The HQ takes an in-depth look at the Toronto Raptors' 2011-12 schedule...that is if the schedule isn't thrown out the window come November...
Yesterday the NBA announced its schedule for the 2011-12 season, almost a full month ahead of last year's release date.
82 games of basketball delight assuming the season isn't shortened or cancelled altogether thanks to the current labour situation.
In fact based on said situation, the early release in fact is a bit ironic considering that there's an increasing likelihood that the whole thing could be null and void. Last time the NBA had to shorten its season due to a work stoppage, the schedule was reissued altogether in shorter form, a point I forgot yesterday when noting that missing the first two months of play might actually be a good thing for the Toronto Raptors.
However as has been the case this off-season, we're going to soldier on under the belief that the season will begin in November.
This means then our usual breakdown of the NBA schedule, month by month, with a view towards the Raptors' final record based on this schedule.
Last year we were close, estimating 27 wins for the DInos based on the 2010-11 schedule's ebb and flow and again this year, we'll give it a shot using the current roster as the basis for our comparisons to opponents.
No October games for the Raps this year as they open their season on November 2 at home versus the Philadelphia 76ers. This is a potentially winnable one, as Toronto has played Philadelphia quite well the past few seasons.
However it only gets tougher from there.
Filling out the first month are matches against teams like Milwaukee (twice), Phoenix and the LA Clippers but it's certainly no cake-walk start. A gruesome three game road trip against Boston, Miami and Orlando, followed by a home date with the Celtics again helps bring the month to a close so November certainly presents its fair share of challenges.
Record prediction for November- 5 and 9.
"Hey Toronto - November was tough, how about starting December with a match against the Miami Heat, and soon after heading out West to face the Warriors, Kings, Lakers and Blazers?" "That sounds like fun right?"
Think the NBA schedule-makers were saying something like that when drawing up next year's basketball blueprint?
December holds as much potential for struggles as November thanks to the level of competition (Dallas again, San Antonio and the aforementioned road trip), although the club does get two more home games. And matches against lesser opponents like Indiana, New York, New Jersey and Detroit don't hurt.
But part of the big issue with analyzing this schedule is that numerous teams last year that looked like easy wins, now are possible W's at best. New York is certainly not the team it was this time last year, nor is Indiana, and both were playoff clubs last season.
So while it's better than an onslaught of matches against the Heat, the reality is that of Toronto's 16 games in December, only six are against teams that weren't in last year's post-season.
Record prediction for December- 5 and 11.
A 14 game January brings another Western road swing but arguably not as tough a trek as the one in the previous month.
The Clippers, Suns, Jazz and Nuggets make up the roadie this time, and games against clubs like the Wizards and Kings, Cavs and Nets at home mean there's a strong potential for the Dinos to go .500 in Jan.
It may be little solace though for fans considering the team could be entering the month with a 10 and 22 record...
Record prediction for January- 6 and 8.
February starts off with a match in Boston and ends with a road trip to New Orleans.
Not exactly friendly bookends and the matches in the middle aren't exactly a walk in the park either.
Sure, there's a handful of games against clubs like Washington, Detroit and Cleveland but again we're talking about a month where Toronto plays 8 of its 13 games against playoff teams.
Record prediction for February- 4 and 9.
As the NBA tends to do each year, the schedule goes "home game heavy" towards its conclusion for Toronto.
The team plays 9 of its 15 matches in March at home, and a slew of contests against teams like Golden State, Detroit, Charlotte and New Jersey mean that the club could grab a decent share of wins in the season's second last month.
Even their away games aren't too arduous and despite what looks to be a 20 win total heading into the month, the hope is that new coach Dwane Casey keeps the team locked in, and perhaps pulls a surprise win or two out of his hat as the season begins to wind down.
Record prediction for March- 6 and 9.
If the club's record follows my prognostications to any degree, it will be heading into the final month of the season with a record of 26 and 46.
This would represent an improvement already over the previous year, but it's still nothing to write home about.
Toronto's final 10 games then would decide if the team could crack the 30 win plateau and with two matches against Washington, as well as contests against the Timberwolves, Bucks, Pacers and Nets, it's not out of the question.
There's no finishing match against the Heat this year (no, the Dinos take on the Wizards on the road) and really, the only matches that look like sure-fire losses is April 6 to the Bulls.
So again, if you're keeping score at home, 30 wins is not such a preposterous mark.
The question of course is if you're rooting for an incremental improvement such as this, or if you're actually hoping for 22 wins again or less, taking an improved draft class into account.
I'd like to see the team continuing to move in the right direction one way or another, and I think regardless of April record, the club's previous months will help do this.
Record prediction for April- 5 and 5.
Final 2010-11 Record - 31 and 51
Now are things guaranteed to unfold as I discussed?
Of course not, that's why they play the games.
And that's again IF they a) actually use this schedule and b) if there are games at all.
Factor in injuries and potential free-agent and trade acquisitions and even Dwane Casey's impact and the final number of course could vary to some degree.
But right now I would put 31 wins as the upper echelon for the club as presently composed.
I expect the D to improve a bit, and improvements from youngsters like Davis, DeRozan and Bayless etc could result in a few more W's.
But a .500 record or playoffs?
I think there would have to be some major upgrades made personnel wise first before either occur...