Article Written by Jacob Pacheco (@JacobPacheco6)
The Toronto Raptors currently have 23 games remaining in the 2018-19 NBA season and currently sit 2nd in the Eastern Conference. The team trails the Milwaukee Bucks for first place in the East, by just one game while the Bucks have two games in hand on Toronto.
Fresh off the NBA All-Star break, there is no better way to get back into things than with the San Antonio Spurs and former Raptor, DeMar DeRozan, coming to town to take on the Raptors at the Scotiabank Arena. This is DeRozan’s first game back in Toronto since the trade back in June 2018. There is no doubt this game will have a ton of emotions, good or bad. From a fan perspective, this game is must-see. Resale court-side seats for Friday’s game in Toronto are going anywhere from $2000 to $5000 CDN. There are currently no standard tickets available for the game as the cheapest resale tickets are going for $240 CDN via Ticketmaster.ca.
Nonetheless, eight of Toronto’s final 23 games will be played against the Western Conference, where four of those eight Western Conference foes have a positive winning percentage. Which means three of them have negative records - the New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves and also LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Raptors will play 15 games against fellow Eastern Conference opponents down the stretch. Only two of those 15 teams have a winning record as of today in the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets. Two teams who Toronto have seemed to have tight games against with a high intensity. Toronto will also play 12 of their remaining 23 games on their home court; a big advantage down the stretch. Toronto is currently rolling a six-game winning streak while having a 24-5 record at home. That home record ties the Denver Nuggets for the second-best home winning percentage this season behind the Bucks, who are in first for a winning home record based off of percentage.
While the 2018-19 NBA season is slowly coming to an end, fans can’t help but look forward towards the playoffs and what could be the best possible match-up for their team. For the Toronto Raptors, the best-case scenario would be to finish second in the Conference, and I’ll tell you why. The reason behind this is to avoid the Bucks until at least the Conference Finals. A possible first-round opponent for Toronto - as it sits right now - could either be the Charlotte Hornets or Detroit Pistons. What a series that would be against former Raptors’ Head Coach Dwane Casey!
Not only could Toronto avoid the Milwaukee Bucks until the Conference Finals, but if the they finish as the second seed, they may not have to worry about them at all. As it stands today, the Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers hold the 4th and 5th seed, which means they would see each other in the first round of the playoffs, and the winner of that series would take on either the 1st or 8th seed depending who comes out of that first round series (probably the Bucks but who knows?).
It isn’t all about finishing first in the Conference, it’s all about seeding yourself correctly as a strategy. Just like the Cleveland Cavaliers did last season when they dropped to the 4th seed intentionally in order to face Toronto in the second round because it was the “easier path” for LeBron James due to his history against Toronto, especially in playoff games. So it isn’t all about finishing first - it’s all about being in the right position, theoretically, for yourself and your team. Just like Head Coach Nick Nurse has stated earlier in the season when fans were outraged about Kawhi Leonard not playing back-to-backs, “It isn’t about November, December and January. It’s about April, May and June.” The Toronto Raptors are capable of the damage they can cause in the playoffs, it’s just a matter of who is healthy enough to do so and the path they take to get there and to the NBA Finals.
Yet, with 23 games remaining, this team still has a lot to work on and that being chemistry. It was a chaotic trade deadline for Toronto and as wel as the buyout market as well, as the Raptors brought in Marc Gasol, Jeremy Lin and recently signed veteran guard and sharpshooter, Jordie Meeks, to the mix. The Raptors still have little kinks to work out as the regular season comes to an end. Not to mention the high amounts of injures with the newest one being Fred VanVleet, who could be out at least a month, thus putting a lot of weight of Lin’s shoulders and also how Nick Nurse wants to work his lineup with such a versatile team. Lin, Gasol, and Meeks – if all works out – have been brought in to win and make a deep run at the NBA Championship in June.
When Masai Ujiri said it was time to have a culture change at the end of last season, he meant it. The culture of the NBA has changed, and in order to win a Championship, you have to adapt to that culture. Ujiri was tired of seeing that possibility pass him by.
The time is now, Toronto.
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