Raptors to be tested by back-to-backs, Western teams in second half schedule

Raptors guard Fred VanVleet reacts to being passed over as a reserve for the All-Star Game, says obviously he cares, but he's not going anywhere, and this is not the last time he'll be up for the honour.

The second half of the Toronto Raptors’ 2020-21 season schedule was released on Wednesday afternoon.

Toronto will play 35 games across 67 days, beginning with a home date (in Tampa) against the Atlanta Hawks on March 11. Toronto’s regular-season finale will come on May 16 against the Indiana Pacers.

A couple days after the Raptors’ season finale, the NBA’s play-in tournament will begin on May 18 and conclude on May 21.

The play-in tournament will include the teams in the Nos. 7-10 seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences all vying for the seventh and eighth spots in the official playoff bracket.

The NBA playoffs will begin on May 22.

After a sluggish 2-8 start, the Raptors currently find themselves with a 16-16 record and they have five more games left in their first-half schedule, including a contest on Wednesday night against the Miami Heat.

Here’s a closer look at the Raptors’ second-half schedule.

Games to mark on your calendar

Here are some key games to mark on your calendar for the second half of the season:

• March 19 versus Utah Jazz: This will be the first time this season the Raptors see the best team in the league.

• March 24 versus Denver Nuggets: The Raptors will see Canadian star Jamal Murray, MVP candidate Nikola Jokic and their talented Nuggets squad for the first time in late March.

• March 31 at Oklahoma City Thunder: Toronto will square off against Canadian studs Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort for the first time this season when they see Oklahoma City on this date.

• April 6 versus Los Angeles Lakers: This will be the first time the Raptors will see the defending champion Lakers.

• April 24 at New York Knicks: This game is scheduled to be televised nationally in the United States on ESPN. Given how successful the Knicks have been this season, a contest at this time could prove significant for Toronto in the standings.

• May 4 at Los Angeles Clippers: Like when Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker squared off, this will be a meeting between former triumphant friends turned foes as the Raptors take on the Clippers for the first time this season. Toronto will see both Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka on what will surely be a special Star Wars Day.

• May 16 versus Indiana Pacers: As mentioned before, this is the last scheduled regular-season game for the Raptors’ season.

Many back-to-backs

This isn’t to say Toronto’s schedule will be easy, though.

The Raptors will play in eight back-to-backs over the course of their second half schedule, and unlike the first half, there are no two-game sets to be had anymore.

The first back-to-back comes on March 13 and 14 on the road against the Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls. The team’s last back-to-back comes late in the season on May 13 and 14 with contests against the Bulls and Dallas Mavericks.

The most significant back-to-back on the season, perhaps, will come on May 1 and 2 with the team on the road to take on the Jazz and Lakers.

Any back-to-back is always difficult to navigate, but for the Raptors, who are only 1-4 in the second game of back-to-backs this season, it will be challenging to make it through eight of them.

Tough schedule ahead

According to Positive Residual—a basketball analytics site that tracks and charts a number stats and trends in both the NBA and WNBA—the Raptors have played the eighth-toughest schedule so far and will be in for a bit of a break with the eighth-weakest schedule ahead in its remaining games (including Wednesday’s against Miami).

However, while Positive Residual does take into account many other factors such as games played with good or bad rest, the raw numbers of Toronto’s schedule so far tells a different story.

Purely looking at the winning percentage of the opponents the Raptors have faced, Toronto has faced the easiest schedule by far, according to Tankathon, with opponents only putting up a .414 winning percentage.

And while the advanced figures may say the Raptors have had an easier road so far, it certainly looks a lot tougher for the Raptors after taking a bird’s eye view of the remainder of their schedule. They’ll be facing more Western Conference competition and they have a ton of back-to-backs on the horizon.

In particular, the Raptors will have to embark on a murderer’s row Western Conference road trip from April 29-May 4 where they’ll see Denver, Utah and both L.A. clubs over the span of just six days.

There’s no doubt the Raptors will be tested in the second half.

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