Kawhi Leonard, Raptors Clinch 2019 NBA Playoff Spot After Bucks Beat Hornets

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 10, 2019

Toronto Raptors' Danny Green, second from right, celebrates his game winning shot against the Orlando Magic with teammates, including Pascal Siakam (43) Kawhi Leonard (2) and Kyle Lowry (7) after an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
John Raoux/Associated Press

The Toronto Raptors clinched a berth in the 2019 NBA playoffs Saturday thanks to the Charlotte Hornets' 131-114 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

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Toronto (47-19) becomes just the second team in the NBA to secure a spot in the 16-team field. Milwaukee (50-16) previously locked up a spot and currently owns a three-game lead for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors have spent the entire regular season at or near the top of the East, so officially claiming a berth in the postseason doesn't come as a surprise. They'll spend the rest of the campaign trying to wrangle the top seed away from the Bucks.

That said, the biggest question is how Toronto will fare in the playoffs after retooling its roster in the offseason, highlighted by the arrival of Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs.

There were mixed reactions when the Raptors dealt fan favorite DeMar DeRozan along with Jakob Poeltl and a first-round pick in the 2019 draft to the Spurs in exchange for Leonard and Danny Green.

In December, Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry admitted to ESPN's Rachel Nichols on The Jump (via Michelle R. Martinelli of For The Win) even he needed to overcome some emotions after watching his longtime backcourt mate leave the team.

"I felt betrayed because he felt betrayed because that's my guy, that's my best friend," Lowry said. "So yeah, I felt some type of way on a personal side. It's a harsh business. It's a great business, but sometimes moves are made that you're like, 'Ugh, wow, that sucks.'"

Toronto reached the conference finals in 2016 and was eliminated in the conference semifinals each of the past two seasons. All three times the Raptors fell short against LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers.

Now, with James out of the East and their own roster retooled with Leonard as the foundation, the Raptors will be expected to make the first NBA Finals appearance in team history.

Anything less would be a disappointment, especially with Leonard holding a player option that could make him an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.