The Toronto Raptors have officially clinched their spot in the playoffs, a two-seed behind the intimidating Milwaukee Bucks. What are the Raptors’ odds in the playoffs? Do the Raptors have a chance at winning the East and making it to the Finals? Or, despite all their preparation, is it just too much to handle this year?
The Raptor’s recent acquisition of star player Kawhi Leonard is one of the keys to their future winning potential. And he’s set to become a free agent in the offseason. Lebron James recently stirred the pot after the Lakers fell to the Raptors 11-98 in Toronto last Thursday. As James left the floor, he was seen telling Leonard, “We’ll be in touch.” Leonard might be a southern California guy, but the Raptors are doing their best to convince him to stay. They’re trying to keep him happy in Toronto, but they’re also trying to win an NBA Championship, so it’s a delicate balance.
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FINAL The raptors take a tough 🤦🏽♂️ loss to the @detroitpistons for the third time this season with the final score of 110-107 as @fredvanvleet had 17 points and 4made three pointers 🔥after missing 12 games and the KLAW had 33 points 👀 but that wasn’t enough. Next game @nyknicks at @raptors 7:30pm/ET • The raptors fall to (49-21) on this season #ball #basketball #nba #sergeibaka #kawhileonard #defense #strong #body #gym #ncaabasketball #travel #win #scotiabankarena #toronto #six #drake #raptors #allstar #dailyupdates #news #highlights #2019 #goat #nbanews #W #fanlove #6ix #basketballcourt #coach
The Raptors are going all in on a “load management” strategy to ensure Kawhi doesn’t have the same complaints as he did with the San Antonio Spurs, where he said he carried too much of the workload. Toronto is deep. They can rest him, monitor his minutes and games played, and build the team around them. He’s their star. But the Raptors are going to need Kawhi to play in every game of the playoffs if they want to win the East. And if they can get to the Finals – or if they can get close – that will likely be a big factor in persuading him to stick around.
So there’s a lot riding on this team’s performance in the postseason. The Raptors have made dramatic trade deals, found themselves a new coach, and made preparations to go deep in the playoffs. It’ll surely be a disappointment if they fall short, especially after finishing with the best record and nabbing the top seed in the East last year, a franchise high. But now that they’ve got Kawhi, what’s their excuse for not doing more than that?
Kawhi has been criticized for not playing tough defense this season, playing that “load management” card too frequently, and not rising to the level of Defensive Player of the Year, which he won in 2016. During his last playoff run, he averaged 27 points per game, 52.5% shooting, and 45.5% from the three-point line, and 93% from the free throw line. If he can do that again, he will be the difference maker in the playoffs for the Raptors.
There are other players to think about too. Marc Gasol, the Spanish center they acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies in February, is another key component to the Raptors’ postseason hopes. That’s why he’s here after all – to help them win it all. But Gasol has yet to really hit his stride. He didn’t play well in the Raptors’ recent losses against the Cavs or the Rockets, and it’s been tough going from a full-time starter to an off-the-bench player alongside current center Serge Ibaka. They’ve been trading starts since February.
According to Gasol, “It’s an adjustment. I think it’s an adjustment for me, an adjustment for my teammates, for the coaches. You know, you play a certain way and it’s hard to change certain things on the fly. But you can’t try to force the issue. You have to organically improve and I’m here to work and do my best with a very positive mindset every day. It’s about what’s best for the team and how we can take another step at both ends of the floor.”
Speaking of, Ibaka was suspended for three games without pay for fighting with Marquese Chriss during the Cavs game.
The Raptors have got to continue to integrate Gasol into the lineup in order to reach their full potential and have a chance to knock off the Bucks and Giannis. And hey, it won’t be easy to beat Boston or Philadelphia either if it comes to that. The East is such a minefield that we haven’t even touched on what happens if they somehow make it to the Finals. Golden State is still the favorite to win it all… by a long shot. (A team from the Western Conference has won the title seven out of the last ten years.) The Raptors have never even been to the Finals. Could this be their year? Here’s what Vegas thinks…
Odds as of March 11 via SportsBettingDimecom
2019 NBA Championship Odds
|Golden State Warriors||-200|
Meanwhile, point guard Kyle Lowry has been out with a sprained ankle, new acquisition Jeremy Lin has been ineffective, and Fred VanVleet has been rotated in and out to help where he can. VanVleet is a player who connects the team, pushes the pace, and shoots threes. It looks like it’s going to be a period of adjustment for lots of Raptors players, but hopefully, for the sake of their postseason hopes, it’ll be a quick one.
Will they shorten the lineup and flip the switch? Will Head Coach Nick Nurse build on their offensive skills and mix it up a little bit, changing the ways they attack and score? Can the Raptors finally get that team chemistry going and find some continuity? Will they start to focus?
The Raptors fell to the Pistons last night, as predicted by Vegas, but they’re sure to rack up another win tonight against the New York Knicks. After that, their schedule doesn’t look too tough, but remember, teams like the Hornets, Heat, and Magic will all be playing tough as they fight for those final few playoff spots.