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Raptors 2019-20 Schedule: Top Games, Championship Odds and Record Predictions

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistAugust 12, 2019

TORONTO, ON - JUNE 17:  Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors holds the championship trophy during the Toronto Raptors Victory Parade on June 17, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. The Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors 4-2 to win the 2019 NBA Finals.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

For the first time in franchise history, the Toronto Raptors will start a season as the defending NBA champions.  

The 2019-20 Raptors won't look much different on paper than the group that defeated the Golden State Warriors in June, with one major exception. 

Kawhi Leonard rode out of town with his NBA Finals MVP trophy, opting to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers as a free agent. Danny Green also departed for Los Angeles over the summer to join the Lakers

Repeating as champions will be an uphill battle for Toronto, but president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri has proved he isn't afraid to take big swings if he believes it's in the best interest of his team. 

The Raptors will begin their quest for a second title on Oct. 22 against the New Orleans Pelicans

2019-20 Season Details

Season Opener: Oct. 22 vs. New Orleans Pelicans

Championship Odds: 50-1 (via Caesars)

Full Schedule: NBA.com

     

Top Matchups

Los Angeles Clippers (First Home Game: Dec. 11)

All eyes will be on Toronto when Leonard makes his return to the team he led to a championship last summer. 

When Leonard was first acquired by the Raptors in July 2018, it seemed like a powderkeg that could explode at any moment. Sean Deveney of Sporting News reported at the time the three-time All-Star had "no interest" in playing in Toronto and at least considered sitting out the entire season. 

Things ultimately worked out between the two sides, as the Raptors acquisition of Leonard and Green can only be considered a success forever because of the final result. 

The ripple effect of Leonard's decision to sign with the Clippers could significantly impact what happens with Toronto this season. Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet are entering the final season of their contracts. 

Despite speculation Ujiri was considering a full-scale rebuild after Leonard left, TSN.ca's Josh Lewenberg reported in July the Raptors weren't going to deal Lowry, Gasol or Ibaka before the season starts. 

"Like he did with previous Raptors teams, Ujiri will give this group an opportunity to sink or swim before choosing a path and deciding what comes next," Lewenberg wrote. 

Before potentially turning the page on the previous era of Raptors basketball, Leonard's return to Toronto as a member of the Clippers gives the fans and his former teammates one more opportunity to remember what they accomplished in 2018-19. 

The crowd at Scotiabank Arena has a chance to give Leonard a nice ovation, or they could choose to greet him with a chorus of boos for unceremoniously departing. The former would be appropriate⁠—not to mention, a much better look⁠—but sports fans aren't always known for their decorum if they feel they've been spurned. 

       

Philadelphia 76ers (First Home Game: Nov. 25)

After the Raptors lost their best player during the offseason, the Philadelphia 76ers spent their summer loading up for a run at the NBA Finals. 

If not for Leonard's heroics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Philadelphia could have been raising a banner to start this season. 

Like Toronto, the Sixers also lost their most important postseason player when Jimmy Butler joined the Miami Heat. They also let JJ Redick leave as a free agent, but general manager Elton Brand had a few tricks up his sleeve. 

Philadelphia added Josh Richardson from the Heat as part of the sign-and-trade for Butler. The big free-agent splash was Al Horford, who gives Brett Brown the option of playing alongside Joel Embiid in the starting lineup or stagger minutes between the two big men. 

Thanks to the moves made by the Sixers, they are neck and neck with the Milwaukee Bucks as favorites to win the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors, on the other hand, are a distant seventh:

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The Atlantic Division has been controlled by Toronto for most the decade, with five first-place finishes in the past six seasons. The Sixers have just one division title in the previous 29 seasons (2000-01). 

Toronto still boasts a deep roster with Lowry, Ibaka, Gasol, VanVleet and Pascal Siakam making a formidable quintet. 

If the Raptors want to maintain their status as a top-tier Eastern Conference contender, sending a message to a 76ers team with high expectations is the easiest way to pull it off. 

       

Prediction

The Raptors have been one of the most consistent teams in the NBA since the 2015-16 campaign. Their current streak of four straight 50-win seasons is the second-longest active streak, behind the Golden State Warriors (six).

Even without a true superstar in the fold, head coach Nick Nurse has a strong top seven to utilize. Siakam's development last season gives the Raptors a new building block who, at the age of 25, could continue to improve now that he will be a focal point. 

Another advantage the Raptors have is playing in the Eastern Conference. The 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks are at the top of the class, but there are question marks behind them. The Brooklyn Nets could take a step forward with Kyrie Irving on board, though their window likely opens next season when Kevin Durant returns. 

The Indiana Pacers expect to be without Victor Oladipo, who ruptured a quad tendon last January, until at least December. The Boston Celtics have tremendous upside if Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown play closer to their 2017-18 form than what they showed last season. 

All of this is to say that Leonard's departure doesn't spell doom for the Raptors. They are still a quality playoff team, albeit one that may have a limited ceiling when they get there. 

Record Prediction: 48-34