Five Raptors games to mark in your calendars for the 2017-18 season

Voice of the Toronto Raptors Matt Devlin joined Sportsnets Starting Lineup to discuss the recently released NBA schedule and the changes for this year and ESPN predicting that the Raptors will finish sixth in the conference.

The Toronto Raptors enter a 2017-18 season full of expectations, ones they’ll have to manage through another 82-game schedule.

Their culture is expected to change, and also their style of play. DeMar DeRozan will spend more time at point guard, while Jonas Valanciunas and the rest of the Raptors will look to get past the three-point woes that haunted them during last year’s playoffs.

Entering their 23rd season in the league, the Raptors have yet to solidify themselves as contenders. They may or may not have a long way to go, but they’ll at least have a chance to prove themselves, and their progress, during five games in particular this season.

Oct. 19: Opening night

It all starts with the Chicago Bulls, who’ll visit Air Canada Centre on Oct. 19, for the Raptors’ season opener.

It’s a tough start for the Raptors, who lost 11 straight games to the Bulls before finally winning in their last matchup on Jan. 21. Chicago isn’t as good as it was last season, but anything can happen with a veteran like Dwyane Wade.

While the Raptors should be looking to start the season on a high note, a win in their opener can also help them gain a mental edge for their matchup against the Bulls on Feb. 14 – their last game before the all-star break.

Oct. 25: First shot at the champs

If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. While we’re months away from the NBA Finals, the Raptors will at least have a chance to compare themselves to the defending champs on Oct. 25.

Going against the Golden State Warriors, in Oracle Arena, is no easy task. The Raptors hold a six-game losing streak against the Dubs, but a win should be high on their bucket list – especially when they hold a chance so early in the 2017-18 season.

A quartet of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green has proven to be too much for any team in the league to handle. But they’re the NBA’s most popular show for a reason, making Oct. 25, and their second matchup on Jan. 13, must-watch TV for Raptors fans.

Jan. 5: Keeping the Bucks in place

It’s important the Raptors don’t slide down the Eastern Conference’s pecking order, and that starts with beating the team they eliminated from last year’s playoffs.

The Milwaukee Bucks have a young and emerging squad, with a future MVP candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo. If there’s any game that everyone should expect a monster performance from the Greek Freak, it’ll be on Jan. 5, the first time the Bucks host the Raptors.

While Antetokounmpo will have a chance to deliver a token of revenge in front of his home crowd, the Raptors can silence all doubters, while re-affirming that they’re still a team on the rise that doesn’t have any interest in taking a step back.

Jan. 11: Another shot at the King

The biggest obstacle standing in the Raptors’ way in the East remains the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Toronto will have to wait until Jan. 11 for their first shot, but it does provide the Raptors enough time to find their groove before going against LeBron James & Co.

The late date at Air Canada Centre also gives them enough time to re-evaluate before the trade deadline on Feb. 8. The outcome should factor into Masai Ujiri’s plans, knowing they could potentially play their third straight playoff series against the Cavs this spring.

April 4: Last chance for momentum

The Raptors’ last game against the Boston Celtics on April 4 is also their last game against a contender before the 2017-18 season comes to a close.

The Raptors and Celtics are currently battling to stand second in line to the Cavaliers, a team that’s beaten them both in consecutive Eastern Conference finals. While Toronto did hold a 3-1 record against Boston last season, it’ll now be going against new challenges after the additions of all-star Gordon Hayward and No. 3-overall pick Jayson Tatum.

If the Cavaliers do retake their place as the first seed, the Raptors and Celtics could potentially play their first playoff series ever in a No. 2-versus-No. 3 second-round matchup. If that’s the case, any edge or extra momentum from the tail-end of the regular season should help.