Toronto Raptors: Upcoming schedule offers some relief

Toronto Raptors - Fred VanVleet (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Fred VanVleet (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors continue to defy expectations by winning despite an unstable starting five due to injuries. Will the difficulties let up soon?

The Toronto Raptors have impressed all and sundry by their resilience in the face of ceaseless injury woes. Beginning from the end of the 8-game win streak on December 3, the Raptors are 8-7. While that’s hardly championship calibre play, a collapse would have been just as likely as plus_.500, given how many games our critical starters have missed.

The next three games are nasty ones for our gang. The Raps visit San Antonio and Milwaukee, then return home the same night to face the Indiana Pacers on a back to back. There’s no chance Jonas Valanciunas will play any of these; I’d be pleasantly surprised if we saw him at all before a 3-game road trip beginning January 23.

As for Kyle Lowry – who knows?

“For this relief much thanksHamlet, by William Shakespeare

Fortunately, the worst may be over, courtesy of the schedule-maker. According to Tankathon’s Strength of Schedule calculator, Toronto has the second-easiest collection of games remaining, and the fewest (43). The only team with an easier path to 82 games is Tuesday night’s vanquished opponent, the Utah Jazz.

The NBA is devoid of super-teams this season. As Marc Stein points out, 2000-01 was the last time there wasn’t a 60-win squad, and he predicts there won’t be one this season. Both conferences are very tight. The only teams in the East who are clearly out of the playoff picture are the Knicks and Cavaliers; out West, it’s the Suns. There aren’t many shocking losses anymore.

How much to play Kawhi?

Raps coach Nick Nurse has been careful not to over-use MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard. Our remarkable swingman hasn’t played in nine games of our 39 so far, and I predict that number will grow. For instance, if the Raptors manage a win in their next two, I’ll wager significant dough (in my case, that’s about $ 1.98) that Kawhi sits against Indiana.

Despite the brave talk of Kawhi being nearly 100%, I doubt he’ll play the January 16-17 back to back (at Boston, home against Phoenix) or January 22-23 (vs Kings, at Pacers). Perhaps after the All-Star break in February, we’ll see him take on a B2B, like March 10-11 (at Heat and Cavs – yuck!). There’s just one more after that.

Seeding is important, but not as important as…

The Raptors’ incredible 20-4 start to the season gives us the hammer, as the curlers say. Consider what going .500 from that point on would result in: a 49-33 record. At current course and speed, that would certainly provide a top-4 spot. And we’d all have to be card-carrying pessimists to think our team can’t climb above 52 wins.

The Raptors brains trust must consider what’s most important after 82 games: the first seed in the East (or overall, which is quite achievable given Golden State’s bumpy run to date) or a healthy roster. If the Raptors can manage both – terrific. The final eight games are as easy a tranche as we’ll have all season, so the highest seed isn’t a pipe dream. But if Nick has to choose, and he probably will, an injury-free roster should trump seeding.

dark. Next. Is Pascal Siakam an All-Star?

[Note: All data as of January 2]