With the Raptors 2 games up for the No. 1 seed in the East, and all but a lock for the playoffs, it’s time to start looking at who they could potentially matchup with throughout the playoffs. Most people agree that the Raptors will finish in one of the top 3 spots in the conference, with Boston and Cleveland occupying the other two. So, that means that their focus for the rest of the regular season should be to lock down the No. 1 seed, to ensure that they don’t play Boston or Cleveland until the Conference Finals, and play as many games at home as possible.
It obviously won’t be easy for the Raptors to finish the season as the No. 1 seed in the East, but they do have the benefit of a pretty easy schedule. 12 of their remaining 24 games are against sub-500 teams, and they won’t have to play a single road game against a Western Conference team. Hopefully, the Raptors can take care of business against the non-playoff teams, while beating some good teams along the way, as they try to lock down the top seed. If they do get that top seed, they should hope that they don’t have to play the Miami Heat in the first round. The Raptors have played the Heat twice so far this season, and both games were tough for Toronto. The first matchup saw Miami win 90-89 on a last second layup by Wayne Ellington, and the second one saw the Raptors almost blow a 17-point 4th quarter, but hang one to win, 115-112. Both of these games saw the Heat enforce their defensive intensity on the Raptors in the 4th quarter, while Goran Dragic made some clutch shots down the stretch. I still think the Raptors would beat the Heat in a playoff matchup, but it would probably be a series that features a lot of close games, and doesn’t give the Raptors what they’ve lacked in their past playoff runs, rest between series’
Once the first round is over, I suspect that the final 4 teams in the Eastern Conference will be the Raptors, the Celtics, the Cavaliers, and the Wizards. If you’re the Raptors, you want to play Washington in the 2nd round, because that likely means that you’re the No. 1 seed and it also means that you don’t have to play Boston or the Cavs yet. A playoff series with the Wizards would be interesting, because there isn’t much to take from their regular season matchups so far this season. Yes, they’ve played 3 times, but John Wall hasn’t played in any of those games, Kyle Lowry was ejected early in the 1st game, and the 3rd game saw the Raptors bench unit have a rare off night, as they didn’t have Fred VanVleet with them. All this means is that I don’t know how these teams would fare against each other in a playoff series, with all of their pieces intact. I suspect that the Raptors would win it in a long series, maybe 6 or 7 games, but I’ll have to see these teams play each other again before I can mark my words on that one.
If what I’ve predicted so far comes true, the Raptors will find themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals against either the Celtics or the Cavs. I won’t make a prediction on that on yet, because it really all depends on Lebron James. Is he healthy? Are him and the Cavs tired? Did they even get past Boston? All of these questions are yet to be answered, so you’ll have to wait before I make my bold prediction on the Eastern Conference champion.
With the season approaching the home stretch, the Raptors and their fans can hope that their team will hold on to the No. 1 seed in the East that they currently hold. That will give them the best chance to go deep into the playoffs, if they can play the critical games at home, in front of the best fans in the NBA.