Toronto Raptors Schedule 2013-14: Most Anticipated Games of the Regular Season

Justin BediContributor IIIAugust 7, 2013

Toronto Raptors Schedule 2013-14: Most Anticipated Games of the Regular Season

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    The Toronto Raptors’ upcoming 2013-14 season will be one of the most important in the last several years.

    Since Chris Bosh left town for the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010, the Raptors' rebuilding efforts have been aimless and ineffective. It was only this past year that they finally made some positive moves—like acquiring Kyle Lowry and Rudy Gay, and shipping out Andrea Bargnani.

    This coming season will determine if those moves are good enough to push the Raptors into the next phase of rebuilding and into playoff contention.

    With so many teams swapping players this offseason and several players returning from injuries (like Derrick Rose), next season promises to be entertaining. And it will be especially entertaining for Raptors fans, who will either see their team back in the playoffs or see the roster blown up again for a new rebuild.

    The Raptors will be tested. The following games of the 2013-14 schedule will reveal the team's character as well as provide can’t-miss enjoyment.

October 30 vs. Boston Celtics

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    Why it’s important

    Opening nightthe first game of a seasonis always important, but this game will be the first opportunity for the team to show how it improved from last year.

    A victory would set the tone for the rest of the season and inspire confidence in the fans as well as the players. It will be important for the team to play an efficient and fluid offense.

    It also doesn't hurt that Canada's own Kelly Olynyk will be in the building. 

     

    Keys to the game

    The outcome of the game will depend on whether Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo is in the lineup or not. Coming off a torn ACL, he may not be ready for opening night, but the team has said he’s progressing well, per WEEI.com's Ben Rohrbach.

    If Rondo is in the game, the keys for a Raptors victory will be to test him and dare him to score on offense.

    Players coming off major surgery and rehab are usually slow to return to form, and their field-goal percentage can be horrendous for at least a few weeks. He’ll likely also be feeling out his new teammates and coach, so Toronto must emphasize ball pressure on him.

    If he’s not in the game, the Raptors will need to control the boards and the paint, as Jeff Green, Olynyk and Jared Sullinger can all do damage in those areas. In fact, given the lack of elite shooting on the Celtics, the Raptors would be wise to pack the paint and prevent inside scoring.

    With or without Rondo in the game, Toronto should be able to take care of the new-look Celtics, who won’t be able to outscore the Raptors.

     

    Winner: Toronto Raptors

November 5 vs. Miami Heat

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    Why it’s important

    Playing against the reigning NBA champions is a great test for any team. Players are motivated, and every team wants to be the one that knocks off Miami.

    Additionally, the Raptors will need to perform well against the Heat defense if they’re to make any strides this season. In terms of athleticism, the Raptors match up well with the Heat, so this game will be exciting to watch.

    Plus, any time a team beats Miami, it instantly gains more credibility as a playoff contender.

     

    Keys to the game

    Given both teams' athleticism and ability to run up and down the court, this will be fast-paced game.

    Miami will look to trap the Raptors’ ball-handlers on the wing, force turnovers and score transition buckets. The Raptors will need to display solid passing, few unforced turnovers and efficient scoring.

    Yes, those are all easier said than done, but they need to happen for the Raptors to win.

    If it's lucky, Toronto may catch a few breaks—namely, the aging legs of the Heat players. It’s likely that a combination of Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Udonis Haslem could miss this game, either due to rest or injury.

    Unfortunately, the absence of all of those players still wouldn't be enough to offset the brilliance of LeBron James.

     

    Winner: Miami Heat

November 15 vs. Chicago Bulls

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    Why it’s important

    This game will serve as a true test of the Raptors' character and development.

    The Chicago Bulls are one of the best teams in the NBA, let alone the Eastern Conference. And next season they’ll presumably have former MVP Derrick Rose back, making them even more formidable.

    Last year on January 16, the Raptors and the Bulls played an epic overtime game in Toronto. While the Raptors lost, they fought hard throughout the entire game and showed their toughness.

    If they can run with the Bulls and put forth a similar effort, they’ll be on the right track in becoming a factor in the east.

     

    Keys to the game

    Scoring. The Raptors need to run and put up as many points as possible. The Bulls defense is one the best in the league and can shut a team down for minutes at a time.

    The Raptors don’t boast the same type of defensive personnel or schemes, so if they cater to the Chicago style, they will lose. The only way to beat the Bulls will be to outscore them on offense. On defense, they’ll have to control the boards and limit penetration from Rose.

    In the end, the Raptors' firepower may be just enough to sneak in a victory, but it's close.

     

    Winner: Toronto Raptors

November 22 vs. Washington Wizards

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    Why it’s important

    The Washington Wizards are gunning for a playoff spot, and so are the Toronto Raptors.

    Chances are that only one of them is going to make it in the loaded Eastern Conference, which means the Raptors need to win this one.

    If they allow themselves to lose to Washington, not only could it hurt their confidence, but it’s also likely to come back and haunt them during playoff seeding, where each victory or loss could determine their fate.

