The Toronto Raptors have undergone a complete transformation in order to once again contend in the NBA. After a lackluster season last year, the Raptors are hoping the addition of some new faces can lead them back into the playoffs, and hopefully contend for a championship. Recently, the NBA schedule was released, and based on that, I have compiled the 10 key moments for the upcoming season for the Raptors.
1. October 28- Opening Night with LeBron And Shaq- Cleveland @ Toronto
It’s time to see if all those offseason moves provide Toronto with a winning team. Same can be said with Cleveland’s big acquisition. This will be an immediate test to see where the Raptors sit. A win would give them a huge confidence boost, but this is not a must win game.
As long as the Raptors put on a good showing, and prove that they are a team to be reckoned with, they can escape this game unscathed. If they get blown out however, look for critics to jump all over them.
My prediction- Cleveland 102 Raptors 95
The Raptors should keep this close, but I think it’s too much to ask that a team with seven new players beat the team with the league’s best record last year. Regardless, it will be a high scoring game, as many of Toronto’s games will be, but their ultimate lack of D will cost them the game.
2. November 1- Carter Returns Home With Hedo’s Old Team- Orlando @ Toronto
Another early test for the Raptors, featuring the matchup of Air Canada, Vince Carter, vs. Heir Canada, Demar DeRozan. Will Carter face the endless boos that have plagued him with every return to Toronto? Of course he will!
As for the other subplot to this game, this will be Hedo Turkoglu’s first game against his former team. Look for him to be highly motivated to show that it was he, and not Dwight, that was the difference maker in the Magic’s run to the Finals.
My prediction- Orlando 106 Raptors 110
Yes, I am picking the Raptors to win a close game against the defending Eastern Conference Champions. This could be one of the better games of the year for the Raptors, and will be facing the Magic at a perfect time.
The Magic, like the Raptors, have undergone a tremendous overhaul of their roster, so they will be going through the same growing pains as the Raptors as the players learn their roles on the team. Dwight vs. Bosh will be interesting, but mainly a wash.
The X factors in the game will be Carter and Hedo, both playing against their former teams. Carter usually plays well against the Raps, but look for Hedo to be the ultimate difference maker.
This four game road trip could go one of two ways. It could either be a great measuring stick to see how the Raptors fair against quality teams, and see what kind of character this team has, or it could be a total disaster.
The Clippers are a team that greatly underachieved, and I expect them to be much better regardless of the addition of Blake Griffin. Phoenix is in a downward spiral, and can’t decide whether to rebuild or attempt to contend. With the resigning of Nash, it appears they will attempt to contend. Denver is a top three team in the west, and Utah is always a challenge, especially at home.
My Prediction- Raptors go 1-3
The Raptors will get their one and only win against the Clippers, who will still be trying to work Blake Griffin into NBA form. He should struggle against Bosh. The Clippers don’t have the fire power to outscore the Raps, but it should still be close.
Phoenix, however, does have the fire power to outscore the Raps, so look for a high scoring, no defense game between the two teams. 150 points is possible in this game.
Denver should easily beat the Raptors, with a dominant starting 5 compared to that of the Raptors. The bench could be a difference maker though.
Utah should outmuscle and out work the Raptors, as their starting 5 are also superior to the Raptors. They also have skill on the bench, so don’t expect a close game. The X factor in this game is whether Boozer is still around, but Paul Millsap is a great second option, plus they will have someone traded back for Boozer, and I would assume a good player at that.
4. December- Schedule Provides Raptors With Early Christmas Present- Washington @ Toronto/ Toronto @ Atlanta, Washington, Chicago/ Minnesota @ Toronto/ Toronto @ Milwaukee/ Atlanta, Huston @ Toronto/ Toronto @ Miami, Orlando/ New Jersey, New Orleans @ Toronto/ Toronto @ Detroit/ Detroit, Charlotte @ Toronto
December should look like a cake walk compared to a very tough November, and look for the Raptors to take full advantage. In their 15 December games, they only face one legitimate NBA contender, the Orlando Magic. They still face a could playoff teams, but no one vastly superior, so look for a manageable December that could lead to a pile of wins.
My Prediction- Raps go 10-5 for the month
Washington has yet to prove anything, and agent zero won’t be the same player he was three years ago. Foye and Miller are nice pieces to add, but they aren’t difference makers.
