Toronto Raptors NBA schedule release: February will be biggest challenge for team

Toronto Raptors (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /

The schedule for the first half of the Toronto Raptors’ 2021-21 season was unveiled this Friday. With many road games, back-to-backs, and matchups against East contenders. February is looking to be a tough month for the Raptors.

Released through March 4, the Toronto Raptors are set to play 17 of 37 games at their new temporary home, Tampa Bay’s Amalie Arena.

For the second year in a row, the Raptors will be opening the season at “home” against the New Orleans Pelicans on Dec. 23. The biggest difference, apart from the loss of Ibaka and Gasol, is that the Raptors won’t be holding a ring ceremony to kick off the season. And “home” isn’t necessarily home.

But there’s no need to panic (yet). Fortunately, the Raptors play really well on the road. Last season, they tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the best road record. In fact, the Toronto Raptors actually played better on the road (27-9, 75% away as opposed to 26-10, 72.2% at the Scotiabank Arena).

It will still be interesting to see how they fare off playing 72 “away” games.

With only half of it released so far, the schedule is already looking tougher than last season’s. The Raptors have five sets of back-to-backs scheduled up until March 4. Four of these are road games followed by another road game. Back-to-backs are much more prevalent this season since the NBA is trying to limit travel as much as possible:

"The schedule incorporates steps to reduce travel, including the use of a “series” model. In some instances where a team is scheduled to play twice in one market, those games have been scheduled to be played consecutively. Each team will play an average of four “series” in the First Half – two at home and two on the road. Additional steps include more instances of teams playing consecutive road games against teams that are geographically close, and roughly 50% fewer instances of teams making single-game road trips."

20 of their first 37 games will be on the road. According to Positive Residual sports analytics, the Raptors will be traveling nearly 21,500 miles for the first half of the season—that’s more miles than any other team.

While February might be the most fun for fans to watch, it’ll be the most challenging and physically demanding month for the Toronto Raptors. 

The East has only gotten stronger during the off-season. In a span of three weeks, the Raptors will be facing some of the Eastern conference’s best: Brooklyn (Feb. 2), Boston (Feb. 12), Milwaukee (Feb. 16 and 18), Philadelphia (Feb. 21 and 23), and Miami (Feb. 24). Only the two Philadelphia games will be played at home.

Only 5 of the 15 games in February will be played at the Amalie Arena. The Raptors will be spending most of their time away from Tampa, with just one home game (vs Minnesota on Feb. 14) over a 10-game stretch from Feb. 2 to 19.

Their longest trip is six games, from Feb. 2 to 12 with games played in Orlando, Brooklyn, Atlanta, Memphis, Washington, and Boston. They’ll be returning to Tampa to face Minnesota on Feb. 14, but then it’s back on the road for the Raptors, who’ll head off to Milwaukee to play Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 16 and 18.

The team will be playing on five back-to-back days during the first half of the season. Tied with the Lakers, Houston Rockets, and Miami Heat, the Raptors actually have the fewest back-to-backs in the league. However, three of these are in February: Feb. 5 and 6 against Brooklyn and Atlanta respectively, Feb. 18. and 19 against Milwaukee and Minnesota, and Feb. 23 and 24 against Philadelphia and Miami. These are all away games, apart from the Feb. 23 game against Philadelphia. Needless to say, there will be lots of traveling.

Interestingly enough, the last time the Toronto Raptors lost two consecutive games on back-to-back days was when they played the Dallas Mavericks and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 26 and 27, 2017.

There is currently no scheduled date for when the Toronto Raptors will play Ibaka, Kawhi, and the Clippers or Gasol and reigning NBA Champions, the Lakers. The schedule for the second half is yet to be released. Until then, February is looking like the Raptors’ toughest month.

Whether fans will be allowed in the arena is to be determined. The decision is up to the NBA, the Raptors, and the state and local government. That said, the Amalie Arena hosted around 1,000 fans for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Stanley Cup Final games this past September (with proper social distancing measures, of course).

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If Canada can get the coronavirus situation under enough control to lift travel restrictions, perhaps we’ll see the Raptors back home come March 2021. But we shouldn’t get our hopes up, it might be a little complicated given the mandatory 14-day quarantine period.