As the final days of the season dwindle down, the media bickers about resting players, coaches continue not to care (rightfully so), and the Raptors find themselves in the fourth seed - jostling for position with the Wizards at half-a-game back.
As the Raptors attempt to close at these last ten games, much weight is placed on Kyle Lowry, and his return. When will he come back? How will the injury affect his play when he returns? These are all questions that only time can answer. For now, these ten games are all that matter. Come playoff time, the Raptors will have new weapons at their disposal, and the assurance of confidence that comes with four straight playoff appearances.
But what about this home stretch? What makes this so influential? They’ve already earned a playoff spot - not mathematically - but beyond a reasonable doubt. I believe, firmly, that the Raptors can close this season out 10-0. In fact, I’d put money on it if I could.
The Final Ten Games
Here is some key takeaways for the final ten games:
3 out of the 10 games are against teams over .500. (Two against the Pacers [36-35], one against the Cavs [46-24])
Half of the games are at home.
Only one back-to-back.
I believe that we can close out the season on a 14-game win streak, counting the last four games. Despite the two Pacer games (which we should win both), the other battles will come against Dallas, Orlando, Charlotte, Philly, Detroit, Miami, New York and Cleveland.
“But Cleveland will beat us! They’re 3-0 against the Raptors this year!!”
Fair enough, that seems like a good argument. But that game against the Cavs is the last one of the season. I will bet my (future) first-born child that Lebron and co. will not be seeing the floor for that game. Fingers crossed.
The Landscape of the Eastern Conference
What a weird, truly weird season this has been. The Wade-less Bulls are on the outside looking in, in the 9th seed, along with Pistons - sharing the same record. The Hornets sit a few games behind them, with the Knicks, 76ers, Magic and Nets firmly out of a playoff spot.
In the picture, lie the Miami (freaking) Heat at the 8th, with Indiana, Milwaukee and Atlanta following suit. The Raptors and Wizards are in the 4th/3rd seed tier, with the Cavs and Celtics jostling for seeds 1 and 2. If the playoffs began today, this is how the bracket would look, with the higher seed winning each game.
(1)Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Miami Heat
(4) Toronto Raptors vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks
(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Indiana Pacers
(3) Washington Wizards vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks
(1)Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (4) Toronto Raptors
(2) Boston Celtics vs. (3) Washington Wizards
Eastern Conference Finals
(1)Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (2) Boston Celtics
The ideal advice? Avoid the Cavs as long as you can. Meeting them in the ECF is the goal. But an underlying tidbit, is that the Celtics might actually nab that first seed. If so, that puts the whole Eastern Conference in a weird funk. The Celtics might be the first seed, but I’d rather face them in a playoff series than the Cavs. One-hundred times out of one-hundred.
Regardless, whatever happens, whatever goes down in the final ten games of the season - these are games that we have to take care of. Not just from a statistical win perspective, but from a moral perspective. There is nothing better than riding a huge winning streak going into the playoffs. The Raptors have had their fair share of cold stretches this season, but with Kyle coming back, it may just be time to get hot.
Lowry’s Return - What is Possible?
Oh yeah, we're going to have to close out this stretch without Lowry. Our leader, our heartbeat; the fearsome competitor who has put the team on his back many a time.
His surgery went down on March 1st, with 4-5 weeks expected for a return. We should expect an update later next week, and Raptors fans across the nation are anticipating good news.
With the acquisitions of Dwane’s Disciples; PJ and Serge, this is the kind of team built to make a deep, deep playoff push. The floor spacing, defensive intensity and that “CAN WE FINALLY GET SOME RESPECT?” demeanor, this Raptors team may be the greatest one assembled.
In fact, this IS the greatest Raptors team assembled. In every aspect of team-building and basketball, it’s tough to formulate an argument that goes against this team being the best. Now with the playoffs looming only a few short weeks ahead - it’s time for our boys to go out and prove it, and bring one home for the land - The Great White North.