Given the nature of removing eight bad teams from the NBA’s pool of teams, it was always going to be a foregone conclusion that no matter what schedule the Toronto Raptors received for the eight-game seeding period of the NBA’s restart it was going to be tough.
It just probably wasn’t expected to be this tough, though.
Taking the standings as they were when the season suspended on March 11, the overall winning percentage of the Raptors’ opponents is .638 or, as Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press put it, the second-hardest schedule of any team in the restart.
Using that metric — counting only the games involving the 22 teams left — here's who has the hardest schedule in the seeding round …
… and the easiest
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) June 26, 2020
And in case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a look at the gauntlet that awaits the Raptors in Disney World:
• Aug. 1 – Los Angeles Lakers (49-14) at 8:30 p.m. ET
• Aug. 3 – Miami Heat (41-24) at 1:30 p.m. ET
• Aug. 5 – Orlando Magic (30-35) at 8:00 p.m. ET
• Aug. 7 – Boston Celtics (43-21) at 9:00 p.m. ET
• Aug. 9 – Memphis Grizzlies (32-33) at 2:00 p.m. ET
• Aug. 10 – Milwaukee Bucks (53-12) at 6:30 p.m. ET
• Aug. 12 – Philadelphia 76ers (39-26) at 6:30 p.m. ET
• Aug. 14 – Denver Nuggets (43-22), at time TBD
With the exception of the Magic, that’s a veritable group-of-death-looking schedule the Raptors will face when they resume play. But while it does look formidable, it’s not like the Raptors are some scrub team, either.
Don’t forget, not only are they the defending champions, they’re also currently the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with a sparkling 46-18 record. So instead of thinking of what the Raptors will be up against during the restart, just remember those teams also have to face the Raptors, and they’re probably not too thrilled by that fact, either.
This isn’t to say that Toronto won’t be in for a fight during these seeding games, however.
Looking at the schedule more closely, there are two in games in particular that jump out and are especially ones the Raptors can ill afford to drop: Aug. 7 against Boston and Aug. 12 versus Philadelphia.
This is because, looking at the standings right now, Toronto holds a 3.0 game lead over the Celtics for No. 2 and the 76ers are currently tied with the Indiana Pacers, but because Indiana holds the tiebreaker Philly is currently in sixth.
At the moment, at No. 2 in the East, the Raptors would be slated to face the shorthanded Brooklyn Nets or, if they’re able to climb up, the Magic or Washington Wizards. Regardless who of that trio ends up at No. 7, it would still make for a much easier first-round opponent than the likes of the Sixers or Pacers.
And this is why it’s important that Toronto beats Boston and Philadelphia when they meet during the seeding games.
Which seeding game are you most excited for? pic.twitter.com/bfD6Kc6u0f
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 26, 2020
Mathematically it’s pretty hard for the Raptors to blow a 3.0 game lead, but it’s still possible and one of the best ways to make sure they don’t choke would be take care of business against Boston.
In regards to the 76ers, the Raptors would probably want to keep them down in that No. 6 seed to give Boston as hard of a first-round matchup as they’re going to get. This season the Sixers boasts a 3-1 record against the Celtics as they’re size has appeared to bother the smaller C’s.
There’s no chance Philadelphia can drop below No. 6 so a Raptors victory over them could go a long way towards setting up a bad matchup all around for what would be their second-round playoff match.
Ultimately, however, while Toronto’s matchup with Boston and Philly do seem quite important, in only an eight-game schedule before the playoffs every game will matter. The Raptors will want to get each and every single one and can reasonably be expected to do just that with the exception of their match with the Milwaukee Bucks – their sole game on the second day of a back-to-back in the restart that happens to be against the league’s best team.
It’s a gauntlet for sure in front of them, but a championship has never just been given, it must always be earned. This is just the first hurdle along the way.