With urgency growing and panic setting in, it’s time to look at the upcoming schedule to determine whether the Toronto Raptors can get out of their tailspin before it’s too late.
I don’t need to tell anyone here about the current sorry state of the Toronto Raptors. On Wednesday night in Phoenix, the club lost for the sixth time in seven games. To put that start in perspective, their sixth loss last season didn’t come until game #21. As of today, they are just half a game up on the Eastern Conference basement-dwelling Detroit Pistons.
It’s no surprise, then, that the natives are growing restless. Raptors fans are on the precipice of panic, if not already there. Their current Western road swing, which has already produced one dispiriting loss, has taken on ‘make or break’ significance.
So, is this rock bottom? For any shot at salvaging the season, it pretty well has to be. We are 1/10th of the way through the 72-game campaign and have only played two of last year’s postseason teams (the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers) to date. Unfortunately, the upcoming schedule offers little in the way of easy, galvanizing wins to cherry-pick.
Let’s break down what’s still to come for Toronto as things continue to spiral and the season gets perilously close to full-blown disaster status.
Jan. 8th – @Sacramento
The Sacramento Kings might look like a soft spot on the schedule, but the Raps can’t afford to take anyone lightly at the moment, certainly not a 4-4 group that has already counted wins over the Denver Nuggets (twice!) and rising Phoenix Suns.
Though their defense is still lacking, a young core featuring De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley III, and rookie Tyrese Haliburton has proven to be dynamic offensively. Fox’s status is up in the air after leaving Wednesday’s win over the Chicago Bulls with right hamstring tightness.
Jan. 10th – @Golden State
There won’t be much hype nor will there be buzz surrounding Sunday’s 2019 Finals rematch against the Golden State Warriors. The Dubs can still light it up, as evidenced by their back-to-back 137-point outputs this past week. They’ve also, however, lost games by 26, 39, and 25 points already this season on the way to a 4-4 record. Steph Curry could be a headache for a club struggling to contain shooters (the Suns made 21 threes on 52.5% shooting on Wednesday night), while James Wiseman and Draymond Green could be trouble on the glass against a thin frontcourt.
Jan. 11th – @Portland
Toronto wraps its four-game West swing with its first back-to-back of the season in Portland. While Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have been their usual explosive selves this season, the Blazers have struggled out to a 3-4 record as they look to better incorporate newcomers Robert Covington and Derrick Jones.
The two wings have combined for just 13.1 points per game despite both seeing more than 30 minutes of floor time. Portland’s ceiling is quite high if Covington and Jones figure out how to blend into the system, as evidenced by the club’s takedown of the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Jan. 14th and 16th – vs Charlotte
The Raptors get introduced to another strange quirk of the 2020-21 season next week when they host the Charlotte Hornets for two consecutive games at Tampa’s Amalie Arena. The good news in Charlotte is that Gordon Hayward is healthy and producing, having played in each of the team’s first eight games and coming off of a career-high 44-point performance against Atlanta. But Hayward and his big new contract haven’t helped the Hornets climb the standings, sitting at 3-5 with Devonte’ Graham struggling and Malik Monk relegated to sparse mop-up duty.
Jan 18th – vs Dallas
By the time the Dallas Mavericks arrive in Tampa, Kristaps Porzingis will likely be fully recovered after offseason knee surgery and back in the lineup for the Mavs. That’s great news for Dallas, who has struggled to find a reliable secondary option to Luka Doncic en route to a 3-4 mark this season. The news is less positive for the Raptors, who needed a 30-comeback against a Doncic-less Dallas squad just to salvage a 1-1 head-to-head split last season.
Jan. 20th and 22nd – vs Miami
The Miami Heat are yet another East contender off to a slow start this season. The reigning finalists are 3-4, including allowing 144 points in a 47-point crushing at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks. Given that Miami was still playing a mere two and a half months prior to the December 23rd season opener, some fatigue-related effects make sense. Still, the Heat offers one of the best transition defenses in the league and could make the Raps, already struggling to generate offense, very uncomfortable.
On the surface, these next eight games could offer a small sliver of encouragement for a Raptors fan base seeking hope for a quick and imminent turn-around. After all, none of the aforementioned teams currently sports a record above .500. Each, however, presents challenges of their own, highlighting just how few easy nights there are to be had in the current NBA.
The upcoming schedule offers a snapshot of the identity crisis quickly forming for the Toronto Raptors. The 2019-20 version of the club could reasonably expect to win the vast majority of these contests. But that was then and this is now, as Toronto has a significantly worse record than any of the teams they’re set to play.