The Eastern Conference standings are a jumbled up mess this season.
Through 26 games this year the Toronto Raptors are 12-14 and somehow the sixth seed in the East. With a short winning streak, they could easily be third in the East, jumping the Brooklyn Nets who sit 2.5 games ahead of Toronto. Conversely, even a mild dip in performance could have the Raptors back in the 12th spot, where the Cleveland Cavaliers currently sit two games behind Toronto.
"I think it's very interesting," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of the Eastern Conference standings prior to Thursday night's game. "It seems like 25 teams in the league are two or three games under .500 or two or three games over. There's a whole bunch of people bunched between like 8-12 and 12-8."
It's in that Eastern Conference purgatory that the Raptors find themselves right now. They're tangled up with seemingly the rest of the conference searching for some clarity for this season.
Even after a 120-106 loss to the Boston Celtics on Thursday, the Raptors certainly appear to be heading in the right direction. They've begun to finalize a rotation and found some back-of-the-bench contributors in DeAndre' Bembry and Yuta Watanabe who have impressed in limited minutes. Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell have both played extremely well lately and that's not to mention Fred VanVleet who started the road trip off with a historic 54-point night.
"I feel pretty good. Trending upwards," Nurse said Thursday night. "[I] think we’re playing really good basketball, I think we weathered some storms, came back. I think, again, we look like we’re getting in good shape, we’re finding a little better rhythm, we’re executing a little better, got a lot of room for improvement, got some time to get better."
While there's little doubt the Raptors are more like the 10-6 team they've played like lately than the 2-8 team that started the season, it's tough to figure out exactly where they stand in this confusing Eastern Conference. They've strung together a bunch of wins against underperforming or bad teams and failed to clinch any statement victories, save for the win over Brooklyn that came on a confusing night mostly without Kevin Durant. Fortunately for Toronto, a pair of games against both the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers scheduled before the All-Star break should provide some clarity on exactly what this team is.
As of Friday, the Raptors don't seem like NBA title contenders or even a team one piece away from having a real shot at a title this season. Even if Toronto took a run at Andre Drummond or Bradley Beal at the March 25th trade deadline it probably wouldn't be enough to put the Raptors over the edge. So unless something changes over the next month, Toronto might be better off going in the other direction and transitioning into the next era of Raptors basketball with Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby leading the way.