Toronto's Potential Playoff Matchups

Evaluating my "comfort" and "excitement" for Toronto's potential playoff matchups in the first and/or second round.

A few weeks ago I pinned Twitter poll in which people could vote on what fellow Eastern foe we’d least like to face come playoff time. Here are the results:

Records have changed a bit since then, and as I write this, the standings are as such:

  1. Toronto Raptors: 43-17
  2. Boston Celtics: 44-19
  3. Cleveland Cavaliers: 36-25
  4. Washington Wizards: 36-25
  5. Indiana Pacers: 34-27
  6. Philadelphia 76ers: 33-27
  7. Milwaukee Bucks: 33-28
  8. Miami Heat: 32-30
  9. Detroit Pistons: 29-32
  10. Charlotte Hornets: 28-34

Anyone part of the Knicks and below club isn’t making it.

Toronto and Boston are locks for the 1-2, and I believe Cleveland will hold onto that third-spot.

Let’s move onto to some potential matchups, and evaluate how comfortable/excited I am for them.

Comfort/Entertainment Scale

Just a quick measurement out of 10.

A 10/10 (on the comfort scale) equates to absolute comfort. Should be an easy sweep for Toronto.

A 1/10 (on the comfort scale) equates to absolute fear. We’ll probably get swept (I don’t give out any 1’s).

A 10/10 (on the excitement scale) equates to absolute unparalleled basketball entertainment. A series for the books.

A 1/10 (on the excitement scale) equates to perhaps the dullest series you’ll see. Probably a sweep (or 5-game series) with no close games.

Let’s get this thing on the road, seeds 10 through 2.

10th Seed - Charlotte Hornets: 28-34

Toronto Raptors record vs. Charlotte: 3-0.

November 29th: Toronto 126 vs. 113 Charlotte.

December 20th: Toronto 129 @ 111 Charlotte.

February 11th: Toronto 123 @ 103 Charlotte.

Charlotte was almost out of playoff contention on the heels of their 4-game skid before the all-star break. They leveled it with a 4-game win streak, and have benefited from some serious losing by some upper east seeds.

If I was to write this article a couple weeks ago, I probably wouldn’t have had them in the discussion.

Kemba is fantastic and Dwight is having a solid season, but this team lacks the firepower and depth to keep up with Toronto. They’ve sunk a fair share of money into guys who don’t live up to the cost:

Marvin Williams - 2016 - 4yr/$54.5 Million

Nic Batum - 2016 - 5yr/$120 Million (I love Batum, but I still think this is a mean overpay)

Cody Zeller - 2016 - 4yr/$56 Million

Jeremy Lamb - 2015 - 3yr/$21 Million (Not that bad)

(They also still have Dwight on his 3yr/$70.5 Million that he signed with the Hawks)

Their centerpiece, Kemba Walker, expires next year, further thickening this improbable plot.

The Hornets are in a tough spot, and may just be an 8th-12th seed for years to come. That being said, they don’t pose any threat to sting the Raptors.

Comfort Score: 10/10

Entertainment Score: 2/10

Upcoming Games:

March 4th: Toronto vs. Charlotte

9th Seed - Detroit Pistons: 29-32

Toronto Raptors record vs. Detroit: 2-0.

January 17th: Toronto 96 vs. 91 Detroit.

February 26th: Toronto 123 vs. 94 Detroit.

Detroit and Cleveland are the two teams in Eastern playoff contention that made win-now moves (not counting Milwaukee-Eric Bledsoe because I feel like that happened 2 years ago).

As we know, Detroit mortgaged a significant part of their future for Blake Griffin. Following the trade, they broke their 8-game losing streak with a 5-game winning streak. Blake Griffin was the answer, and this team was going to be a problem. Right?

Well, they’ve gone 2-6 since then, with their only win coming vs. Atlanta.

But I can’t honestly dish out a 10/10 comfort here. Reggie Jackson has been sidelined, and won’t see action until mid-March. They’ve been running Ish Smith and former Raptor Dwight Buycks as their predominant point-guard rotation. They just added Jameer Nelson, but neither of these three guards should be holding significant minutes with any team looking to make the playoffs.

Akin to the Hornets, Detroit just doesn’t have the depth to match Toronto. Drummond vs. Jonas is pure entertainment for both parties, and Blake is a star for a reason, but the Raptors should be able to wear them out in a 7-game series.

The only two reasons I can’t give a 10/10 comfort here is due to the absence of Reggie, and the fact that they started 14-6 before The Ringer Curse. Could that wear off?

Comfort Score: 9/10

Entertainment Score: 2/10

Upcoming Games:

March 7th: Toronto @ Detroit

April 9th: Toronto @ Detroit

8th Seed - Miami Heat: 32-30

Toronto Raptors record vs. Miami: 1-1

January 9th: Toronto 89 vs. 90 Miami

February 13th: Toronto 112 vs. 115 Miami

There’s some surefire animosity between these two sides. We met in the second-round of the 2016 Eastern Conference where we emerged (barely) victorious in 7-games. The Heat welcomed back Wade with open arms at the cost of a heavily 2nd-round protected pick. I thought it was a pure business move at first (and it may still be), but come playoffs he could certainly be an X factor.

