They haven’t been talked about a lot, but the Toronto Raptors have been one of the hotter teams in the National Basketball Association since the calendar turned over into 2022.
At one point, they were just 14-17, but then they went on a six-game winning streak, and they are 23-10 since late January when they were at .500.
During that time, they have defeated some of the best teams around the league, and they have now moved upward into the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
With all the parity and uncertainty throughout the East, could the Raptors be poised to upset one of the higher-seeded teams come playoff time?
Toronto Has Had Success Against Contenders
When playing the top dogs in the Eastern Conference head-to-head, the Raptors have done fairly well.
They are 2-2 against the Boston Celtics on the season, 2-2 against the Brooklyn Nets, 2-2 versus the top-seeded Miami Heat, 2-1 against the Philadelphia 76ers, and an impressive 3-0 versus the defending world champion Milwaukee Bucks.
Since Toronto started its recent spurt in late January, it has defeated Miami twice, Philly once, Boston once, and even the Phoenix Suns, owners of the league’s best record, once.
The conventional wisdom is that season series records can be thrown out once the playoffs start, but the Raptors can take certain things with them from those games they won against the best teams.
The Man Who Has Been Leading Toronto Of Late
In his six NBA seasons, forward Pascal Siakam has established himself as a very good NBA player, and perhaps a borderline All-Star, but lately he has stepped up his game.
In March, he averaged 25.9 points per game while shooting lights-out from 3-point range, and in three games so far in April, he has maintained that level of play with 25.3 points a game.
When the Raptors beat the Bucks in Milwaukee on January 15, Siakam led the way with 30 points, eight rebounds, and 10 assists.
Pascal Siakam score 30 points Highlights vs Milwaukee Bucks! January 15, 2022 pic.twitter.com/RIVhwTLd6h
— NBA BASKETBALL (@DejoseMark) January 16, 2022
His height, length, and size make him a tough cover for many wings on the defensive end.
Siakam is one of a few key players who remain from the Raptors’ 2019 championship team, and that experience will be pivotal come playoff time.
In addition, Scottie Barnes, who may be a candidate for the Rookie of the Year award, has also stepped up his game lately.
He averaged 17.1 points a game in March, and so far in April, he is putting up 19.0 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.
Wait so Scottie Barnes is rim running, sealing and finishing pic.twitter.com/lRNPoJgnQ7
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) April 6, 2022
Scottie Barnes does stuff like this on a nightly basis
It's still shocking to step back and think about the offensive improvement he's made in just 1 year pic.twitter.com/DrBldtjY12
— Draft Dummies (@DraftDummies) April 5, 2022
The One Team Toronto Could Likely Upset
If the regular season ended right now, the Raptors would be pitted against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the postseason.
But Philly has problems.
Harden is shooting just 40.7 percent from the field and 33.6 percent from 3-point land since being traded to the Sixers a couple of months ago.
He also doesn’t exactly have a great track record of playing well under high pressure in the playoffs.
The Raptors and Sixers will face off on Thursday, and a win by Toronto would give tjem tremendous confidence going into a potential first-round matchup versus Harden and company.