The Toronto Raptors were supposed to rebuild this season. That’s what happens to most franchises that lose superstars, as the Raptors did with Kawhi Leonard. Instead, Toronto has been even better than last year’s NBA champion. Leonard’s Raptors were 38-16 after 54 games last season, but this year’s group is now 40-14 on the strength of a historic winning streak. Their latest victims? D’Angelo Russell and the reconstructed Minnesota Timberwolves. Toronto beat them 137-126 Monday to secure their 15th victory in a row.
That score is hardly surprising in context. The Raptors have had the NBA’s best offense since the streak began in scoring a blistering 118.3 points per 100 possessions. Their defense hasn’t slouched either. Trailing only the Bucks, Grizzlies and 76ers, it is ranked fourth in the NBA in that time span.
The streak is not only the longest in Raptors history, but is historic in Toronto’s home nation as well. The Raptors are the first Canadian professional sports franchise to win 15 or more games in a row in any major American professional sports league (the NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB). Their streak trails only the 18-game winning streak that the Bucks put together in November and December this season. With their next game coming on Wednesday and the streak beginning on Jan. 12, the Raptors will have gone at least a month without losing a game. If they make it through the Brooklyn Nets and into the All-Star break with the streak intact, it will have lasted a good deal longer.
The Raptors return from the break with two consecutive home games. The first is against the lottery-bound Suns, and the second is against the Indiana Pacers, who have lost six consecutive games. If the Raptors can make it through that stretch unscathed, their then-18-game winning streak would be tested, fittingly, by the Bucks, who travel to Toronto on Feb. 25 for a potential Eastern Conference Finals preview.
Whether the streak ends on Wednesday or reaches into the 20s, its existence points to Toronto’s greater organizational success. The Raptors refused to cave when they lost Leonard, and the remnants of last season’s championship team have now rallied their way to a better regular-season record so far than they had a year earlier. Their playoff ceiling might not be as high, but the Raptors were no one-year wonder. This is the culmination of a year of hard work by one of the NBA’s best organizations.