Schedule release day.
Well, that was yesterday, but still, it’s a day I always look forward to each summer.
I guess for me it’s because it just feels that much closer to the tip-off of the upcoming Toronto Raptors season. In fact, it’s tough not to project ahead and get excited about next year after seeing next year’s slate of games for the Dinos.
And at first glance, this seems to be the first pretty balanced layout of games I’ve seen Toronto get in years.
Remember two seasons ago when Toronto started on like a 16 game road trip with six back-to-backs during that span?
Ok…it wasn’t that bad but for at least the past three years it seems that Toronto has gotten the scheduling shaft to a certain degree. While schedule makers insist that there’s no real favoritism that occurs when an upcoming season is planned out, it does always seem to me that the better the Raptors project to be on paper, the better the upcoming schedule.
And this year, things look better than they’ve been in a while:
-Four games against divisional foes with two home and two away.
-The remaining 10 conference teams played twice at home and on the road with the exception of four teams - two will be played once at home and twice on the road (Cleveland and Washington) and two will be faced twice at home and once on the road (Detroit and Miami). Each Western Conference team will be played once at home and on the road.
-Friday is the busiest day for the Raptors with 21 games on the schedule while Sunday features a season-high 16 home games.
-And while Toronto has a few West Coast road trips, most are only about three games in length.
The toughest stretch on paper without a doubt occurs around Christmas time. Toronto every year seems to get stuck with a deadly West Coast swing around this holiday season with lots of back-to-backs and teams like Phoenix, San Antonio and Dallas involved.
This year, even though Toronto is away from December 19 to the 29th, the West-Coast adventure has the Raptors up against juggernauts like the Clippers, Sonics and Kings. Add in the Warriors who probably took a step back this off-season and really it’s the Spurs and Blazers who Toronto play on the second nights of back-to-backs that are definitely going to be tough wins.
However besides that West-Coast stretch, what really makes December tough is that Toronto takes on New Orleans and New Jersey back-to-back (albeit at home), then welcomes the Mavericks before heading out West.
Upon returning to the ACC?
Well there’s nothing like a welcoming committee of the Denver Nuggets on New Year’s Eve and then Houston and Orlando coming to town in the next four days.
However this piece of the puzzle aside, the breakdown of competition and home and away games is pretty good:
-One home and one away in October.
-Seven home and seven away in November.
-Six home and 10 away in December (the toughest stretch as mentioned.)
-Eight home and eight away in January.
-Six home and six away in February.
-Nine home and four away in March.
-Four home and five away in April.
It’s a pretty balanced look and while the Raptors will have 17 back-to-back games this season, that’s down three from last season. On top of this, with 13 of Toronto’s final 22 games at home, it bodes well for the stretch run.
In terms of noteworthy appearances, Lebron comes to town once on February 18, Toronto gets to take its first shot at the World Champs early in the season on November 10, Steve Nash arrives January 18, 2008, Kobe and his Lakers appear on February 4, and the Raps take on the Pacers for the first time December 10th.
Best of all as mentioned yesterday, Toronto gets to see the new-look 76ers on opening night, October 29th.
The local television schedule will be released at a later date but all 82 Raptors games will be aired nationally here in Canada. On the down side, the Raptors have only two nationally televised games in the Us at present; one on ESPN on December 5th against Utah and one on ESPN2 on Friday, April 10th versus Washington.
Of course, as we saw last year, if certain teams that are expected to be top draws fade (like Miami and Chicago last season), or if Toronto takes off, that could change.
For me, the matches I’m already looking forward to are against Philly and Boston obviously, but I’m also anxious for a little "how do you like them apples?" against Orlando and a few good tests against Detroit. Toronto needs to get off to a good start if they aspire to grab home-court advantage early in the playoffs and games against Milwaukee, Atlanta and Charlotte through their first six matches could put them right on track towards this goal.
Yes, there’s still not a lot of US exposure…but come February if the Raptors are sitting near the top of the conference I expect that to change.
The schedule is out, and in a few short months, we’ll soon see what this newest version of the Raptors can do with it.