The HQ takes an in-depth look at the Toronto Raptors' 2010-11 schedule...
Is it just me or does this off-season seem to be going at light speed?
It's mid-August already, the NBA schedule was released yesterday afternoon, and considering the Raptors' first game is on October 27th, that means we're really only a couple months away from NBA basketball once you factor in pre-season play.
Of course, a month from now perhaps I'll regret typing that previous paragraph as things slow to a crawwwwwwwwwl.
For now though, we've made it through two plus months of NBA "off-season" which has seemed like anything but that for the most part thanks to the whirlwind of news surrounding the Raps. Between trades that fell through and various new acquisitions, not to mention the public squabbles between the team and former players, it's been one pretty much non-stop ride since April. Add in various coaching and management moves, with potentially more on the way (still no official announcement on Scott Roth and now ESPN's Marc Stein is reporting that Raptors' exec Masai Ujiri is interviewing with the Nuggets front office this week) and it sounds like we'll have Dino-news to discuss for weeks to come.
Compare that to a team like the Nets or Bobcats who have been pretty much sitting quietly in the corner since the draft.
The latest news of course is the release of the schedule for next season.
TSN.ca's Tim Chisholm has done a great job breaking things down regarding some interesting dates etc from a Raptors' perspective, but I wanted to take things a bit further and look at the schedule's ebb and flow month by month.
Let's kick it off with the home opener on October 27th.
Aaah, the home opener. This game represents the first of Toronto's two home games (and only games) of the month. And who would have thought a few months ago that this match and the next two nights later against the Cavs would feature none of Chris Bosh or LeBron James? Both represent very good early tests as well for Toronto against two clubs that could very well be fighting with the Raps for that eighth and final playoff spot.
We know the Knicks have improved on paper, but we've yet to see how the pieces will fit. As for the Cavs, they obviously took a big step back minus LeBron and it's debateable that there's more talent on that club now than on the Raptors.
Record prediction for October- 1 and 1.
November starts out in much the same way as the past few Novembers have for the Raps, with a brutal five-game Western Road trip. In previous years we've seen the team go 0 and 5 or only slightly better on these swings and for a young team with little identity or veteran savvy, this could be an early nail in the coffin.
Sacto and GoldenState aren't the scariest bookends, but the Lakers, Jazz and Blazers in the middle make for some formidable early opponents. A 2 and 3 trip would have to be considered a big win early in the season but an 0 and 5 jaunt would put the team behind the 8 ball early considering the month is also filled with tough contests like November 10, 12 and 13th against Charlotte, Orlando and Miami respectively, the latter two on the road and back-to-back.
The 13th of course means a match-up with Chris Bosh for the first time and if Toronto is reeling at this point (I'm wondering if the club doesn't sport a tough 2 and 7 record going into the match with the Heat) then a blow-out loss at the hands of Miami could spell early doom for the team.
That being said, games against Washington and Philly following that match could serve to brighten the outlook even with a tough finish to the month against clubs like Houston, Atlanta and Boston (twice.)
Record prediction for November- 4 and 11.
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. So a start to December that features clubs like Washington, New York (twice), Indiana and Detroit isn't such a bright spot as maybe it once was.
Nevertheless, it's better than the latter part of the month where Toronto heads back to the West to face Memphis, Dallas and Houston around Christmas.
For me December is the "do or die" month in a sense regarding the Dinos playoff fate.
Nine of its 15 games are against clubs that as of now look to be on the outside of the playoffs looking in, in either conference, so there's a chance to gain some ground and start to establish the team's identity going into 2011. As well, as we've seen in the past, December seems to be the time where fans really get an idea of what type of team they're going to see for the rest of the season; the good, the bad and the ugly. If Triano can lay down some good building block performances in November, even in losses, than perhaps December bears some nice gifts record-wise just in time for Christmas.
Record prediction for December- 5 and 10.
One of the reasons December is so important is because January gets pretty rocky. Aside from a couple of matches against clubs like Minny, Detroit and Philly, we're talking Boston twice, Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans, San Antonio, Orlando, Miami, and even the amped up Bucks.
I believe the expression "this is where the rubber hits the road" applies quite nicely.
Record prediction for January- 4 and 13.
Once the team gets to the month of February it likely will be D-Day in many ways. Barring any more off-season moves, Toronto should have some enticing expiring contracts like Marcus Banks and Reggie Evans as well as a good feel for how far this team is from playoff contention; this year or next. Based on my early predictions, the club will be sporting a gaudy 14 and 35 record, so Bryan Colangelo will have to make some serious decisions on how to proceed both for the rest of the current season and the next. If players that are being counted on to produce like DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani struggle, does he look to shuffle the deck? Games against the Wolves, Clips and Bobcats might result in wins, but the rest of the month again is filled with toughies like Atlanta, Dallas, San Antonio, Portland, Chicago and...the return of Chris Bosh to the ACC as his Heat take on the Raps February 16th, right before the All-Star break.
Record prediction for February-3 and 8.
March features two marquee matches as the Raptors take on the New Jersey Nets on back-to-back nights (March 4th and 5th ) in London, England. Regardless of the quality of the matches, I think it's important to emphasize how good it is for the club to be asked by the NBA to participate in said ventures. This is especially true considering the PR damage done to the franchise this off-season.
Those two games could result in wins, and a string of mid March matches against Indiana, Charlotte, Detroit and Washington bode well for the club's win total, but oh boy...the club heads West again for a five-gamer to pretty much cap off the month, facing OKC, Denver, Phoenix, Golden State and the Clips.
Record prediction for March- 6 and 8.
If the club's record follows my prognostications to any degree, it will be limping into the final month of the season with a record of 23 and 51.
Based on some of the "expert predictions" floating around lately, that seems on par with their thoughts.
The final month features a few winnable matches against the likes of the Knicks, Nets, 76ers and Cavs and that could very well push Toronto's win record to 27 or 28 on the season, right in line with said "experts."
As well, considering teams like Orlando, Chicago, Milwaukee and Miami, all of whom Toronto plays, could be resting their stars in preparation for the big dance, that win total could be boosted up a bit more.
In fact, the Raptors in a cruel joke by David Stern, finish the season at home against Bosh and his Heat. I'm not expecting LeBron, Wade and co to be getting heavy minutes, if any, but I'd imagine CB4 will want to take a bite out of his former club if he's healthy.
I'll pencil that one in as a win, and maybe that gives them their first .500 month of the season, but it may seem like a hollow victory if the schedule plays out the way I've just discussed.
Record prediction for April- 4 and 4.
Final 2010-11 Record - 27 and 55
Now are things guaranteed to unfold as I discussed?
Of course not, that's why they play the games.
But I'm not sure it's going to be too far from reality given the team's current make-up.
The team still has some major holes to fill and as I'll discuss in detail next week, any way you slice it, at face value it's hard to see this club winning more than 30 games from my perspective.
However there is a silver lining here from my perspective.
For the first season in quite some time, things look quite bleak and really, the bar has been set low for this club. That for me is exciting because instead of talking the team down due to concerns I've had, which has been the case in years' past, this time the improvement of players like Weems, DeRozan, Bargs, Johnson etc could very well propel the club to heights no one expected.
I still think that's a long-shot.
But we are talking about a very uncertain Eastern Conference here where outside of Boston, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta and Milwaukee, like last season, anything could happen.
For that reason October 27th can't come soon enough.