Toronto Raptors Temperature: Siakam and Lowry are hot, the west is not

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At some point this season, we might get tired of seeing the shorthanded Toronto Raptors pull out inspiring, how-the-heck-did-they-do-that wins against stiff competition.

Ah, who are we kidding. This is never gonna get old!

Once again the Raptors were banged up, and once again, they had their mettle tested. The opponents weren’t the toughest — the Warriors and Kings remain outside of the playoff picture — but still, winning on the West Coast is tough (uh, for some teams) and the Raptors weathered the storm and won all three games. They’ve now won four straight and have a three-game lead on the Boston Celtics for second place in the Eastern Conference.

Some minor debate sparked up on Twitter following Monday’s “heart-of-a-champion”-esque win in Utah about whether this year’s team was more fun than last year’s… and consensus seems to be that there is no argument and that this team is in fact the most fun Raptors team ever.

You won’t get any arguments from this corner.

Who’s Hot

Still Norm, Always Norm

I’m sure Mitch has kept highly detailed stats of who’s landed where in this here column. I do not have access to said stats, so let me estimate that Norman Powell has landed on the hot list 351 times this season.

Hyperbole, perhaps, but have you seen what Norm is doing out there? These numbers seem equally unreal: 21 points per game on 52/41/85 shooting splits over his past 16. It’s out of of this world, what he’s doing… You know, when he’s not hurt.

Can he continue it when he comes back from his latest setback, an ankle sprain suffered against Utah? He hasn’t missed a beat coming back from his previous injuries, so with the season he’s having, I wouldn’t bet against him.

Clutch Siakam

Pascal Siakam has had a few “hmm, is he really ready to be the guy” moments this season, so it’s been refreshing to see over the past week that — even when he struggles — he still comes through when you need him.

To wit, he scored six, eight and 11 points in the three fourth quarters this week, and he was 12-for-13 from the free throw line. He scored twice going to the rim in the final 75 seconds against Golden State, scored twice going to the rim in the final 90 seconds against Sacramento, and went 6-for-6 from the line in the final 60 seconds against Utah.

Nick Nurse has said he wants Siakam to get more opportunities in high-leverage situations, and Siakam has been getting them — and delivering. That three-pointer he drained against Sacramento with 2.5 minutes left may have seemed somewhat ridiculous, but you know full well how hard he’s worked to improve his range.

There’s no divine intervention there — his form is spot-on. Siakam still has room to improve, but it feels pretty good knowing we have him on our side down the stretch of close games.

Kyle MFing Lowry

Of course, Siakam wasn’t the only Raptor proving clutch this week. Kyle Lowry scored 13 in the fourth against the Kings (he seemed quite perturbed that the bench had given up the double-digit lead the starters had built!) and then buried the Jazz with a ridiculous three-pointer of his own.

During the four-game win streak Lowry is averaging 26.3 points on 47/43/89 shooting, with 7.8 assists, five rebounds and 2.3 steals.

Who’s Not

The Bench

Injuries are a you-know-what, and they’ve wreaked havoc on the Raptors’ rotations this year. But the bench production these last four games — 20, 14, 7, and 19 points — has been sub-par, to say the least. (And don’t let that 20 against Phoenix fool you: Chris Boucher had 19 of those!)

Terence Davis’ drop-off has been most disconcerting. His greatest strength to date has been his fearlessness; all season long he’s stepped into jumpers and taken the ball strong with no hesitation. Now, he seems to be pressing a bit, unsure of when to shoot, and trying to will the ball through the hoop when he does.

It’s been “next man up” for the Raptors all season, but the next man has been absent of late, leaving all the heavy lifting to Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell. If those guys are to have anything left in the tank come playoff time, they’re gonna need some help from the rest of the squad.

Tangling with OG Anunoby

I really just wanted to write “Rudy Gobert” here but the Raptors so thoroughly erased poor Rudy from Monday’s game that I’m not sure he even exists anymore.

So let me just leave this here as a warning: Cool it. You do not want to mess with OG Anunoby. It’s always the silent ones, first of all, who are the most deadly. (This is not a fart joke. Mostly.) Also have you seen this man? He is, as my wife likes to comment, chiseled out of marble. (No, I haven’t hit the gym in a while, why do you ask?)

OG is so damn cool he didn’t even know what to do when he got thrown out of the game.

Who me? Outta here? Whatever. Didn’t want to be here fam. This way? Utah, pff. This place is dead anyway.

The Western Conference All-Stars

The Raptors are now 10-3 on the road against the West this year, and went 3-2 and 4-1 on their two five-game road trips.

Here’s what the Western Conference All-Stars have done against the Raptors on their home turf this year (the Raptors don’t play the Rockets, with All-Stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook, in Houston, until April):

(And the Raptors were healthy for just one of those games — against the Pelicans. And both Lowry and Ibaka left that game early with injuries!)

There’s no place like home, but I’d say the Raptors are plenty comfortable going out on the West coast and making things uncomfortable for their hosts.