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Against All Odds, Raptors Keep Winning

The red-hot Toronto Raptors are riding an 11-game winning streak. Chad Smith examines how the defending champions have managed to fight off the loss of key players and overcome so many injuries this season.

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After winning a championship and losing their superstar player, the Toronto Raptors were expected to have a dropoff this season.

Apparently, someone forgot to tell Masai Ujiri, Nick Nurse and all of the players.

For the second straight season, the Raptors are 36-14 after 50 games played. They own the third-best record in the league and have won a franchise-record 11 consecutive games. That is the longest current win streak in the league, by a healthy margin. That streak is even more impressive when you consider that seven of those wins came on the road. Even better, their last double-digit loss came on Christmas Day.

There are various Canadian betting apps where you can bet on whether the Raptors make the playoffs.

Toronto is 15-4 overall since that Christmas game in Boston. Three of those four losses, though, were by two points or less. They have the best win differential in the league over that span. Their offense has been firing on all cylinders since January, and they currently have the second-best defensive rating in the league.

As far as the team statistics, the numbers won’t blow you away. The Raptors are middle-of-the-pack in most categories, but the areas where they excel are crucial. They rank third in the league in three-point shooting and fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio. They are also one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the league right at 80 percent.

The notion that Kawhi Leonard carried this franchise to a title is one that many will debate. Obviously, he was their most skilled player and led by example on the court. The Raptors still relied on the leadership of Kyle Lowry, the experience of guys like Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka and the emergence of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet.

Known as one of the great regular season teams, this year is no exception. Or is it?

This is the first regular-season the Raptors have played in which they haven’t had a guy named DeMar DeRozan or Kawhi Leonard. There are familiar faces on the floor, but many new ones as well. The player development in Toronto has been the best in the league over the last few years. The shaping and molding of their young players have helped tremendously as they have dealt with a bevy of injuries this season.

Six of Toronto’s top seven players have missed at least 10 games this year. Their top seven players have only played 17 games together this season. Norman Powell is the latest name to hit the injury report, as he is out indefinitely with a fractured finger. Through 38 games this season, Powell has nearly doubled his scoring average to 15.3 points per game while posting career-high numbers in rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and shooting percentages.

The cliché is overused, but it truly is “next man up” with this Raptors squad. Terence Davis has exploded onto the scene after going undrafted, ala VanVleet. The shooting guard from Ole Miss poured in a career-high 31 points in their last game. Chris Boucher is still raw, but has shown tremendous improvement over the season. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has fit in quite well, while Matt Thomas continues to be a welcome surprise for the organization.

OG Anunoby has quietly filled in admirably in the vacated role that Kawhi played last season. The ball is obviously not in his hands as much, but his scoring punch and defensive play have been outstanding. The third-year pro out of Indiana is putting up career numbers across the board and has been able to pressure and negate the opposing team’s best wing players.

Another beam of positivity for Toronto has been their wizard of a head coach. Having two All-Stars in Lowry and Siakam helps, but Nurse has done yeoman’s work with this team. His 94-38 overall record as head coach is a reassurance of that. Nurse will coach Team Giannis in the All-Star game this month in Chicago.

Five games remain for the Raptors before the All-Star break. Their next two will be a home-and-home series with the Indiana Pacers, who are in the process of incorporating Victor Oladipo back into their lineup. They also have a home-and-home series with the Brooklyn Nets, who will likely be without Kyrie Irving once again. The other game is a matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have been a dumpster fire this season.

Should the Raptors take all five games and head into All-Star weekend with 16 straight wins, they will still likely be a handful of games behind Milwaukee for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

After the break, Toronto will have four home games before they head out on a five-game Western Conference road trip on the first day of March. Thursday’s trade deadline could have a significant impact on what this team looks like going forward, but they appear to be just fine as currently constructed.

After losing Kawhi and Danny Green this summer, the Raptors actually have a better winning percentage this season.

It is all about the playoffs though, and nobody understands that better than Toronto.

Chad is a Basketball Insiders contributor based in Indianapolis.

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