Right off the bat, let’s get this out of the way: Yes, the Toronto Raptors will be playing on Christmas Day.
The NBA released it’s full 2019-20 schedule Monday afternoon, and the season will begin with the champion Raptors — nope, typing that doesn’t get old — hosting first-overall pick Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans — an exciting matchup between two teams with fluctuating expectations.
The schedule release comes after what felt like the longest break in the NBA’s now year-round calendar, providing fodder for fans and media alike.
It’ll be a highly-anticipated season for the Raptors who, despite losing Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard this off-season, tip-off the 2019-20 season as the NBA’s defending champs in a wide-open, new-look East.
The Raptors will be play a season-high 18 games on Wednesday night’s, while December is slated to be the team’s busiest month with 16 games on the schedule.
Without further ado, here are 10 games you’re going to want to circle on your calendar now.
Oct. 22 vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Opening night at home would have been must-see material regardless. After all, it’s when the team will hoist it’s first-ever championship banner, and players and coaches from last year’s team will officially receive their rings.
Throw in the fact that the home opener also doubles as the first game of the NBA season, and it features a matchup with one of the most exciting young rosters assembled starring the most-hyped prospect since LeBron James and its as exciting a season debut as you could hope for.
All eyes league-wide will be on Williamson, while Raptors fans can anticipate a killer matchup between the first-overall pick and reigning Most Improved Player Pascal Siakam, who enters the season as Toronto’s most important player.
This is what Williamson showed in just nine total minutes of Summer League action last month. Needless to say, we can’t wait to see what a full game could have in store.
Zion did not disappoint in his summer league debut pic.twitter.com/zAMzheu3Oe
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 6, 2019
Nov. 11 at Los Angeles Clippers/Dec. 11 vs. Clippers
It remains to be seen to what degree ‘load management’ will affect Kawhi Leonard’s season after he sat out 22 games last year in order to maintain his body for the grind of the playoffs — a plan that worked as well as anybody could have imagined.
So with that in mind, we’ll highlight both matchups against Leonard and the Clippers, given the possibility that Leonard sits out at least one.
The Clippers were rumoured to be Leonard’s destination of choice all season long, but it didn’t make the chain of events that landed the superstar in Los Angeles alongside fellow newcomer Paul George any less shocking.
Regardless of how it unfolded, nobody will want to miss the reunion between Leonard and the team he helped carry to a title like the world’s most efficient hired hitman.
Leonard may have only spent one season in Toronto before walking away from the franchise once free agency hit like many stars before him — DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry being notable exceptions. But he left the city a hero, making his return to Scotiabank Arena on Dec. 11 arguably the most anticipated ticket of the year.
Dec. 25 vs. Boston Celtics
Yes, the Christmas game many fans have long pined for is finally here.
The Raptors and Celtics will tip-off the NBA’s annual Christmas Day marathon beginning at noon ET. More than a tip-of-the-hat to the Raptors’ success in recent years and subsequent rise in popularity, this game could actually hold some real significance given the uncertainty in the East where the Raptors and Celtics could be fighting for playoff seeding all season long, rendering every matchup between the two important.
While Toronto will look similar to last season — save for the whole missing-their-best-player part — but the Celtics underwent a more dramatic overhaul that saw the departure of stars Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, with all-star point guard Kemba Walker signing with Boston as a free agent.
The rest of the Christmas schedule will feature the Bucks vs. Sixers, Rockets vs. Warriors, Clippers vs. Lakers, and Pelicans vs. Nuggets
Jan. 22 vs. Philadelphia 76ers
The Toronto Raptors won’t be the favourites in the East this season and will have to claw their way back to the contender status they held through much of the last one.
According to OddsShark the 76ers have the best chance of any team not named Milwaukee to reach the Finals this season while the Raptors were given the fifth-best odds in the conference.
Philly, like Boston, Brooklyn, Indiana, and others in the East, made major moves this off-season, acquiring the aforementioned Horford along with defensive-minded wing Josh Richardson, moves that have made the team, on paper, a bigger threat than ever.
The Raptors will look to prove otherwise, and show that they can compete with any team in the East, in this second-round re-match of a hard-fought seven game series that culminated in the greatest shot in franchise history.
March 5 at Golden State Warriors
Back to the scene of the crime — well, sort of. The Warriors are moving into a new stadium, but the Raptors’ lone visit to Golden State (read: San Francisco) comes on this day. A lot will have changed since the NBA Finals — namely that key figures Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Andre Igoudala have switched teams, but Klay Thompson could be back in the lineup from his ACL injury by then.
After potentially bringing the Warriors dynasty to a close it’ll be interesting to see what significance the 2020 matchup between these two teams will hold.
March 28 at Memphis Grizzlies, March 30 vs. Grizzlies
Raptors fans should take particular delight in this late-season home-and-home series with Memphis, who have become a favourite secondary team for many Canadian hoop fans for the simple reason that roughly 87 per cent of their roster is made up of former Raptors players.
Ok, so it’s actually just Jonas Valanciunas and Bruno Caboclo, but throw in Canadians Brandon Clarke and Dillon Brooks, plus electrifying second-overall pick Ja Morant and franchise big man Jaren Jackson Jr., and this should be a fun matchup in back-to-back games.
April 1 at Milwaukee Bucks, April 3 vs. Bucks
Another home-and-home series, this one stands to be a lot more impactful in terms of standings and playoff seedings.
Expect ultra-motivated outings from defending MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo facing off against the team that eliminated him from the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, while the Raptors’ performance against what should again be a top team in the East will go a long way to setting expectations for a potential 2020 post-season run.