With the official release of the NBA schedule yesterday, it’s time to get down to the real nitty-gritty of work. Yes, after debating ESPN’s projections and producing some of our own, we must now turn to making actual month-by-month predictions for the Raptors in 2016-17.
There will be no advanced math involved here, just a lot of feeling our way along in the dark. Last season I predicted (in the National Post no less) that the Raptors would win 47 games. Obviously, I was — rather delightfully — wrong. But this will not deter me (or you) from trying to pick that magic number. Let’s get into it.
Games: 3 home, 0 away
The Raptors have a mere three games in October, which is actually more than they usually have, owing to the earliest start in franchise history. They get three straight home games, including one against the defending champ Cleveland Cavaliers (plus Detroit and Denver). I’m feeling quite positive about this month.
Commentary: The Raptors will be turned all the way up and the only team of the three that’ll offer real resistance will be a hungover Cavs team. Tell me I’m wrong.
Games: 6 home, 9 away
The good times won’t last, unfortunately. The schedule tips quickly towards road-heavy for the Raptors this year, with nine of 15 games in November away from the ACC. And just for fun, this includes a 5-game road run that goes through Denver, Sacramento, the LA Clippers, Houston and Milwaukee. Woof.
But wait, this is burying the lede: the Raptors will play, on back-to-back nights (15th and 16th), on the road and then at home, the Cavs followed by the Warriors. Is this some sort of cosmic joke?
Commentary: The fast October start begins to level off as the Raptors get their first true road test, and have to survive that brutal back-to-back (one of three this month). There’s also two games against DeMarcus “Human Warpath” Cousins, the troublesome Hornets and a meeting against the angry Thunder. Thank god for the Sixers and the Clippers though (to whom the Raps can’t find a way to lose).
Games: 7 home, 7 away
Strong start to this month with the continuation of a six-game home stand (the longest of the season). But we’re still looking at matches against Cleveland (by now fully turnt), showdowns against Atlanta and Utah and three more back-to-backs. The Raptors can look forward to a couple of, uh, poor opponents — their pals in Philly and Brooklyn — before heading out on their annual Christmas/New Years western road swing. On paper this all sounds kind of bad, but here’s where the Raps begin to push up the standings.
Commentary: By my count, 2016 ends with the Raptors at 19-13. They headed into the new year at 20-13 last season so my prediction feels relatively accurate. I expect a bit of slippage, but not a ton. There, I said it.
Games: 10 home, 7 road
A whopping 17 games and the first notes of fatigue among the Raptors will define January. The end of their west road trip screams “schedule loss”, they’re due for a loss against the Knicks at some point and while I think they snag a win against San Antonio, I worry about reprisals from Orlando, Phoenix and Milwaukee. Also of note: three more back-to-backs.
Commentary: This will be the month we first start hearing the cries of “Kyle Lowry is playing too many minutes!” It’ll also be around the time when we know what we have with Lucas Nogueira and/or Jakob Poeltl, to say nothing of the presumptive “real” 15th man the team will have acquired by then. On the plus side: Delon Wright will definitely be back from shoulder surgery.
Games: 5 home, 6 away
Thanks to the All-Star Break, the Raptors can look forward to a bit of a rest and relaxation month in February. And unlike last year, they won’t have to play host in Toronto (though it’s possible both DeRozan and Lowry will be in the ASG again). Sure the team will also somehow have to manage with three back-to-backs (again) but this often feels like when the Raps will hit their stride.
Commentary: I’m going full topsy-turvy here and giving the Clippers a win over Toronto, and the Raptors a win over the Bulls (they’re due). It is a legit toss-up what happens against Boston this season as they’re the team in clear competition for the two-spot with the Raps. (Also — let me lower my voice and say this — I hope the Raptors stunt all over the T-Wolves again.)
Games: 8 home, 8 away
The Raptors kick off this month with a home-and-home against the remnants of the once great Washington empire (it was never that great), and then tip-off into a five game road trip. Toronto also sees Indiana — remember them? — twice this month, along with their old friends in Chicago, Miami (twice) and the shambling corpse of Charlotte. Also, maybe the last time Dirk (and his Mavericks) will be in Toronto?
And do the Raptors have to play in any back-to-backs this month? Of course they do! How about another three pair. The NBA — it’s fantastic!
Commentary: There will be one prolonged losing streak in March, I can feel it in my bones. Something about all those East rivals in a row has my hackles up. The Raptors may surprise us and snag a win in Dallas just for the hell of it, but I worry (to much?) about Indiana. The mood will definitely be playoff ready though, which is nice.
Games: 2 home, 4 away
I like this time of year, as teams are either losing on purpose or resting key guys, which means we too can take a rest. By April, the Sixers will be tanking (again), the Knicks will be trying desperately to cling to the eighth seed and the Cavaliers will be full-on lounging on the bench. And hey, did you notice Toronto had no instances of four games in five nights all season? The Raptors will walk away with a solid month here. Book it.
Commentary: Ah yes, the ease into the end of the season. It’s the most wonderful time of the year — wailing about Lowry’s minutes, wondering why the hell the Raptors didn’t make a move at the trade deadline, discussing playoff matchups — it’ll all be happening.
If you’ve been doing the math, my abstract prediction for the Raptors is a record of 50-32, which would presumably be good for the second or third seed in the Eastern Conference. It feels safe to say that Cleveland will win out, with Toronto spending the year battling with Boston (and maybe Atlanta?) for the two and three (and four?) seeds. Taken in comparison to last year, it’ll be a bit of a slip for the Raptors, with their division getting better (except the LOL Nets) and their front line just a bit thinner. Still, a second straight 50-win season — something that felt impossible as recently as five years ago — engenders warm feelings.
Then we can throw all of this out the window and start worrying for real: the playoffs will be upon us. I’ve already begun to steel myself.