The Toronto Raptors started the season 20-4 under first-year coach Nick Nurse, but since lost three out of their last four games.

Nick Nurse
Toronto Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse pays homage to the late Craig Sager with an bold fashion choice. (Image: Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today)

Even after a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Raptors (21-7) maintain the best record in the NBA. The Raptors are experiencing their first road bump of the season at a terrible time. They’re embarking on a four-game road trip to the West Coast with games against the Clippers, Warriors, Blazers, and Nuggets.

North of the Border

The first-place Toronto Raptors became the first and only team to secure twenty wins this season. It feels like they came out of nowhere. Then again, it was hard to get attention with other teams in the Eastern Conference making bigger headlines.

The Boston Celtics got off to a slow start, but Brad Stevens and Kyrie Irving finally corrected the ship. The Philadelphia Sixers made headlines when they acquired Jimmy Butler in a trade. The Milwaukee Bucks have become the darling of the NBA with Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo on the cusp of superstardom.

Meanwhile, north of the border in Canada, rookie head coach Nick Nurse assembled the best squad in the NBA. Nurse, a long-time assistant with the Raptors, molded the Raptors into an all-around team that excels on both ends of the court. The Raptors can run up the score, but they’re make you earn your shots. With 115.4 points per game, the Raptors are fifth best in the NBA in scoring. On the defensive side, they only allow 107.8 points per game, which is ranked #7 overall.

We knew the Raptors were good, but we didn’t know how good they would be with the addition of Kawhi Leonard. After a weird and chilly divorce, the San Antonio Spurs shipped Leonard to the Raptors in the offseason for DeMar DeRozan. In his first season in Toronto, Leonard is averaging 26.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. Leonard has been saving his big games against big teams. Last week, Leonard dropped 36 points in a 13-point win over the Sixers.

In a game that got billed as a potential preview of the NBA Finals, Leonard scored a season-high 37 points in an emotional win over the Golden State Warriors.

Pascal MIP

Power forward Pascal Siakam has made a strong case for himself as the NBA’s most-improved player. The third-year player originally from Cameroon, has become the Raptors’ third-best scorer behind Leonard and Serge Ibaka.

Siakam came to the Raptors expecting to make an impact, but he struggled and the team sent him down to the developmental league. He thrived in the G-League and eventually earned a spot back with the Raptors.

“It was definitely my lowest point,” Siakam said. “I’m built for moments like that. This is how my life has gone. I’ve always had to fight through everything.”

Siakam is averaging 14.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. He doubled his output from last season. Siakam played in 81 games last year for the Raptors in a bench roll. He only averaged 7.3 points per game. His three-point shooting drastically improved from 22 percent to 34.6 percent. His overall shooting is up from 50.8 percent to 61.3 percent.

Rapt Future

This week, the Raptors will be tested with four games against the Western Conference. They begin a treacherous four-game road trip in Los Angeles. The Clippers seized control of first place in the Pacific Division while the Golden State Warriors went through some rough waters.

On the western swing, the Raptors face Steph Curry and the defending-champion Warriors. Plus, they will try to stop red-hot Damian Lillard and the Trailblazers.

The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas list the Raptors at 6-1 odds to win the NBA championship. They are the second biggest favorite behind the Golden State Warriors at -225.

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