Toronto Raptors: Potential Playoff Matchups

The Toronto Raptors have a chance to get to the finals this season, but they have to go through some tough competition in the East first.

The Raptors have a chance to get the finals this season, but they have to go through some tough competition in the East first. Let's take a look at how they match up against teams they could see in the playoffs.

Washington Wizards

The Wizards are on the outside looking in on the playoff race. If they get hot they could climb into that eighth slot. Bradley Beal is an all-star. After him the cupboard is bare. John Wall is out for the season. They traded Otto Porter, who has become an underrated player, and probably cannot expect the same impact out of Bobby Portis or Jabari Parker. They had high expectations when they traded for Markieff Morris but ended up dumping him at the deadline this season to save a couple million. A lesser Raptors team beat a better Wizards team in the playoffs last year.

Raptors Win Probability - 90%

Orlando Magic

The Magic have been hot lately, and very well could get a playoff spot. More importantly, they have had success against the Raptors. Nikola Vucevic was viewed as an overpaid, antiquated center even this last summer. Fast forward to now and he's not only the best player on his team, but an all-star. Vucevic isn't the conventional small ball center everyone is looking for. He's not a big-time shot blocker. We are talking about seven-footer that can stretch the floor and still play on the other end. Where this team falls apart is the rest of the roster. Jonathan Isaac is build lack a twig which gives him the mobility to defend wings. Plus, he's still able to hold his own against bigs. The knock on Isaac was his offensive game. That no longer seems to be a weakness for him after showing he could shoot in the month of February. DJ Augustin is a good backup point guard the Magic are forced to rely on as a starter. Markelle Fultz could be the answer long term, but won't be a factor this season. This team has needed shooters and Evan Fournier has struggled with consistency this season. They need him to be better than a replacement level player. Aaron Gordon is a phenomenal dunker. He has shown flashes from time to time, but on the whole, isn't much better than a league average player. I strongly dislike this next player.

Terrence Ross has absolutely been overhyped as a 6th man. Yes, he has been productive offensively when his shot is falling, but he's still not the 3-and-D player people have tried to label him his entire career. Now, if he played defense more than once a week that could change, but we have seen no evidence of that. He's an incredibly gifted athlete who continues to fool basketball fans into thinking he's a good player. 36.4/29.2/64 are Ross's career playoff shooting splits. As Raptors fans we remember when he dropped 51 against the Clippers five years ago. The Raptors didn't win that game. Ross rarely comes through when it actually matters. Steve Clifford has probably become an underrated coach after his Hornets teams could never break through, but there probably isn't enough talent on this Magic team to push the Raptors in a playoff series.

Raptors Win Probability - 80%

Miami Heat

The Heat play hard under Erik Spoelstra but lack top end talent. Goran Dragic is finally back in action after missing half the season. It's important to note he was an all-star last season even though he probably wasn't deserving of the selection. Josh Richardson is a good two-way player who has come a long way after being drafted in the second round. However, good probably isn't good enough to lead this team in post-season. The Celtics were willing to give up a boatload of assets to draft Justise Winslow and they have to be relieved nobody took them up on it. Winslow has had some nice games, but is still very much a role player. The Heat have an overpaid man in the middle in Hassan Whiteside. He is still a good defensive player, but only really plays 25 minutes a night. Plus, the bottom has fallen out on his free throw shooting. Just last season he was shooting 70% from the line. That's not a bad number for a center that doesn't have shooting range. It's taken a dark turn and Whiteside has reverted back to being an awful free throw shooter. This season, his 43% is going to prevent him from playing crunch time minutes. Backup Bam is a decent defender that still needs to make the leap offensively. Dion Waiters is a replacement level player. The truthers have now been stranded on the island. Maybe it was the injury, but James Johnson looks washed. This team invested a lot in Kelly Olynyk and he hasn't delivered until very recently. And Dwyane Wade may be a Hall Of Famer, but flash has lost his superpower. Spoelstra could very well get this team into the playoffs, but if/when they get there the odds will be stacked against them.

Raptors Win Probability - 85%

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons started the season strong and then went through a massive slump. Maybe they are finally out of it because Andre Drummond has been on a tear lately. Drummond has always been a good defender. It hasn't translated to team defense though. The Pistons are the worst team in the league at guarding the restricted area. That's not their only problem. They traded away Reggie Bullock who was very valuable for them because he was one of the few guys that could hit threes. Wayne Ellington hasn't helped because he's having the same struggles we saw CJ Miles have this season. A defensive liability with a broken shot shouldn't earn you minutes on a playoff team. The Pistons have a legitimate star in Blake Griffin. He's quietly having one of his best seasons doing a lot for this team. Not only do they need him to be the lead scorer they also need him to be the lead playmaker. Reggie Jackson isn't a bad player, but he doesn't add enough to make this a competitive playoff team. The x-factors for the Pistons are Luke Kennard and Thon Maker. Kennard is a good three-point shooter who has shown he can get hot. Thon Maker hasn't lived up to the hype, but he always seems to give the Raptors problems. Ultimately, this is a flawed team because the pieces don't fit. Does Dwane Casey have the creativity to exact his revenge and pull an upset on the Raptors? Winning regular season games has been Dwane Casey's bread and butter. The playoffs have proven to be a different story for him.