    The Raptors need every win they can get, especially against teams in the Eastern Conference and especially against teams fighting them for a playoff spot.

     

    Keys to the game

    Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan. Both of the Raptors’ wing players are more experienced, better scorers and more athletic than the Wizards’ wing combo of Bradley Beal and Otto Porter.

    John Wall will be brilliant, and the Wizards’ big men, Emeka Okafor and Nene, will put the clamps down on Jonas Valanciunas inside, which will leave the Raptors’ wing players as the primary scorers.

    Wall is likely to run amok on Kyle Lowry, so Gay will need to play like a superstar swingman and carry the offensive burden in this one.

    It’ll be a tough game, but if Gay can summon the superstar in him, the Raptors will take it.

     

    Winner: Toronto Raptors

December 8 at Los Angeles Lakers

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    Why it’s important

    Whenever Toronto plays against Steve Nash, it’s a game worth watching. Kid Canada may not be what he once was, but he’ll add extra intrigue to this game.

    Not that it needs any.

    Between Kobe Bryant, Nash and Pau Gasol, the Lakers have enough star power to excite any fan.

    If Bryant is healthy, this team will give the Raptors a lot of trouble. Even if he’s not, the Lakers present several challenges.

    First, Lowry’s ability to defend the pick-and-roll against Nash will be critical to seeing if he’s grown as a player. Second, it will be important to see how Valanciunas fares against Chris Kaman and Gasol, two excellent scoring centers.

     

    Keys to the game

    Running will be the name of the game for the Raptors. The Lakers are skilled and talented offensively, but there’s no way they can contend with the Raptors’ length, speed and athleticism.

    If the Raptors run a ton of pick-and-roll plays, they’ll create havoc for the Lakers defense.

    Gasol is too slow to keep up with Valanciunas, and the Raptors have enough potentially decent shooters on the wing that the pick-and-roll will disrupt the Lakers' defensive scheme.

    When Valanciunas rolls past Gasol, another big man will have to come over to help, and then a wing player will have to cover that big man’s check, leaving the wing player's assignment open for a three-point shot.

    However, all bets are off if Kobe is back on the Lakers. The trio of him, Nash and Gasol is far too experienced for Toronto.

     

    Winner: Los Angeles Lakers

December 28 vs. New York Knicks

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    Why it’s important

    Poor Andrea Bargnani.

    Not only was he booed while he was in a Raptors uniform, he’s going to be booed in a Knicks uniform too.

    It may not be a savage booing where every time he touches the ball he'll be jeered, but there’s no doubt that Raptors fans are going to let him have it. He left them wanting more for too long.

    Aside from the personal side of things, this game will be most important for Kyle Lowry.

    After a rocky first season with the team, he needs to make his mark in this coming year. And this game against New York will be an opportunity for him to demonstrate his leadership.

    While it can be easy for players to lose focus in a game against former teammates, Lowry can keep them on track and direct the offense against a formidable defensive team. The Knicks can swarm the paint with their size and force a large amount of turnovers with their ball-hawking style.

     

    Keys to the game

    Lowry needs to direct the team on offense, call plays for the hot hand and run plenty of pick-and-rolls.

    The Knicks are talented and feature an MVP candidate in Carmelo Anthony. In order to win, the Raptors need to beat New York methodically on offense and put forth an extraordinary effort on the defensive end.

    It remains to be seen if they can do those things, though.

     

    Winner: New York Knicks

April 13 vs. Detroit Pistons

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    Why it’s important

    Like the Washington Wizards, the Detroit Pistons are competing with the Raptors for a playoff spot.

    They added Brandon Jennings and Josh Smithtwo All-Star-caliber players who will join two other stars in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

    If this team sounds scary, it is.

    Yes, there will be questions surrounding Detroit's spacing and offensive inefficiency, but if this team clicks, it'll be tough to beat.

    Add in that this will be one of the Raptors’ last games of the regular season, and it becomes clear that this contest will be a must-win.

     

    Keys to the game

    There’s no way around it—the Raptors will have to play a perfect game to beat Detroit, especially considering that both teams will likely be clawing for each win before the playoffs start.

    It’s not so much that the Pistons will be a dominant team that will spring to the top of the conference. Rather, they have so many players who are capable of dominating a game just by themselves.

    Drummond and Monroe can control the boards, Smith can wreak havoc on the defensive end, and Jennings can shoot his way to a victory. Yes, he can also shoot his way to many, many losses.

    The caveat here is that the Pistons are young, inexperienced and lack true leadership. The Raptors have many of these same problems but to a lesser degree.

    For the Raptors to win, they’ll need to run a moderate, conservative offense that exploits Detroit’s inexperience. They'll also need to play a defense that suits them best—not one that caters to the Pistons’ enormous size.

    Toronto won't be helping their cause by matching up Aaron Gray with Drummond and Munroe. 

    If the Raptors run their style of play on both ends, this is a winnable game.

     

    Winner: Toronto Raptors