Scott Campsall takes a look at why a shortened NBA season, may give the Toronto Raptors a few more W's than fans expect...
The NBA Lockout and subsequent fallout has provided a great deal of uncertainty about the future of the league. While most pundits are discussing how the new system rules will affect player movement come December 9th, one important question is not being asked: what will the shorter schedule look like, and how will it affect teams this season?
We'll get an answer to the first part of said question later todaybut in the meantime, here's what we know so far:
-We know that the schedule will consist of 66 games starting December 25 and ending April 26th.
-We also know that teams will play 48 conference games featuring matchups with six specific teams-likely including divisional matchups-which they will play four times each.
-The other eight teams in the conference will be played three times each.
-Teams will also play 18 non-conference games consisting of three teams which will be played twice; six teams that will be played at home a single time each; and six other teams that will be played once on the road.
The most interesting piece of information to take away from this schedule breakdown is the fact that not every team in the east is going to play every team in the west twice this season. As a result there will be teams that get an easier schedule, and in all likelihood the Toronto Raptors are going to be one of those teams.
It is no secret that the league places an emphasis on its marquee matchups and the television ratings that they yield. With that in mind, it is a pretty safe bet that the best teams in the west like Oklahoma City, Dallas, the L.A Lakers and San Antonio will play the best teams in the east like New York, Miami, Orlando and Chicago two times a piece. This means that teams like the Toronto and Detroit are less likely to play all of those contenders from the West twice, leaving them with easier matchups and a higher possibility of improving their record against the Western Conference.
This will be good news for the Raptors who struggled against the West last season, finishing 8-22 with a winning percentage of about 36%. Not having to face the top contenders in the West multiple times this season could lead to more wins and potentially boost the Raps a few more rungs up the ladder in the Eastern Conference.
Another interesting wrinkle to the schedule is the possibility that teams could play up to three sets of back to back to back games. This is another facet of the schedule that could benefit the Raptors; by virtue of being a more youthful team with younger legs, the Dinos could simply outlast older teams that are playing for the third consecutive night, or in the midst of their fourth game in five nights.
The youthfulness of this team might also be a benefit when considering how condensed the season is. The Raptors had 56 games scheduled after Christmas, prior to the cancellation of the first part of the season. They will now play 66 games in a slightly longer period of time with the season ending April 26th instead of April 18th. Because they will be playing more games in a shorter period of time we may see older teams like the Spurs and the Celtics resting their players more often in order to keep them fresh for the playoffs. The Raptors, on the other hand should have the youth to play the out season, and could take advantage of possible matchups with older teams resting said veterans.
There is no doubt the Raptors still have some work to do if they want to even come close to grabbing the 8th seed in the east, but if B.C can land some talented pieces, and the Raps can catch a couple of breaks with a favorable schedule, the Raptors could potentially be in the mix for that last playoff spot come the end of April. Or, the extra few wins could simply bump them a couple spots up from the bottom of the league, reducing their chances of landing a top pick in next year's draft.
Time will tell how the team performs during the course of this modified schedule; but with these extra variables at play, this season could be one of the most unpredictable in recent history.