The Toronto Raptors are scheduled to return to action on July 31st, however, the competition is tougher than most expected.
We are currently living in unprecedented times. After nearly a four-month hiatus from basketball, the NBA has officially decided to resume play for the top 22 teams starting on July 31st. Each team will participate in eight regular-season games followed by the playoffs for the top eight seeds in both the East and Western Conference.
The Toronto Raptors are currently the second seed in the East with a 46-18 record (third-best in the NBA). As it stands today, the Boston Celtics are three games behind the Raptors and the Miami Heat are five and a half games back. Both teams have a shot at leapfrogging the Raptors in the standings should things go their way.
These are the eight remaining regular-season games for the Toronto Raptors:
August 1st: Los Angeles Lakers
August 3rd: Miami Heat
August 5th: Orlando Magic
August 7th: Boston Celtics
August 9th: Memphis Grizzlies
August 10th: Milwaukee Bucks
August 12th: Philadelphia 76ers
August 14th: Denver Nuggets
At first glance, these remaining eight games seem extremely difficult for the Toronto Raptors. They have to not only face off against the top two teams in the entire NBA, but they also have to compete against rivals in their conference in Boston, Miami, and Philadelphia. However, there are a few reasons why this schedule is actually beneficial for the Raptors.
Shake off rust
Usually, a regular NBA offseason lasts about four months, allowing players to rest their bodies and workout to improve their skillset and prepare for the upcoming NBA season. However, this hiatus is far different from a regular offseason.
A lot of players may not have had the opportunity to practice due to strict COVID-19 regulations and many of them are forced to stay at home due to quarantine. The stress of not knowing what is going to happen with the NBA season could lead to players returning in less than game shape.
Playing eight regular-season games allows the Toronto Raptors to shake off any rust they have accumulated from their four-month hiatus. Knowing what is at stake and how tough the schedule is could force the Raptors to play even harder, giving the players enough time to warm up for the playoffs while still being well-rested due to the significant decrease in regular-season games remaining.
Development for youngsters
This tough schedule gives the chance for Raptors youngsters like OG Anunoby and Terence Davis to get some playoff-like competition before the actual playoffs begin. Anunoby did not play for most of the 2019 playoffs due to an emergency appendectomy and Terence Davis is still in his rookie year so it would be a great chance to get them in the right mindset to start playing the games that matter the most against the toughest competition the NBA has to offer.
It also gives these youngsters a chance to further develop their skills and learn how to perform in close late-game scenarios where the stakes will be much higher than it was before the hiatus.
Developing a winning mentality
This is arguably the most important reason as to why this eight-game regular-season schedule can be really beneficial for the Toronto Raptors. For years now the Raptors have absolutely dominated in the regular season, only to head into the playoffs with the wrong mindset when playing against players like LeBron James.
With this season being much different than any other season, the stakes are much higher and the conditions are much tougher. This means that every player on the team needs to head into the playoffs with the same mindset that found them so much success last season.
Having the opportunity to play teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics allow the Raptors to get into that mindset before the playoffs even begin.
Whether they win or lose those games, the experience would be good enough to allow the Raptors to prepare for these teams mentally as they would know what to expect from those juggernaut squads heading into the playoffs.
So while it is hard not to look at the schedule and be a little concerned for the Toronto Raptors, it is important to look at the positives and understand that this team has what it takes to not only beat these teams but also go deep into the playoffs to fight for their second consecutive NBA championship.