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Toronto Raptors

ESPN analysts heap praise on Toronto Raptors following impressive five-game Western Conference road trip

This season, respect has come in many forms for the defending champion Toronto Raptors.

Following an impressive showing on a 4-1 West Coast trip that closed with a gutsy win over the Utah Jazz, respect came in the form of complimentary acknowledgement from various ESPN pundits.

On Tuesday's edition of "First Take," Stephen A. Smith shared that the Raptors were fourth on his list of top-five NBA teams, behind only the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks and LA Clippers.

"Why? Even without Kawhi Leonard, these brothers are over 25-games over-.500. Pascal Siakam is an All-Star, Kyle Lowry's leadership, (Fred) VanVleet can still play, along with (Serge) Ibaka and the rest of the crew."

Smith continued, adding that "this is a team that hasn't faded, hasn't fallen off the wagon. It's about five-consecutive seasons and counting that Masai Ujiri's team has won 50 games-plus because you know that's what they're gonna do this year as well."

MORE: Takeaways from the West Coast road trip

Following its most recent trip, Toronto moved to 46-18 on the season and is indeed just four wins away from its fifth-consecutive season of 50-plus wins, which would be the league's longest current streak of such seasons.

"Don't ignore the Toronto Raptors, they're definitely a top-five team in the NBA."


Later in the day, Rachel Nichols opened "The Jump" with a monologue based on the Raptors' ability to overcome odds, using their unlikely win over the Jazz as the latest example.

"This is a group that relishes all of the long odds it faces," Nichols added. "And maybe that makes sense."

Nichols followed her monologue by asking retired players and former champions Richard Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins what they view as Toronto's ceiling this season.

Jefferson was the first to respond, asserting that "there's a small part that can make it to The Finals. I believe they can make it to The Finals."

MORE: Are the Raptors a contender at full strength?

"I think realistically for them, it's the Conference Finals," Jefferson added. "If you're looking at them having to play Boston and then Milwaukee, it would be tough for them to do, they would get worn down, but I've been impressed and I've been surprised with their performance."

"Ultimately, I think they've had a great season and I think they're gonna have a good postseason."

Perkins followed, reiterating that he's been a long-time believer in the Raptors: "Before the season, I picked Lakers-Raptors Finals. When you look at this Raptors team, they're deep, they're well-coached by Nick Nurse, who I believe should win Coach of the Year, and multiple guys have stepped up."

"They are battle-tested and they have different guys that step up every single night," Perkins continued. "They're under great leadership with Kyle Lowry and Siakam is becoming a star right in front of our eyes, we just don't talk about him enough."

"To me, they can match up with anybody in the Eastern Conference - they have different bodies that they can throw at Giannis (Antetokounmpo) if they happen to play the Bucks."

MORE: Showcasing OG Anunoby's incredible gift

As for Siakam's star status, Nichols shared her belief that "if you have made the All-Star team as a starter and you were a starter on an NBA championship team, you're not becoming a star, you are a star."

Siakam and the Raptors are back in action on Saturday when they host the Detroit Pistons at 7:30 p.m. ET on SN1.

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