Raptors Win Probability - 80%

Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets are always on the cusp of the playoffs. Kemba Walker is an all-star but is surrounded by role players. Nic Batum and Marvin Williams are decent veteran players. Cody Zeller isn't bad either. But none of these guys can step up and carry the team for a five-minute stretch when Kemba is on the bench. This team is really good at not turning over the basketball. They are excellent from the right corner, but they struggle from the left. They also struggle to score inside. Jeremy Lamb is scoring more for this team this season, but has not matched his three-point shooting from a year ago. The x-factors for this team are Malik Monk and Miles Bridges. These guys could be the best players on the team in 5 years. That doesn't do them any good right now. The mid-range and corners are typically where the Hornets get beat. If they make the playoffs, Kemba will probably single-handedly win a game himself. However, that's not sustainable over the course of an entire series. The Raptors are just significantly better from top to bottom.

Raptors Win Probability - 85%

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers are a good shooting team, but without Victor Oladipo they might not get out of the first round. The rest of the roster is by no means bad. It's actually pretty good. But pretty good in the playoffs might not be good enough. Nate McMillan has his team slow down the game and be physical. They have a future star in Myles Turner who may even make an All-Defensive Team this season. Not even credit is given to Thad Young who is almost impactful as Al Horford. Domantas Sabonis is a good efficient offensive big man. They have a scorer not just a three-point specialist in Bojan Bogdanovic. Darren Collison would be an elite backup point guard, but he is probably an average to below average starter. Cory Joseph does still have some good games from time to time. Though he's been disappointing for the most part. After busting out for the Grizzlies last season Tyreke Evans has been terrible in a Pacers uniform. Wes Matthews has delivered good early returns. The problem is this team doesn't have anyone that can take over. Victor Oladipo was that guy. If they play the Raptors, they are going to get worn down trying to stop Pascal Siakam and Kawhi Leonard.

Raptors Win Probability - 75%

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets have made a massive leap this season. Last year they showed they could stay competitive in games, but they had trouble stringing together wins. Now they are winning. Kenny Atkinson is an elite coach for what he has gotten out of this young core. D'Angelo Russell still may not be a great defender. His offensive ability alone was enough to get him into the all-star game this season. Maybe you have heard of Joe Harris, the best three-point specialist in the league. Business decisions aren't made by Jarrett Allen. He's fearless and determined to block every good player in the league. Caris LeVert has missed the majority of the season. If he can get back to how he was playing early in the season that adds a wrinkle. When Ed Davis was a Raptor he was one of the best rebounders on the team. He's still a good rebounder and has become and quality backup. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Allen Crabbe have both struggled this season. The Nets have to hope they can squeeze something out of them. Spencer Dinwiddie is kind of like a higher usage Fred VanVleet. Both are underrated with how much effort they bring. The Nets are the worst team in the league at defending the paint outside of the restricted area. That's a small weakness. In the end, the Nets are better than the sum of their pieces. They could give the top of the East a hard time, but it is going to be tough for them to knock out any team other than the Pacers.

Raptors Win Probability - 65%

Philadelphia 76ers

In terms of talent the 76ers probably have the best starting lineup in the East. However, the addition of Jimmy Butler hasn't been smooth and now they have to figure out how to integrate Tobias Harris as well. Harris is an excellent scorer and has become a near all-star stretch four. They have a good three-point specialist in JJ Redick who will have even more value to this team post-trades with the better spacing. Ben Simmons gets a lot of flack for not shooting jumpers. He's still a really playmaker, rebounder, and defender. The Raptors have had success against him by trapping and creating turnovers. One of the best two-way centers in the league happens to be Joel Embiid. Luckily the Raptors have found ways to match his production. If the 76ers put it together they could be as good as the Bucks. They don't have much time and cannot afford injuries. Finally, Brett Brown looked in over his head last playoffs when this team blew multiple games in the final minutes to the Celtics.

Raptors Win Probability - 60%

Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics are one of the best defensive teams in the league. When it comes to playing the Celtics, it's all about matchups. Marcus Smart is a great defender, but he isn't big enough to hang with Kawhi Leonard. Al Horford might be able to guard Kawhi when he's at the rim. However, he isn't going to chase him around the court. That leaves Marcus Morris, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum. Morris and Hayward have struggled on the defensive end this season. Tatum is a decent defender, but putting all his energy into guarding a superstar probably isn't the way to go, considering his odds of getting struck by lightning are probably higher than shutting down Kawhi. So the only realistic wing defender the Celtics have for Kawhi is Jaylen Brown. Jaylen has struggled offensively this season. He's still a pretty good defender. It's hard to imagine Kawhi getting shut down by Jaylen.

