Who should Toronto Raptors fans support in the playoffs?

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 12: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs hugs Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 12: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs hugs Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

It’s been a strange, turbulent, and uniquely challenging pandemic-influenced 2020-21 season for the Toronto Raptors, one that will officially see them miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013. There will be plenty of time for analysis on the season that was and a look at the next steps to be taken, but the playoffs are less than two weeks away, so what’s a Raptors fan to do?

For some, the answer might be as simple as not watching. If you’re a Toronto sports fan, you have a dynamic, playoffs-bound Maple Leafs team and the rising young Blue Jays to cheer on. But for basketball junkies, that just won’t do. The question becomes, then, who do you root for amidst a Raptors-less NBA playoff picture?

While it won’t do much to soften the blow of a lost season, fans may take some solace in knowing that there are plenty of options.

Whether it’s a reunion with a former Raptor, some love for a standout Canadian, or backing a well-run franchise to finally breakthrough, there are other NBA teams deserving of your support in their pursuit of ‘Larry OB’.

Let’s break down some of the best options for Toronto Raptors fans.

Who should Toronto Raptors fans root for in the postseason?

6. San Antonio Spurs

Given Toronto’s continued affection for long-time Raptor star DeMar DeRozan, it would be easy to figure on the pending free agent’s San Antonio Spurs ranking high on a list of teams to root for. Complicating matters, however, is San Antonio’s uphill climb to muster a playoff run of any kind.

Locked into the No. 10 seed in the Western Conference, the Spurs will need to oust the Memphis Grizzlies, and then overcome the loser of the No.7/8 play-in battle just to earn a postseason date with the top-seeded Utah Jazz.

You never know what a Gregg Popovich-coached team can pull out of their hat, but it’s more likely than not that a trip on the Spurs’ bandwagon will only last a game or two.

5. New York Knicks

Kyle Lowry, Toronto raptors
Is this R.J. Barret’s time?  (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

As fun as it is to watch the various ways in which the New York Knicks seem to achieve dysfunction every year, this year’s competent Knicks have been pretty enjoyable, too.

It’s been exciting to watch Julius Randle’s star turn, and it’s hard not to like Derrick Rose. As tough as it may be to admit, the NBA is somehow more enjoyable when the MSG denizens are relevant.

For Toronto fans, it’s been nice to see R.J. Barrett have the chance to be part of a winner. While Randle is the undisputed top dog with the Knicks, the son of Canadian national team GM Rowan Barrett sits right behind him in points (17.7) and minutes (24.7) per game, while starting every game this season.

Getting on the bandwagon for a division rival is never easy, but it’s sometimes nice to see a fresh face in the mix, especially one that has a rising young Canadian at the forefront.

4. Phoenix Suns

The best Phoenix Suns team since the Steve Nash-led “Seven Seconds or Less” group is a major unknown heading into the postseason, but their rise has been fun. Led by “Point God” Chris Paul, the Suns have fast-tracked their way up the ladder in the West and are mounting a serious charge at the No. 1 seed in the Conference.

Whether they wrestle No. 1 away from the Utah Jazz is almost beside the point. Phoenix has been the surprise of the league this year and will almost certainly finish ahead of both LA powerhouse teams. With no ex-Raps or Canadians on the roster, there’s no specific reason to throw your support behind the Suns beyond backing a fun, likable underdog.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

This one comes with some pretty mixed emotions. There is surely a segment of Raptors fans that still holds some attachment to Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka for their integral roles in the 2019 title, it’s hard to ignore the fact that both men left as free agents. Time will surely heal all wounds in terms of their legacy with the franchise, but their departures still seem quite raw.

The two impactful ex-Raps aside, the Clippers do profile as an endearing title contender in many ways. They’ve never even advanced as far as the Western Conference Finals and have historically resided in the shadow of their Staples Center co-tenant Lakers.

Still, Leonard manipulating his pairing with Paul George two summers ago leaves a bad taste for some, who wouldn’t mind seeing another flameout.

2. Memphis Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies have locked in a play-in spot, either in the West’s No. 7/8 or 9/10 game, and they deserve some love. The rising young roster has some Toronto connections, and the old Vancouver-based team could lean into that in order to pick up a few fans north of the border during this run.

The Grizzlies’ expected starting lineup for that play-in game will feature beloved ex-Raptor Jonas Valanciunas in the middle and Mississauga’s own Dillon Brooks on the wing. They are also led by sophomore point guard Ja Morant, one of the most exciting young players in the league.

The Grizzlies might not have the longest run in the postseason, but they are worth throwing your support behind considering what a fun team they have been this season and what the future might hold for them.

1. Portland Trail Blazers

The trade deadline deal that sent Norm Powell to Portland has, to date, been the rare mutually beneficial trade. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
The trade deadline deal that sent Norm Powell to Portland has, to date, been the rare mutually beneficial trade. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

It’s one thing to cheer on a former player, but the bond created between Toronto and Portland in the aftermath of the Norm Powell trade deadline deal has been something special. Linked as passionate fan bases for teams in non-major markets, fans of each team expressed mutual respect on social media after the trade and a shared appreciation for their own departed player.

While it’s all well and good to be happy for a fan base, admiration for the Blazers runs deeper than that. Of course, there’s Powell, who is fitting in nicely alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

Go even further and it’s easy to find a kinship with Portland, a consistently well-run organization still looking to break through amidst Western powers like the Lakers and Warriors.

I realize this list doesn’t necessarily represent every Raptor fan. Maybe you’re hoping for a seemingly annual Western also-ran like the Utah Jazz or Denver Nuggets to finally breakthrough. Maybe you are unhappy about the Nate Bjorkgren reporting and would love to see the former Raptors assistant and current Indiana Pacers head coach silence his doubters with a playoff run.

Still, hopefully, this list helps highlight the fact that NBA love doesn’t have to end for Raps fans as the regular season comes to a close.

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