Can Raptors use Celtics game as season turning point? Pascal Siakam's previous claim was off, but Toronto has another chance

Can Raptors use Celtics game as season turning point? Pascal Siakam's previous claim was off, but Toronto has another chance

Updated: 9 days, 23 hours, 11 minutes, 4 seconds ago

The last time the Raptors faced off against the reigning Eastern Conference champion Celtics back in December, they lost a tightly contested game to fall to .500 at 12-12.

After the loss, star forward Pascal Siakam claimed Toronto would use the hard-fought battle against the team with the league's best record as a turning point to get its season back on track.

"I think we're getting better from that, and we just have to take the positive from it, and just keep working, keep working hard," Siakam said to the media after the loss.

"I think that things are going to turn around for us, and we're gonna have one of those runs."

That... hasn't exactly been the case.

Since that game, the Raptors own an 8-14 record (20-26 overall) and have fallen out of Play-In Tournament range, sitting in 11th place in the East.

Their offense has improved since that game, but their defense — which has been the calling card of all Nick Nurse-led Raptors teams — has dropped from 7th in the NBA to 22nd, also tanking their net rating.

Raptors... GP OFF RTG DEF RTG NET RTG Before Celtics game (Dec. 5) 24 112.1 (13th) 110.8 (7th) 1.3 (12th) Since Celtics game 22 115.4 (11th) 116.6 (T-22nd) -1.1 (T-19th)

Things had gone from bad to worse for Toronto until a recent stretch of success, winning four of its last seven games.Even with that slight turnaround, the Raptors' next 10 games will shape its season — and the future of this franchise.

MORE: Why upcoming schedule could determine Raptors' position at NBA trade deadline

The Raptors are reportedly at the center of the NBA trade deadline universe as Feb. 9 approaches, with several front offices expecting them to be among the most active teams.

Two and a half weeks from the deadline, the Raptors' current roster has one last chance to prove to decision-makers like president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster that this team has what it takes to compete for a playoff spot.

It all starts on Saturday, Jan. 21, with a rematch against the first-place Celtics. Even though Siakam's claim for an in-season turnaround was off the mark back in December, can the Raptors use this game as a jumping-off point to keep this team together?

Toronto will host the Celtics and the Knicks for a back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, before heading out on a seven-game road trip. Over that trip, the Raptors will face off against the Kings, Warriors, Trail Blazers, Suns, Jazz, Rockets and Grizzlies before heading home to host the Spurs on Feb. 8 — just one day before the trade deadline.

If the Raptors are going to use this stretch to turn around the season, they will need their stars around Siakam to do their part.

Siakam has held his own all season, looking like a certified All-Star with averages of 25.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game. However, Toronto's other key contributors haven't stepped up with nearly as much consistency.

All-Star guard Fred VanVleet finally found his groove this week, averaging 32.3 points, 8.3 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 3-pointers made over the Raptors' last three games. VanVleet's struggles have played a massive role in Toronto's underachieving season to this point, but that level of play over the next 10 games could dictate the team's fate as the deadline approaches.

Reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes has also turned a corner in his sophomore season, appearing to have gotten past a slump through the first half of the year. Over the last four games, Barnes is averaging 24.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.0 blocks while shooting 54.8 percent from the field — a huge upgrade from his season-long averages.

O.G. Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. will be an interesting pair to watch over this stretch, in particular, because those are the two names that pop up most frequently in Raptors' trade rumors.

TRADE RUMORS: Anunoby | Trent | VanVleet | Siakam

Anunoby has maintained an All-Defensive Team level of play all season, but he has recently gone cold offensively, averaging just 13.9 points on 38.5/35.8/73.3 shooting splits over the last 10 games. Trent, on the other hand, has shaken off a rough shooting start to the season, averaging 21.4 points on 36.6 percent shooting from 3-point range over the last 10 games.

With the Raptors expected to be the focal point of the trade deadline, their players have the opportunity to potentially control the team's destiny. It all starts with a matchup against the first-place Celtics.