2023-02-27 · 2 min read · NBA/Basketball
Raptors Jakob Poeltl

Cole Burston via Getty Images

It seemed all too clear what the Toronto Raptors should have done as the mid-February trade deadline approached. Falling further and further below .500 with each lacklustre loss, with an apparent bidding war going on behind the scenes for multiple players on the roster, it looked like the season would be punted away.
But Masai Ujirir decided to zig when everyone thought he would zag, buying instead of selling, trading a first-round pick in 2024 to bring in Jakob Poetl, the first legitimate center Toronto has rostered in three seasons.
He doubled down, keeping the roster intact, hoping that the addition of a rim protector and rebounding presence like Poetl would be the missing piece to bring the roster together. While facing a very soft schedule, the early returns have been encouraging.
The most recent ugly loss to Cleveland on the second night of a back-to-back aside, Toronto finds themselves winners of 7 of their last 9 games, and only 2.5 games back of a 7th seed.
Poetl has been fantastic since joining the team, with averages 14.4 ppg and 10.0 rpg with 2.2 blocks while in a Raptor Uniform this year, and the team certainly has a different look with him on the floor.
What makes things interesting though, is when you look up at the standings, there are some very passable teams, if they can get it together quickly. New York looks like they’re trending up, owners of that coveted 6th seed.
But, right above them in 5th is the Brooklyn Nets, who just traded away their two superstars. It's hard to believe Brooklyn will remain in that spot. With 22 games left, they sit 5.5 games above Toronto. That’s the team the Raptors should be focused on catching.
In between are Atlanta and Miami, both of whom have had up and down seasons, and shouldn't be difficult to overtake.
Still, the best-case scenario here is probably the 6th seed, which would put them in a likely first-round matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers. Toronto managed to give Philly issues in last year’s postseason, and now they have a quality center to throw at Embiid. But this is a very different Sixers team this time around, and it's hard to imagine the new-look Raptors being able to even put a dent in their armour.
If Toronto can go on a run in this final month and a half of the season, and head into the postseason with serious momentum, then the discussion could be different, but that’s a long way away from happening.
When you take a step back and look at things from a broad perspective, making a playoff berth and avoiding the play-in tournament is well within the realm of possibility, though it’s a daunting task, and it would require them to play great basketball to close the season, especially with a tough schedule coming up.
It might be too little too late for Toronto to salvage something real out of this season, but after the surprising decision from Ujirir at the trade deadline, they have no other option than to try.
Sports Tree Profile

By: Eddie Huband


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