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Toronto Raptors

Big weekend reveals that the Toronto Raptors are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference

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It's been weeks since Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry have shared the court but the Raptors have remained atop the Eastern Conference (NBA Getty Images)

Over the course of an 82-game season, teams experience a number of highs and lows. The measure of a team, however, is often how it responds to the lows.

Toronto's response to a less-than-stellar showing last Thursday in San Antonio is that of a serious title contender. With statement wins over two of the conference's top teams, the Raptors again look like the team to beat in the East.

It wasn't just that they did it, it's how the Raptors won these games. Here's to putting the team's statement weekend in perspective.

Saturday, Toronto visited Milwaukee to take on the Bucks, who entered the night with an 18-3 record at Fiserv Forum.

Centre Jonas Valanciunas remained sidelined with a thumb injury, All-Star guard Kyle Lowry was out, Milwaukee's MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo put forth a 43-point, 18-rebound performance and Toronto's reserves scored just five points on 1-for-15 shooting.

Toronto still found a way to hand Milwaukee its fourth home loss of the season.

FOUR TAKEAWAYS: Raptors edge Bucks in thriller

Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam each scored a team-high 30 points as the Raptors' starters scored 118 of the team's 123 points over the league's fourth-rated defence. It was (another) career-high scoring night for Siakam, who has solidified himself as a key component in the team's offence.

Leonard's impressive performance came with a cost - it took him 38 minutes to do so, meaning he would sit out what was initially the target date for his first back-to-back of the season.

Their opponent the next night wasn't just another team.

It was the Indiana Pacers who arrived in Toronto as the hottest team in the league, winners of six straight and 13 of their last 15.

While Leonard rested and Valanciunas continued to work towards his return, Lowry returned after missing the team's last six games. On Sunday, Toronto displayed a trait present in the DNA of all championship teams - the ability to win in different ways.

While Lowry and Siakam each scored just 12 points, reserve guard Norman Powell scored a game-high 23 points. One night after the Raptors' bench put forth an underwhelming performance, it outscored the Pacers reserves 52-27.

Lowry, Powell and Siakam were three of eight Raptors to score in double-figures as the team scored 121 points on the league's second-rated defence, putting an end to the Pacers' six-game win streak while keeping another streak alive - the Raptors have won 11 straight games over the Pacers in Toronto.

FOUR TAKEAWAYS: Raptors cruise past Pacers behind Powell's season high

It's not just the Pacers that the Raptors have dominated at home against, either. Toronto has won 13 straight home games over Philadelphia and seven straight over Boston. With the Celtics, Pacers and Sixers all jockeying for position atop the East with the Raptors, the home-court advantage Scotiabank Arena provides could be a difference maker in the postseason.

With its win over Indiana, Toronto became the first team in the league to reach the 30-win plateau, moving to 7-1 on the second night of back-to-backs this season. The team's one loss came at the hands of the Sixers as a visibly uncomfortable Kyle Lowry started at point guard while Kawhi Leonard rested. Lowry would sit for another six games following the loss.

Leonard's load management and Lowry's back issues have kept the duo from sharing the court since Dec. 9 - the team is 8-5 in that span with wins coming over Golden State, Indiana (twice) and Milwaukee.

Past the midway point of the season, the Raptors have established themselves as one of the league's top teams, earning big wins despite a variety of injuries and games missed due to "load management" during back-to-backs.

That they're showing this level of moxy without their top two players available at the same time is scary for the rest of the Eastern Conference.

When the Raptors' top two players actually share the floor again and start hitting on all cylinders, they'll be even scarier.

It's still may be somewhat early, but these performances are a sign of big things to come as the postseason nears.

Championships aren't won in January, a fact the Raptors are all too aware of.

But if this past weekend carries any message moving forward, it's that the road to the NBA Finals through the Eastern Conference goes through Toronto.

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