Atlanta could pose a problem, as could Chicago and Miami. They should all finish the year with relatively similar records.
Minnesota and Milwaukee should be easy wins, as they will be fighting for worst team in the league this year. Injury riddled Houston will still put up great D and will battle, but the Raps should win.
Orlando will be the toughest game for the Raps in December, and I imagine they will have worked out their early personal problems and be gearing ahead to a productive postseason.
New Jersey got younger, but should be headed in the right direction with Lee, Harris and Lopez. Their overall depth will be what holds them back this year. New Orleans is in trouble financially, but should still see post season action and should provide a challenge for the Raptors.
A double header with Detroit around Christmas should be a gift, considering it’s not the same Detroit as before, so any worries about tough D are out the window. This should be a shootout.
They end the calendar year with a game at home against Charlotte, who have shown life and will be trying to finally making the post season, but seem just one step away.
In conclusion, the 10 wins will come from Washington (twice), Atlanta, Miami, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Houston, New Jersey, Detroit, and Charlotte.
The Losses will be to Chicago, Atlanta, Orlando, New Orleans, and Detroit.
5. January 11- Rasho and Jack Return Home- Toronto @ Indiana
When Toronto visits Indiana early in the new year, both teams will be seeing plenty of former faces, but this game will not be all fun and games. Rasho and Jack will be returning to Indiana for the first time, and look for the fans to give them an interesting welcome back.
Jarrett Jack will be looking to impress his old team, and leave them wishing they kept him. On the other side of the ball will be T.J. Ford, the former Raptor, who will be trying to lead the Pacers back into the playoffs.
My Prediction- Toronto 94 Indiana 84
This will be a tough, grid-it-out game, so the Raptors potent offence will not be in full force. Look for a big Game from Danny Granger, as well as Turkoglu. T.J. should have a good game as well, with Calderon guarding him, but if they put Jack on him, look for sparks to fly. These two will be in each other’s faces all game.
The Pacers don’t have the talent to match up with the Raptors, so expect a double digit win for the Raps. Also expect a solid game from Reggie Evans to keep the Pacers in check and not let it get too rough.
6. January 19- A Visit To LeBron and Last Year’s Best Home Team -Toronto @ Cleveland
Visiting the Cavs last year proved to be a tough test for any team not featuring Kobe, and expect nothing less this year. Cleveland should again boast one of the league’s top home records, making this a very difficult game for the Raptors.
Around this time the Raptors should be gearing into playoff form, so this game should show how they might fair in a playoff matchup. Expect a post season game plan from the coaching staff, who will no doubt be taking this game into consideration when looking at their team.
Factor in playing against LeBron, who Toronto has no one to guard with, and this game should be one of the hardest for the Raptors this season.
My Prediction- Toronto 92 Cleveland 105
This will be a game that the Raptors will be missing a player like Jamario Moon, who is now with the Cavs. Moon would no doubt be the player who would be guarding LeBron, and at least be able to keep up with the defending MVP. Turkoglu just won’t cut it against the King. If DeRozan is a starter by now, which he should be, he might be fed to the wolves and asked to cover LeBron.
Expect a tough game for the Raps, who will have trouble showing the offensive flare against the defensive minded Cavs. LeBron should have a field day, as should Mo Williams. Bosh should have trouble defensively against Shaq, but should also put up great numbers offensively as long as he stays out of foul trouble. This should be a good game for the bigs, but bad for the guards.
Another gift from the scheduling Gods, and something the fans will be able to see. In early February, the Raptors should open the month with a four game home winning streak, playing against teams they are superior to. Look for some Raps to be making a statement as we approach all-star weekend.
My Prediction- Raps go 4-0
I have really high hopes for this, their longest home stand of the year.
New Jersey is a young team that will put up points, so expect Devin Harris to have a good showing. What they lost however is Carter, the player responsible for every Nets win over Toronto in recent memory. Without Carter, the Raps should win.
Courtney Lee has to prove his rookie season was no fluke, but it remains to be seen if he can consistently score 15 points a game. I don’t think he can just yet. Brook Lopez should be solid, but Bosh should keep him from having a great game.
Sacramento will be battling for worst team in the league, with Kevin Martin as the only threat to put up many points. Tyreke Evans should do well in this league considering his height, but there will be many growing pains for him this season. Raps should win easily.
