The schedule for the upcoming NBA season has finally been released. For the Toronto Raptors, March could be the defining month in the teams season.
After months of speculation, movement, and a lot of waiting, the NBA season has taken a step closer to dominating our lives once more. The league schedule was released at 3 PM Eastern Time on Monday afternoon, and the Toronto Raptors, like 29 other teams, found out their fate for the upcoming season.
A few games were already set in stone for the Raptors season. The opening night of the NBA season would feature a visit from the New Orleans Pelicans and number one overall pick, Zion Williamson, who will be making his first NBA appearance on October 22.
The other game that was locked in was the Raptors first-ever Christmas Day game. A momentous occasion by all accounts, as the reigning champions of the NBA, the Raptors are finally getting the respect they deserve. Their opponents would be their Atlantic rivals, the Boston Celtics.
Besides that, their fate, like everyone else’s, was unknown. When would Kawhi Leonard return to the Scotiabank Arena? When would we see a rematch of this years NBA Finals?
Questions needed to be answered. And now they have. The waiting is over on that front.
We now know what we know, and that’s that the Raptors have some tough stretches this season. The whole spectrum of a team’s season can be decided in a run of games, be it for better or for worse.
In the past, teams have made late surges thanks to a favorable run of games late in the season, think the Miami Heat two years ago. But sometimes, the reverse occurs. Teams begin to trail off late in the season, worn down by the labors of an 82-game season, and a tough schedule down the stretch all but spells their fate.
It might not even be teams falling out of the playoff picture completely, it could be something as small as falling from the fifth seed to the sixth seed, and by virtue, taking on a team that could be five or six wins better than their previous opponents.
Other times, whole months can provide stern tests of teams acumen. Sink or swim, the schedule takes no prisoners.
For the Toronto Raptors, the month in question is March. An awkward period of time, for sure. Teams are still trying to ease their way back into their groove, with the All-Star break only just passing us by in mid-February. It’s a make-or-break time for some teams, and the Raptors now find themselves in the precarious position of manoeuvering their way through a tricky schedule late in the season.
February ends on a fairly light note, with the Raptors hosting the Charlotte Hornets, who will likely be down and out by this point – possessing one of the weakest rosters in the NBA, devoid of any star power.
From then on, it’s all systems go. The Raptors fly out to Denver to begin a turgid, five-game, seven-day road trip out west. Last year, the Raptors had the fortune of getting that road trip out of the way fairly early on, but this year that won’t be the case.
After beginning their road-trip against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, the Raptors travel to Arizona two days later to take on the Phoenix Suns who, with Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, will be hoping to win a few more games than last year.
Following on from that, the Raptors take on the Golden State Warriors in one of the most anticipated games of the season. No longer playing at the fabled Oracle Arena, the site on which the Raptors ended the Warriors five-year dynasty, Golden State will be plying their trade at the brand new Chase Center. Both teams will be in the thick of a playoff dogfight, trying to obtain the highest seed possible in the respective conferences.
The road trip is then polished off with back-to-back games against the Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz. The Jazz will likely be in the mix for a top-three seed while the Kings will have aspirations of making the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. The Raptors would feel comfortable going 2-3 on that road trip, without a doubt.
Returning home, the Raptors take on the Detroit Pistons and Golden State Warriors before a quick road game against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Pistons will be in the hunt for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. With a fully healthy Blake Griffin beside Andre Drummond, and a rising star in Luke Kennard, the Pistons – under former Raptors coach Dwane Casey – have more than a fighting chance.
The next four games could make or break the Raptors chances at a top-four seed, and with it, the chances of acquiring homecourt advantage. It starts with the trip to the Wells Fargo Center to take on the Sixers, who could likely be ahead of the pack in the East by then, before a three-game homestand against the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, and the Los Angeles Lakers. Ouch.
It’s feasible that the Raptors could win all four of those games. The team is still one of the best in the NBA, but it’s also plausible that they could drop all four, heading into Madison Square Gardens to take on the New York Knicks with a four-game losing streak to their name.
The month of March is topped off with a home-and-road tie against the Memphis Grizzlies, a team that possesses a few former Raptors all looking to make an impact for a potentially fun team this season.
As the cliché goes; basketball is a game of runs. But in this circumstance, the run the Raptors go on during the month of March could well define the type of basketball they’re playing come April. There’s no question that the Raptors will be playing postseason basketball this year, but the arduous test in March could really define this team and how they are viewed. A poor stretch of games against comparable teams could reflect poorly on them.
However, if the Raptors manage to grind out a strong record during that time, could we be talking about them as a dark horse?