Article Written by Jacob Pacheco (@JacobPacheco6)
As of today, and as you are reading this, the Toronto Raptors currently sit three games back of the Milwaukee Bucks for first place in the Eastern Conference. Whether the Raptors finish first or second in the Conference with a dozen games remaining in the regular season. Here, we take a look at who the Raptors could possibly see in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
If the Playoffs started today, the Raptors would face off against Atlantic Division rivals - the Brooklyn Nets - in the first round. Toronto currently leads the season series against Brooklyn 2-1 with one more game to be played between the two on April 3rd in Brooklyn. The only loss against Brooklyn this season thus far came back on the 18th of December where Toronto lost a thriller in overtime, 106-105. But, that was prior to the trade deadline. Two teams now have some sort of change regarding their lineups. The second meeting was all Toronto and the third meeting was another heavily contested match-up where Toronto pulled away with the victory. If these two teams were to meet in the first round, by all means, Brooklyn is no team to take lightly. But their lack of playoff experience and talent in mid-April might not be enough to get the job done. Thus, it is also safe to say Toronto has had the slight edge over the Nets.
Another possible opponent could be the Detroit Pistons who – let’s just say - the Raptors have had problems with this season. Now, keep in mind. all three meetings between these two teams,Toronto has not had a full and healthy roster. In the first game back in November, where we saw the return of Dwane Casey to Toronto, the Raptors were without Serge Ibaka and were playing Greg Monroe with heavy minutes. Detroit ended up winning that game at the buzzer with a tip-in courtesy of Reggie Bullock, who was traded to the Lakers. In game two just a few weeks ago, Toronto was without Kawhi Leonard and lost in overtime 112-107. In game three on Sunday, the Raptors were without both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka and lost 110-107. Toronto have lost all three meetings by a combined seven points and all without their stars. Now, some may say the playoffs are a different animal, and they’re right. But these three wins and with Dwane Casey being on the other side of that coaching box, you can’t help but think this Pistons team would be a confident bunch if they got matched up with Toronto in the first round and pulled off the major upset.
A third and possible opponent could very well be the Miami Heat, which believe it or not, the Raptors are currently up 3-0 in the season series with one more game to play between them on April 7th. The first meeting of the season came early on in the year where Toronto was a league’s best 17-4. This game saw Pascal Siakam and Kawhi Leonard put up a combined 60 points. The second meeting was a lot closer and was decided by inches where the Heat missed two tip-in efforts to try and send the game into overtime. The third meeting was a 21-point blowout by Toronto away from Scotiabank Arena. With one more meeting to go this season, Toronto could sweep Miami in the season and go 4-0 against them, which could possibly play out to be the best possible match-up for Toronto come Playoff time.
Other possibilities that Toronto could see in the first round are the Orlando Magic or Charlotte Hornets; two teams that currently sit outside of a playoff spot and would need to go on a bit of a winning streak to make the playoffs. Anything it is possible.
It is easy to get caught up in what could be for Toronto in future rounds of the playoffs, but the first round isn’t easy by any means. Brooklyn, Detroit and Miami will give Toronto and possibly even Milwaukee some bumps in the road in a grueling seven-game series. The bench and three-point shooting for Toronto has had their massive amounts of struggles throughout the season, costing them close games where a few points from a player or where a few three-pointers could have been the deciding factor. But this Raptors team have also proved that they can win in cases where the bench doesn’t produce or that three-ball isn’t connecting, and that is scary.
Yes, the playoffs are a different beast awaiting to be slain by whichever team brings it the absolute most. Just as Kawhi Leonard put it, “There’s 82 games and for me they are just practice and playoffs is when it is time to lace them up.” But for underdog teams like the Nets, Pistons and Heat, those regular season stats matter and that is what they are going to feed off of come playoff time. I am sure there is nothing to worry about as Toronto has proved that they are a powerhouse team and everyone on the roster is finally starting to look healthy again. They can be really dangerous when everything clicks as a unit.
Toronto has 12 games remaining in the season as the 2019 NBA Playoffs tip-off on April 13th.
Who do you want to see Toronto face in the first-round of the Playoffs?
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