The Toronto Raptors are preparing for the 2020/21 NBA season, where they will be displaced in Tampa while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect day to day life. Three early-season games could foretell Toronto’s fortunes in 2021.
The first half of the 2020/21 NBA schedule has been released. This season, affected by COVID-19, just as last season was, will be shortened to a total 72 game regular-season schedule with teams playing mini-series much like Major League Baseball does.
The actual season will begin December 22nd, 2020, with the Toronto Raptors getting their first action on December 23rd, 2020, against New Orleans. Teams are already in training camp with a short pre-season of three games expected later this month.
With free agency and the draft completed within the last two weeks, everyone is excited or anxious to see how their favorite team will perform. The Toronto Raptors have been a contending team for seven years. Still, this off-season resulted in significant changes to the team, especially their frontcourt, with the additions of Alex Len and Aron Baynes.
Other top teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference made roster improvements, including the Atlanta Hawks and the New Jersey Nets will have a healthy Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to start this season. Therefore, the following three early-season games may be a good indicator of whether the Raptors’ competition level is higher than it’s been in the past.
Tuesday, December 29th, 2020 @Philadelphia
In the past season and a half, after making a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies in February of 2019, The Toronto Raptors did have the kryptonite to Philadelphia center Joel Embiid’s superman in Marc Gasol. However, this off-season, Marc Gasol signed a deal to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.
In a November game just over a year ago, Marc Gasol and the Raptors held Joel Embiid to zero points in 31 plus minutes starting that season 7-0 at home.
Just over a year later, things have changed. The Philadelphia 76ers have added Danny Green, Seth Curry, Dwight Howard, and Alec Burks to their roster. The Raptors no longer have Marc Gasol’s defensive prowess or even the athletic Serge Ibaka to patrol the post.
Philadelphia will be one of six teams the Toronto Raptors will be trying to hold off in 2021, and this mid-week game could provide insight into whether either team has improved or regressed talent-wise.
Monday, January 4th, 2021 vs. the Boston Celtics
This will be the first matchup between these two teams since the 2020 second-round playoff series that Boston won in seven games. Like Philadelphia, Boston added talent and depth this off-season to their roster. Boston acquired via free agency power forward Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague at point guard.
In the last two years, Boston is 5-3 during the regular season against Toronto, including a 122-100 blowout during the bubble in Florida on August 7th, 2020. While Boston dominated at times and eventually won the first-ever playoff series between these two teams in 2020, the Toronto Raptors were hard opponents to eliminate. The series produced some of the best playoff basketball in 2020.
Boston is another elite Eastern Conference squad that will shape the Eastern Conference’s playoff picture in 2021.
Wednesday, January 20th, and 22nd, 2021 vs. the Miami Heat
The Miami Heat were a hard-working, underrated team in 2020 who survived every challenge in 2020 until the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. They knocked off the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals in six games.
It left many Toronto Raptors fans questioning what could have been had the Raptors scored even six more points than they did in a 92-87 seventh game loss to Boston in their second-series. The Raptors were the defending champions until that Boston series.
Miami has added veteran help to their roster in Avery Bradley and Maurice Harkless. The team is led by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, who recently signed a contract extension worth five years and 195 million. With young players like Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn, and sophomore Tyler Herro likely to improve on their 2020 exploits, the Toronto Raptors will face another strong Eastern Conference opponent within the first month of the new NBA season.
The Toronto Raptors are 5-2 in their last seven regular-season contests with Miami but lost twice to the Heat last season. The last matchup between these two teams was August 3rd, 2020, when Toronto won a close game 107-103.