I’m a little uneasy with Miami. They’re scrappy, tough, and well-coached. Around mid-January, it looked as if they were making a run for Cleveland’s third seed. Alas, they hiccuped going into the all-star break - winning 1 game in 9 tries - and they only sit a few games up of Detroit for the last spot of the East.

I still think we’d pull out a series win against Miami, but it certainly wouldn’t be easy. The hard-hat doggedness of Dragic, James/Tyler Johnson, and Winslow, with the interior presence of Whiteside and Bam, plus the insertion of Wade to pump everyone (fans and players) up, it would be a wild series.

I would expect 3 fights, 6 ejections and 2 instances of Dragic spitting on someone.  

Comfort Score: 7/10

Entertainment Score: 8/10

Upcoming Matchups:

April 11th: Toronto @ Miami

7th Seed - Milwaukee Bucks: 33-27

Toronto Raptors record vs. Milwaukee: 2-1

January 1st: Toronto 131 (OT) vs. 127 Milwaukee

January 5th: Toronto 129 @ 110 Milwaukee

February 23rd: Toronto 119 vs. 122 (OT) Milwaukee

Milwaukee is one of those teams that I feel like they should be always higher in the standings. The turnover with Jason Kidd probably didn’t help, but the Bucks still have a top-7 (?) player on the planet, and he just turned 23.

This is a long, athletic team with a few shooters to boot. Jabari Parker is the X factor, as we really haven’t seen too much of him, but we know he can be an absolute problem.

Bledsoe runs the point with Brogdon and Delly rotating around him. They can all reasonably shoot and can all defend, but I would take Lowry over any of those three in a heartbeat.

Middleton is criminally underrated. He can fill it up on offense and handle tough assignments on defence. The 6’8, 28-year old former 2nd-round pick is averaging 20/5.2/4.0 in his 5th season. It’s crazy that we don’t hear him talked about more, he’s huge for this Bucks team and could be a tough problem to solve come playoff time.

Behind (around) Middleton is Tony Snell, Sterling Brown, Jason Terry, DeAndre Liggins and newly acquired Shabazz Mohammed. All decent to good defenders (besides the Jet), but exploitable by the Raptors depth and starters. None of these guys bring enough to the table on both ends to make a big impact, and they can’t realistically run two of them at the same time against Toronto.

Where Toronto has a big edge is inside. If we meet Milwaukee in the playoffs JV will be truly unleashed. He’s too big and strong for Henson and Thon, and if that equates to Milwaukee subbing in Plumlee or Zeller (probably Zeller), that keeps their more skilled big-men off of the floor.

Giannis doesn’t need much talk. He does wonders to unease my comfort if we engaged in a 7-game series. I have a feeling these two teams will meet in an angry, tight, uncomfortable but entertaining round of great games.

(To add to the un-comfort of Giannis/Jabari, they have Brandon Jennings brewing in their G-League system. That could be, a little scary, right?)

5/10: Comfort Score

8/10: Entertainment Score

6th Seed - Philadelphia 76ers: 33-27

Toronto Raptors record vs. Philadelphia: 3-1

Previous Games:

October 21st: Toronto 128 vs. 94 Philadelphia

December 21st: Toronto 114 @ 109 Philadelphia

December 23rd: Toronto 102 vs. 86 Philadelphia

Philadelphia is quite frightening simply based on upset potential. I can totally see them getting in a Simmons/Embiid + shooters fueled unstoppable mode and throwing the whole eastern playoffs out of whack with a major upset.

Simmons is putting up 16.6/7.7/7.4 in an absolutely ludicrous rookie season, and Embiid has cemented himself as one of the best big men in the league with a 23.8/11.2/3.2 campaign and a starting spot in the all-star game.

These two phenoms are surrounded by 3-and-D (or just 3) monsters in Redick, McConnell, Covington, and the newly acquired ex-Hawks’ Belinelli and Ilyasova.

Richaun Holmes is a spark plug energy guy off the bench, and Saric has earned the starting power forward role in an impressive 14.7/6.9/2.7 season thus far. Justin Anderson is their Richaun Holmes of the wing, and TLC is an athletic guard who just needs to start shooting a little more consistently. Bayless and Amir are their bench vets that have been with Philly since opening day and can be called upon whenever Brett Brown sees fit.

Oh yeah, and their #1 overall pick from this year's draft isn’t even contributing yet. I’m absolutely uncomfortable but would be on the edge of my seat for the entirety on the series. With Philly’s insane mob-like crowd, fresh off the Eagles legendary Superbowl run, I could see a hectic upset in favour of Philly. Don’t lie, I know you’re scared.

