The rest of the league may not remember, but the Toronto Raptors are still the NBA champions – and their players know it and continue to play like it.
The Toronto Raptors defeated the Detroit Pistons Friday night, 105-92.
It’s the10th straight win for the Raptors and brings with it another bonus – head coach Nick Nurse will now be a head coach in next month’s All-Star game.
The game was never really in doubt, as Toronto took it hard to their former coach. Dwayne Casey didn’t have any answers, as Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka combined for over 50 points. But it was another player that stood out tonight, one that isn’t getting any awards or accolades.
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Norman Powell played 29 minutes and had the loudest twelve points you’ll ever see in an NBA game. Two dunks specifically caught the travelling fans’ attention, leading to some of the loudest cheers of the night from a predominantly pro-Toronto crowd.
Powell was absolutely mugged on the first dunk, leading to the entire Raptors bench gesturing for a call. No call came, and Powell gave his opponent such a sneer after landing, it’s a wonder there wasn’t punches thrown. Minutes later, Powell rampaged his way into the key, and slammed home another dunk with its own stink eye.
It was brash, cocky, and assertive – and immediately garnered an approving cheer from the stands. The Raptors were manhandling a conference rival in their own home, and the fans were eating it up. For Detroit, the night could not end soon enough.
Why focus on the night of Norman Powell? He’s far from being the star of the team, and his 6-13 shooting on the night wasn’t exactly “lights out”. Yet his play signified something else, a swagger that this entire team carries itself with, and it should make the rest of the league nervous.
It has been said many times, but it’s worth repeating: there has not been an NBA champion in recent memory who has been more disrespected than the 2019-20 Raptors. Across the league, the Raptors are acknowledged, but not feared. Kawhi Leonard is gone, they say, and without him, they aren’t title contenders.
Tell that to these Raptors, who now sit second in the Eastern Conference, and are 12-3 in the new year. And tell that to guys like Norman Powell, Fred Vanvleet, and OG Anunoby, who play with the confidence of championship players – because of course, they are.
It’s hard to pinpoint the point the Raptors would have to reach to finally get the respect they deserve from around the league. Maybe it will take another Eastern conference final appearance, bringing the total to three in the last five years. Maybe it will need to be even more than that.
But perhaps most importantly, Toronto is playing like they don’t care. They seem to welcome the disrespect, they’re soaking it all in. They’re not about to have a crisis of conscience, they know who they are. They’re champions.
The rest of the East can ignore it all they want – they do it at their own risk.
This team is much more than just Siakam and Kyle Lowry.
And they’re playing like it.
What are your thoughts on the Raptors play lately? Does it give you confidence that they can repeat as champions? Let us know in the comments below.