One more sleep.
The 2019 NBA playoffs get underway on Saturday. For the Toronto Raptors, this post-season sets up arguably the most crucial string of games in franchise history. The team has never had a roster more equipped to go the distance, or a more clear path (read: no LeBron in sight) to a potential Finals berth.
But they’ll have to contend with an Orlando Magic team that was quietly one of the NBA’s best over the final two months of the regular season. The Magic enter round one as major underdogs — and with an unproven roster and sub-.500 record, there’s a good reason for that. But Orlando found success against Toronto this season, evening the season series at 2-2, and holding the Raps to just over 92 points per game across the first three of those games.
Taking a look at what the Magic players — and non-Canadian media outlets — are saying about this first round matchup, there’s an awareness of how good this Raptors team is, but also a quiet confidence in Orlando’s ability to continue to put up a fight and exploit certain matchups. As we’ll provide throughout the Raps’ 2019 playoff run, here’s a look at what they’re saying outside of Canada ahead of Game 1:
The Athletic (Charlotte, NC) — Bring on the Raptors: Magic again prove they shouldn’t be underestimated
After securing the seventh seed with a win over the Charlotte Hornets on the final night of the regular season, The Athletic‘s Josh Robbins takes a look at why the Magic are on a roll and feel they can compete with the East’s (second) best:
With their win, the Magic demonstrated how much they have grown this season.
And they also showed why their upcoming playoff series against the second-seeded Toronto Raptors might — just might — be closer than it seems on paper. Few, if any, experts will give the Magic much of a chance to win the series, and understandably so. But Wednesday demonstrated again that it is foolhardy to discount Orlando so easily.
“We know we can play with anyone, really,” swingman Evan Fournier said. “I mean we’ve had some really, really good wins this season. Now it’s a matter of are we going to be consistent enough for 48 minutes in seven games to win? We know we can be good. Now we just have to show it.”
…The task of guarding Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard likely will fall to Gordon. On Dec. 28, in a 115-91 victory over Toronto at Amway Center, Gordon helped hold Leonard to an inefficient 21 points on 7-of-19 shooting.
“We’ve got a lot of pieces on this team, and we’ve got guys that can do a lot of different things and are very talented and skilled,” Gordon said. “But we need J.I. and Vooch if we want to win.”
Gordon probably will enter the playoff series with a chip on his shoulder, eager to prove he is an elite defender.
ESPN — Former Cavs player, coach Jones picks Magic over Raptors
On ESPN’s Get Up, former Cleveland Cavaliers player and coach Damon Jones weighed in and said he likes Orlando’s chances in their first-round matchup with Toronto, even going so far as to pick the Magic to win in seven games. Jones pointed to Orlando’s defensive prowess as a chief reason why the Magic can’t be overlooked.
Orlando Sentinel — Magic forward Jonathan Isaac clears concussion protocol, can play Toronto to open playoffs
Less about the Raptors explicitly, but make no mistake: This is bad news for Raptors fans. Isaac is one of Orlando’s tougher defenders and a matchup nightmare for Pascal Siakam because of his combination of size (Isaac towers over Serge Ibaka), long-limbs, and smooth athleticism. A healthy Isaac should help give Orlando a chance to compete.
The Orlando Magic will be at full strength for their first-round playoff series against the Toronto Raptors.
The Magic announced late Thursday night that forward Jonathan Isaac cleared concussion protocol and can play against the Raptors Saturday.
The Magic went through workouts Thursday without much insight how long Isaac may be out. The concussion protocol can be cleared quickly or drag on for weeks.
“It’s a process. They have to do a bunch of stuff,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said of Isaac on Thursday afternoon. “So you don’t know until the end. You have no idea until they clear him.”
Isaac missed the Magic’s regular season finale at Charlotte on Wednesday night. Orlando clinched the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference with a 122-114 victory over the Hornets.
Nik Vucevic on the challenge in facing the Raptors
Magic all-star centre Nik Vucevic echoed the notion that Orlando has what it takes to surprise the Raptors, and acknowledged how the Raptors’ experience and home crowd could give them an edge to start the series:
“Obviously it won’t be easy. Toronto is going to take it a step forward — obviously they have guys who have a lot of experience in the playoffs, who have played in big games, meaningful games. But I believe that we know what it takes…It won’t be easy. Their fans are going to be really behind them, and it’s important to them to win the playoffs. But if we play the right way we’ll have a shot.”
ESPN — Raptors, Bucks are bigger threats to Warriors than any team in the West
While the Magic are showing a lot of confidence heading into round one, many are already looking far ahead. Among those are ESPN’s First Take crew, who pegged the Raptors and East rival Milwaukee Bucks as the teams with the best chance to beat Golden State in a hypothetical Finals matchup:
Be sure to check back to Rival Watch throughout the post-season and following each Toronto game as we fill you in on what’s being said about the Raptors outside of the Canadian media market.