Comfort Score: 4/10

Entertainment Score: 9/10

5th Seed - Indiana Pacers: 34-27

Toronto Raptors record vs. Indiana: 1-1

Previous Games:

November 24th: Toronto 104 @ 107 Indiana

December 1st: Toronto 120 vs. 115 Indiana

In the most respectful manner, I don’t feel threatened by this Indiana team. They’ve put together a solid season on the shoulders of the NBA’s most improved player - Victor Oladipo, but I don't see them having the depth to go toe-to-toe with Toronto in a playoff series.

They do have some nice pieces, though.

Myles Turner is a young beast down low, and Jefferson can make things happen off the bench. Thad Young is still a 14/7 guy, and Sabonis has improved incredibly this season (or, like Oladipo, isn’t playing with Westbrook). Bojan is the starting wing, next to Oladipo and Collision. The backup point guard, ex-Raptor Cory Joseph, has been soaking up Collison's minutes since his knee injury, but is having a slight down year overall.

Not too much to say about this matchup. 1 through 10, Toronto is significantly the better team and could handle them in 4 or 5 games. That being said, Indiana has made tremendous strides, and Oladipo has the potential to win some games by himself.

Comfort Score: 8/10

Entertainment Score: 4/10

Upcoming Games

March 15th: Toronto @ Indiana

April 6th: Toronto vs. Indiana

4th Seed - Washington Wizards: 36-26

Toronto Raptors record vs. Washington: 1-2

Previous Games:

November 5th: Toronto 96 vs. 107 Washington

November 17th: Toronto 100 vs. 91 Washington

February 1st: Toronto 119 @ 122 Washington

Oh man. I can’t be the only one who gets a little incensed when I talk about the Wizards. Ever since Wall, Beal, and company dismantled us in the first round of the 2015 playoffs things have never been the same. You can feel the animosity in the air when they play. These two teams genuinely don’t like each other.

I’m uncomfortable about the Wizards because I can’t figure them out. I don’t know if they’ve worked out their inner grievances or not, but they’ve had issues among them. They’ve played statistically better without Wall since his injury (Ewing theory), but will need him for the playoffs.

They’re also a lot deeper than they get credit for.

Tim Frazier is undersized but a decent guard. Meeks serves as a good vet too. Beal is a star, and Satoransky has shined since Wall’s absence. Otto Porter Jr. is going to get absolutely paid this offseason (maybe by Washington), because that Otto can simply do it all. Kelly Oubre Jr. is a crafty lefty and is playing 27 minutes this season. He doubled his scoring from last year (6 to 12) and is averaging career highs in everything else with better efficiency from deep (29% to 37%, and 2.4 3PA to 4.4 3PA).

OPJ, KOJ, and Beal can wreak havoc with their defence, length, and shooting. In the frontcourt, Mike Scott is having the best season overall (FUN FACT: His nickname is The Threegional Manager). But I’d call him more of The Assistant to, The Threegional Manager as he backs up Markieff Morris. Morris may have been dubbed a “tweener” for all the wrong reasons a few years ago. But today, his size and ability to shoot can create some feisty lineups. Scott has this ability too, but a bit smaller.

Their big man rotation starts with Gortat - who might hate John Wall (we don’t know!). You can count on him to flirt with a tough 10/10 every night and some good defence. Mahinmi, despite being criminally overpaid (and an NBA champion [Dallas…]), is still okay off the bench. If he’s not having it they still have their team dad, Jason Smith, who soaks up about 10 MPG.

The X-factor for me is Wall. They’re so good defensively, way deeper than they’re given credit for, and have of a ton of players flexible with positions. But as I said, you’re rolling the dice most nights. They’ll crank out wins against phenomenal foe only to get fed by Charlotte or Dallas or Brooklyn. But for this Washington squad, I’m still uncomfortable. They’re fast, able defenders, good shooters and they hate Toronto. As we hate Washington. Buckle up if we catch them in the playoffs.

Comfort Scale: 3/10

Entertainment Scale: 9/10

I’m not going to touch Boston and Cleveland. I truly believe neither of Toronto/Boston/Cleveland will drop below the third-seed. This piece is meant to evaluate the potential matchups of the first or second round. The way I see it playing out, Toronto won’t drop out of first, so we won’t see Boston or Cleveland until the ECF (if we make it).

A matchup with Cleveland and/or Boston would need an article of its own, and I wouldn’t be able to do it justice with a few paragraphs and two ratings.

That being said, let’s look at my predictions for how this twisted Eastern Conference will play out:

(specific records may not be *possible* with matchups, so take them as estimations)

1st - Toronto Raptors: 60-22

2nd - Boston: 56-26

3rd - Cleveland: 48-36

4th - Washington: 47-35

5th - Philadelphia: 46-36

6th - Milwaukee: 44-38

7th - Indiana: 44-38

8th - Miami: 42-40

9th - Detroit: 41-41

10th - Charlotte: 39-43

Not too much of a change, but I think Indiana will drop with a rise from Philly and Milwaukee. Detroit will knock on the door but Miami will keep it closed, barely. 

It will be a race to the finish in these final two months, and I can't wait to see how it'll shake out. We're going to see one of these seven teams in the first and/or second round, and you'll know just how I feel in comfort and excitement.

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