but head coach Nick Nurse would ideally like to see more from players like Boucher, Terence Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Patrick McCaw and Matt Thomas when they’re called upon.
They’ve each been reliable at various parts of the season, so there has to be confidence in their ability to step up, but seeing that in the last month before the end of the season would be an encouraging sign come playoff time.
Raptors are nearly at full strength
At the start of this road trip, the Raptors had just gotten Norman Powell back in the lineup but were still without key pieces like Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet. All three of the aforementioned traveled with the team in hopes to return at some point while away from Toronto and slowly but surely, we saw just that for two of the three.
Ibaka returned from an ankle injury against Golden State and immediately made his impact felt, going for three-straight double-doubles against the Warriors, Kings and Jazz.
Gasol returned from a hamstring injury against Sacramento playing in a limited role off the bench, then sat out the final game of the road trip against the Jazz for precautionary measures.
VanVleet (shoulder) has yet to get back in action as the Raptors elected to give their starting guard more time to rest with four days off following their next game against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Powell’s ankle injury suffered against Utah sets the team back a bit on this front, though the severity of the injury is still to be determined.
According to Spotrac, Toronto has had players miss a combined 217 games due to injury – good for fifth-most in the league. It’s impressive enough that they have still been able to maintain the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed despite their ailments, but the team isn’t very far away from being back at full strength.
In their matchup against the Pistons later in the week, we could very well see a fully healthy Raptors squad for the first time in a while and although it’s been tough battling through these injuries, Toronto is starting to heal at the right time of the season.
Road to the No. 2 seed
The Raptors have a comfortable 3.5-game lead over the Boston Celtics for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
This road trip helped their cause going 4-1, but the Celtics also damaged their own chances to aid Toronto as well.
Over the same stretch of games, Boston suffered four-consecutive home losses in which they owned double-digit leads at one point in all four games. With just 18 games remaining in the Raptors season and 19 games remaining in the Celtics season, the No. 2 seed is still up for grabs, but Toronto is the favourite to claim that spot.
According to Inpredictable, the Raptors have an 80% chance to keep the two seed. But, according to Tankathon, Toronto has the 10th-hardest remaining schedule in the NBA while Boston sits just outside the top-half of the league at 17th-hardest remaining schedule.
There is still one more head-to-head matchup between the Celtics and Raptors on March 21 in Toronto, which will play a huge role in which team comes away with the second-best record in the East.
The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.