What’s next for Toronto?
Barring any injuries or setbacks, the Toronto Raptors will be poised to secure the second seed of the Eastern Conference; there is no doubt about that. The question remains, however, of who they will be facing off against in the playoffs, with the most likely scenarios being a first-round rematch versus the proverbial home team Orlando Magic or a date with the Brooklyn Nets.
Although the Magic are a solid team in their own right, the Nets appear to be a bigger obstacle when it comes to the Raptors’ hopes of repeating as champs this year. While it is certain that former MVP Kevin Durant won’t make it back from his Achilles injury suffered in last year’s finals and his COVID-19 diagnosis in early April, Kyrie Irving’s return to the court from season-ending shoulder surgery seems a lot more conceivable.
In late May, he did hint at an NBA return through an Instagram story on a basketball court, and his potential comeback would surely change things in regards to the Toronto Raptors’ defensive plans. Despite this, nothing is 100% fact yet, which makes for a good guessing game as for which version of the Nets we will see come playoff time.
On another note, it’ll be interesting to see what lineups Nick Nurse chooses to roll out with all of his players at his disposal. Throughout the entirety of the regular season, it seemed like he had to cobble together starting lineups with whatever players were available — according to Basketball-Reference, he used a total of 15(!) different starting lineups.
It is very likely that star fill-in duty performers like Davis, Boucher, McCaw, and Hollis-Jefferson will go back to their usual backup roles as they make way for the impending returns of Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet. It’s fair to say that it is a good problem to have players of their abilities play limited minutes.
Sitting at +2000 odds, per William Hill Sportsbook, the Toronto Raptors are seen as outside contenders to win it all this year. While they have the talent to make an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, some players are going to have to step up big time to best the other finalist — my pick: the Milwaukee Bucks.
It is imperative that Pascal Siakam, in his first playoff run leading this team, rises above everyone and becomes the official go-to guy down the stretch. He’s proven he can shine in big moments, but he must be able to do it all against the other team’s best defender when it matters most.
Moreover, guys like Ibaka, Powell, and VanVleet have to prove that they can remain steady throughout the entirety of a playoff run. For the latter, it took the birth of his first child for him to finally escape a barren slump from downtown and truly shine in the Raps’ four-game sweep of the Bucks and eventual Finals’ win. Let’s hope those performances are here to stay this time around.
Thus, as the NBA is bound to make its return, we can only hope for a successful postseason run for the now well-rested Toronto Raptors. After all, maybe, just maybe, they might end up escaping Disney World with another ring.