The way to compete with the Celtics is to match their physical style of defense. Kyrie Irving is clearly their best player. The Raptors have had trouble guarding him when Danny Green hasn't been on him. Kyle Lowry is a good defender when it comes to establishing position. However, at this stage of his career he doesn't have the stamina to chase Kyrie around. So the only other real option besides Danny here is Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi isn't as fast as Kyrie, but he can use his size to cut him off. It may seem like chaos surrounding the Celtics. They are still well-disciplined and were able to piece it together last year in the playoffs. Ultimately, though, if Kyrie Irving is held in check it seems hard to believe the Raptors would lose a series to the Celtics. The Raptors showed complete dominance over the Celtics in the 4th quarter of the first meeting and this recent final regular-season meeting. If Danny Green didn't foul out of game two the Raptors would have won the regular season series. They should have the edge headed into the playoffs.

Raptors Win Probability - 55%

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are currently the best team in the East and are probably playing at their ceiling. There is an argument that Giannis is not only the best player in the East, but also the MVP. However, he's never won a playoff series. That's likely to change this season. It feels like this team was built in a lab around Giannis. They have great volume three-point shooters in Brook Lopez, Nikola Mirotic, and Khris Middleton. Middleton exploded in the playoffs last year, proving that he can be more than a role player. Eric Bledsoe wasn't as scary. He can create for himself and is a decent defender. After securing a $70M extension will Bledsoe still have the same drive? The Bucks also have capable bench players in DJ Wilson, Sterling Brown, George Hill, Donte DiVincenzo, and Tony Snell. Snell was always in over his head as a starter despite giving the Raptors problems over the years. In a reduced role, he's no longer their weak link. George Hill in a Pacers uniform put the clamps on Kyle Lowry in the playoffs.

Fortunately for the Raptors Hill is only a shell of his former self. Donte DiVincenzo is a rookie who will be returning from injury. He played well against the Raptors in a game this season, but he probably won't have a big leash in the playoffs. DJ Wilson has been a pleasant surprise in his second season with the Bucks. He gives the Bucks shooting off the bench. So, from a defensive perspective, you cannot forget about guarding the three-point line just because the name guys are getting some rest. Sterling Brown is an energy guy much like early career Norman Powell. Brown isn't likely to kill you, but he can be a momentum changer, and that shouldn't be overlooked in a playoff series. The biggest x-factor the Bucks have is former rookie of the year, Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon resides in the 50/40/90 club. He's not a high volume three-point shooter and he doesn't draw a high amount of fouls. That doesn't mean he can't. Brogdon never seems afraid in high leverage situations and is an underrated defender.

The Milwaukee Bucks are one of the best-coached teams in the league. Mike Budenholzer was always going to be an upgrade over Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty, but this team has surpassed any and all expectations this season. The Raptors have struggled in the playoffs knowing how to guard a team with an athletic superstar. If the Raptors try to sell out to stop Giannis, like they did LeBron, they will get burned on the perimeter. And there's no reason why they should even consider that with Kawhi Leonard on the roster who just happens to be one of the best one-on-one defenders in the league. The Bucks are the team embodiment of a rim protector. They block 6 shots per game while only allowing teams only to shoot 57.4% from the restricted area. They also lead the league in rebounds per game at 49.3. For the Raptors to exploit the Bucks defensive holes, they need to attack from the corners and the mid-range. The Raptors have the talent to compete with Bucks. If Nick Nurse is able to optimize that talent there will be no reason to fear the deer.

Raptors Win Probability - 45%

The Raptors have won a lot of games this season. Although they haven't played well in a lot of them. Come playoff time you can't be phoning in games especially when they get to that second round and beyond. Kyle Lowry's playmaking, defense, and shot selection will matter. Three-point shooting is crucial for this team and that's where Danny Green comes in. Danny also puts the D in defense. Put those two things together and he's become a plus/minus king. When the Raptors are trying to work through a broken play Pascal Siakam will use his speed to get to the basket and bail the Raptors out. If anyone is having a resurgence this is year, it's Serge Ibaka. His interior offense and defense with his mid-range game continues to come in handy. Newly acquired Marc Gasol shares a lot of those same traits as Serge Ibaka with some added playmaking giving the Raptors the luxury to ride the hot hand between the two. And then there's some superstar named Kawhi Leonard. He can score from anywhere and go through defenders with sheer brute force. Defensively Kawhi can shut down good players as well as out battle guys on the boards. The Raptors can get to the finals, but they have to use their talent effectively to punch their ticket.

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