Look at that smile. Pascal Siakam is having the greatest time running up the court with the ball because he knows he's unstoppable. He realizes he can get to the rim with ease, maybe with one of his spicy spin-o-rama moves, and back there, Joel Embiid is lumbering up the court, yeah he knows it too. He has this look of resignation on his face that says, "Oh man, not again."
Not again because in the most recent Raptors-Sixers game, the Raptors won once more, their second win against this top-tier Eastern Conference team. After Wednesday's demolition of the Warriors, and Tuesday's impressive blowout of the Clippers, the Raptors now reign supreme over the NBA, taking the #1 spot at 23-7.
The Raps' point differential is 8.6. They sit second in FG%, just behind the Warriors. Kyle Lowry leads the league in assists (10) and a mind-blowing stat from Kawhi Leonard's career maintains during his stint on the Raps: He has more steals than personal fouls.
Stats and W-L record is one thing but the pace of play is simply entertaining to behold. Coach Nurse has the team running fast after an opponent's made FG or a rebound, with Lowry blasting passes down court to a streaking Siakam or Leonard. Then add the improved play of Serge Ibaka (is there a jumper he can't hit?!), the choking defense led by Leonard, and the steady Freddy play of Van Vleet of late, and you get a recipe for success that the Raps haven't seen in the DeMar era.
I miss DeRozan but I don't miss how he didn't let the Raps space the floor effectively. With Lowry making more plays through pick-and-rolls and finding cutters, he isn't in that static stand-around mode so common when DeRozan was given the ball to work one-on-one. I'm really loving how everyone is making that extra pass to find a wide open three pointer, or unselfishly sharing the rock to that player matched up against a smaller defender. It's beautiful basketball.
I've been watching the Raps for as long as they've been a team and I haven't anticipated a postseason as hungrily as I am in 2018. Today's roster is deeper and more talented than any I've seen, playing with the kind of energy and swagger you'd expect from a healthy mix of young blood and veteran talent. Where this team goes in the playoffs is still nerve-wracking to many hardcore Raps fans with deep memories, but I'm confident these guys will find a way to crush the competition in the East and make it to the Finals with a talented lineup that should strike cold fear into any Western Conference team we match up against.
What do you think? Are the Raps for real this year? Comment or tweet at me via @SilverbergDave
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I write about levelling up your career as a writer and the steps you need to take to get there.