Philly is the only team of the four who could give the Raptors problems, but after losing their starting point guard, Andre Miller, their fast break style of play will take a hit. A healthy Elton Brand should help mend the loss, but this will not be the same Sixers team as last year. Should be a closer game then the others, but a Raps win nonetheless.
Memphis still has a ways to go till they can properly compete in the NBA. They have a bright future, but it will be three years minimum until they reach that future, so expect another subpar year. Thabeet will create problems for the Raptors offense, and O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay are all-stars to be, but right now the Raps should win now problem.
8. February 24- Blazers Come To See What Turkoglu Chose Instead Of Portland -Portland @ Toronto
The Blazers will be coming into this game hoping to show Turkoglu what he missed out on by signing with the Raptors instead of Portland. This will also be a battle of the two top picks in the 2006 draft when LeMarcus Alderidge battles Andrea Bargnani.
The key to this game will be intensity, as these are both young teams with bright futures. If DeRozan is in good playing shape and doesn’t hit the rookie wall, his matchup with Roy could be the X factor.
My Prediction- Toronto 102 Portland 110
These are two teams with tremendous fire power, as well as youth and athleticism to put on a show. Expect Roy to have a great game, and LeMarcus to battle Bosh to a standstill. Greg Oden covering Andrea could be costly as Oden will have to step out further then he would like, which should allow Bosh some room to breathe.
Andre Miller will be the deciding force to this game, as he brings a veteran presence to a young Blazers team. His ability to manage a game will be on full display and should lead to a Blazers victory. If DeRozan is in full form, expect a good showing by him. Turkoglu should turn out a fine game, but nothing special.
9. March 9, 10, 13, 14- Another Tough Trip Out West (Minus Sacramento) - Toronto @ LA Lakers, Sacramento, Golden State, Portland
Going out West is never easy, but this one is better than usual. What really worries me is the situation of the games, as they are back-to-back games, which could hurt a young Raptors team.
Following a tough game against the Lakers with what should be a cake walk in Sacramento is exactly the type of attitude the Raptors can’t afford to have. In order to come out ahead in this road trip, the veterans will have to step up and guide this young team so they don’t lose their composer.
My Prediction- 1-3
I could live with a split here, but unfortunately the Raptors are still too young to handle the west coast trip. The Lakers should dominate the Raptors, as they will many teams this year, with a strong starting lineup and equally potent bench. The Raptors would need a miracle to escape L.A. with a win.
Sacramento, however, is a different story. The Raps will get the win, but it will not be as easy as before. Expect a low scoring, grind-it-out game with the veterans of Bosh and Turkoglu leading the way. This will be a much closer game then it should be.
This is where the winning ends on the trip though, as Golden States all offense, no defense will wear out the Raptors. Look for 120 points minimum from the Warriors as the Raps hope to keep close. Fatigue will be the reason for the loss, not talent.
They finish with Portland, and get blown out. Portland boasts a great home record, so going in fresh would be hard enough, but at the end of a four game road trip is just asking for trouble. Not nearly as close as their earlier meeting, and expect tempers to flare during this one. The veterans will need to step up to keep this from getting out of hand.
10. April 14- If Raptors Need A Win, Could There Be A Better Team To Face? - New York @ Toronto
On closing night, the Raptors will be a playoff team, and in the hunt for the fourth seed in the east. They will most likely be battling Atlanta, Miami, and Washington for that spot, and I feel it will come down to last day. What better time to be facing the Knicks.
This game should be a great confidence booster for the Raptors, and have them enter the post season on a winning note.
My Prediction- Raptors 105 Knicks 92
The Knicks will be too busy looking ahead to the free agent fiasco of 2010 to put a strong finish to the season, and look for the Raptors to take full advantage. The Knicks will be looking to push the tempo, but the Raps should be able to keep them in check.
Nate Robinson, if he’s there, will put on a show, and David Lee, if he’s there, will be solid for the Knicks. Expect rookie Jordan Hill to get lots of playing time, as well as be outclassed by Bosh.
This will be a win if the Raptors have anything to play for on the last day of the year. If not, then it really doesn’t matter too much.
Overall, look for a rough November, and a strong December as the Raps look to avenge last season and reach the playoffs once again. The front office has done a tremendous job at putting the best team possible on the court, and now it is up to the players to deliver.
If nothing else, the Raptors should be more explosive, high scoring, and fun to watch, so long as you don’t crave a good defensive game.