Nothing stokes the basketball appetites of the masses like a good ol' mid-August schedule release. We're still two and a half months away from the 2015-16 season getting rolling, but now we have a tangible slate of games to get psyched up for. Let's delve into how it breaks down and why it looks like a more manageable six-month journey for the Raptors than last year.
How it breaks down
On first glance, the Raptors' schedule seems pretty standard. As part of the NBA's effort to limit wear and tear on players, Toronto will play 17 back-to-backs (they had 19 last year) and will only endure one of the dreaded four-games-in-five-nights stretches, down from three in 2014-15. That's great - but every team will receive similar schedule alleviation; no advantage gained for the Raptors.
Toronto's longest road trip will be a six gamer in early-mid February (we'll get to this later), and the squad will defend the ACC for two separate seven game home-stands - one in early-mid December, and another in mid-late January.
Why it looks great for the Raptors
For a few reasons, the 2015-16 Raptors schedule looks like a step up from the calendar the team followed last year. Yes, as you've probably already heard, 11 of the team's first 15 games will be played away from home. On the surface, it looks like a stretch that could land the Raptors in a hole in the East quickly.
And while those early road opponents include beatable teams like the Sixers, Magic, Knicks, Kings, Lakers and DeAndre-less Mavericks, there are some stiff tests: the Clippers, Thunder, Pelicans and defending champion Warriors stand out in particular. Given such a rocky schedule, a near .500 record after 15 games will probably be considered a success.
That said, those opening weeks spent on the road might have some positive long-term effects for Dwane Casey's bunch. First off, if you buy into wishy-washy concepts like the importance of off-court team chemistry, being on the road for a hefty chunk of November could help foster unity between the incumbent roster players and the cavalcade of new faces joining the Raptors this year.
More importantly though, a schedule front-loaded with road games will set the Raptors up for a much more home-heavy schedule to end the year. Last season was the inverse. Toronto's hot start was aided by playing 11 of its first 16 at home. As the road games began to pile up, so did the losses. In the season's final stretch, Toronto played 18 of 29 away from The Six. It's a much friendlier finish this time around though - 15 of the Raptors final 25 contests will be played in Toronto.
Let's face it, every team in the NBA faces grueling road trips - but to get them over with early on when there is still a bounce in the players' steps clearly beats trudging from airport-to-airport with 50 games of wear already hampering guys' bodies.
Speaking of lengthy road tours - the Raptors received a tremendous stroke of luck with the aforementioned season-long six-gamer. Running from February 1-19, it straddles the All-Star Break, essentially turning it into two smaller trips - four games before the break and two after with eight days off in between. Something tells me players would complain less about travel if all of their multi-week road trips were divided in two by an excursion to the Bahamas.
And compared to the teams Toronto faced on it's season-turning six-game swing around Christmas last year, this year looks like a breeze. Toronto will play Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago on their All-Star break roadie; the Nuggets, Blazers and Wolves are all surefire lottery teams, while the only playoff lock is the Bulls. Last year? Toronto's longest trek saw them play four 50-win teams.
The road should be a lot kinder to the Raptors this season.
The National Broadcast issue
Toronto is slated to appear in two nationally televised games in the States next season - one on ESPN and one on TNT. They'll be slotted in on NBATV another eight times as well.
Of course, there is frustration when you realize teams like the Kings, Blazers, and Pacers will be shown nationally more often than the Raptors. And it's hard to suppress the urge to weep when you see that the sure-to-be-awful Lakers will play before the country 19 times.
National TV game chart for this upcoming NBA season pic.twitter.com/udgRMJygTi— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) August 13, 2015
But let's not go and act like the decision to give Toronto two prime-time national slots is some attack against Canada. It's a decision based purely on ratings and frankly, Canadian eyeballs don't matter to ESPN and TNT.
Two games is ... something. It's more exposure than the Raptors could have dreamed of a few years ago during the death-spiral years the franchise experienced near the end of Bryan Colangelo's tenure. We should be thrilled that the American audience will be exposed to the raucous ACC crowd at all this year, let alone twice.
Not to mention, there is always the possibility that, if the Raptors surprise and are near the top of the East, Toronto could be flexed into an extra national game or two. It happened last year thanks to the abject terribleness of the Knicks - there's no reason it couldn't unexpectedly happen once again in 2015-'16.
The incessant inferiority complex among Raptors fans is getting a bit tired, and it's a bad look overall. Enjoy the 82 games that are now set in stone, and don't get caught up fretting over which broadcaster will be behind the mic.
What are your thoughts on how the Raptors' schedule shakes down?