Raptors' Road to 6ix-ty: A New Franchise Record On The Horizon
Updated: Feb 27, 2020
The Toronto Raptors sit in second place in the NBA's Eastern Conference, sporting a positively radiant record of 42-16 and a 1.5 game lead over the Boston Celtics - a position that not many pundits expected them to be in after the departure of superstar forward Kawhi Leonard this past summer.
Despite the loss of big-time talent, the Raptors have come out stronger than ever, and are on pace to set a franchise record for wins in the regular season. Having never finished with a win total equal to or north of 60, this masterpiece of a season would provide immense satisfaction to their millions of fans around the globe, as the 60-win threshold is reserved for only the most elite of championship contenders - a status that no one dared assign to the defending champs this year, given their lack of a top-five (ten?) player.
But the Raptors never counted themselves among the doubters; an incredible influx of in-house improvement from the likes of Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, and Serge Ibaka has paired exquisitely with savvy play from low-risk offseason pickups like Rondae-Hollis Jefferson and Terence Davis.
This is without even mentioning the continued excellence of Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol, two gamers that know how to squeeze out W's under pressure. Nick Nurse and his vaunted coaching staff have taken the play calling to a whole new level, relying on Toronto's deep, versatile roster to punish the opposition with fresh, movement-heavy looks across all 48 minutes of game time.
Make no mistake: these Raptors are a team no one wants to see on their schedule, and that statement will only ring truer come playoff time, when their relatively-inexperienced Eastern Conference foes will line up for a shot to take the NBA's title crown off of their heads.
But before we get to the playoffs, let's talk about the first thing on the menu: 60 wins, and how these Raptors can get there. Their remaining 24-game schedule ranks as the 12th easiest in the league, with their upcoming opponents sporting a combined winning percentage of .500; the Raptors need to go 18-6 over this stretch to break the franchise record and finish with a sterling record of 60-22 heading into the playoffs.
So without further ado, here are the game-by-game predictions, with some context added to the especially flavourful affairs. Teams with winning records are underlined.
Feb. 28 vs Charlotte Hornets (Prediction: W)
Mar. 1 @ Denver Nuggets (Prediction: W)
Mar. 3 @ Phoenix Suns (Prediction: W)
Mar. 5 @ Golden State Warriors (Prediction: W)
Mar. 8 @ Sacramento Kings (Prediction: W)
Mar. 9 @ Utah Jazz (Prediction: W)
Some context: The Jazz are slumping as of late, and a date with the defending champs will provide a strong litmus test of the franchise's worthiness as true-blue contenders. This prediction is my way of saying that Utah isn't quite there yet - sorry, Jazz fans. You should've kept Ricky Rubio.
Mar. 14 vs Detroit Pistons (Prediction: W)
Mar. 16 vs Golden State Warriors (Prediction: W)
Mar. 18 @ Philadelphia 76ers (Prediction: W)
Some context: Philly will likely just be getting Ben Simmons back in time for this game, as he is expected to miss at least a couple of weeks due to nerve damage in his lower back. If this is his first or second game back, expect the Sixers to look disjointed, as the likely still-rusty superstar guard needs the ball in his hands to make an impact on the court.
If Simmons is back sooner rather than later, this game goes from an exercise in reintegration to a must-win for Philly, as they look for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Mar. 20 vs Boston Celtics (Prediction: L)
Some context: Boston will be giving it their all as they attempt to usurp the Raptors and slip into the East's second seed - after a winning streak of 9 games (if my predictions are correct), it's likely that the Raptors won't have the gas to close this one out.
Mar. 22 vs Denver Nuggets (Prediction: W)
Mar. 24 vs Los Angeles Lakers (Prediction: L)
Some context: Really, this one could go either way, but the bet here is that the Lakers head into the playoffs with some obvious chemistry - and that'll be on display in this particular game, as the Purple N' Gold championship hopefuls aim to solidify their status against the defending title holders (a team that's already beaten them once this season). Expect King James and A.D. to take this one seriously.
Mar. 25 @ New York Knicks (Prediction: W)
Mar. 28 @ Memphis Grizzlies (Prediction: W)
Mar. 30 vs Memphis Grizzlies (Prediction: W)
April 1 @ Milwaukee Bucks (Prediction: L)
April 3 vs Milwaukee Bucks (Prediction: W)
April 5 @ Houston Rockets (Prediction: L)
Some context: The guess here is that the Raptors just won't be as desperate at this stage of the game as the Pocket Rockets - this game will mean more for Houston, period. And given their torrid play ever since acquiring Covington, the Raptors could have a very difficult time against an opponent they hardly ever see.
April 7 @ Washington Wizards (Prediction: W)
April 8 @ Charlotte Hornets (Prediction: W)
April 10 vs Atlanta Hawks (Prediction: W)
April 12 vs New York Knicks (Prediction: W)
April 14 @ Miami Heat (Prediction: L)
Some context: The Raptors last loss of the season, coming after a mini-win streak, will see them prioritize roster health over jostling for last-minute seeding position. Miami will very likely care about this one, playing their full squad as they seek to hold down the fourth seed and maintain home court advantage in the East's first round.
April 15 @ Orlando Magic (Prediction: W)
Predicted record by season's end: 61-21