The Raptors, your favourite team and mine, have made it to game 82 of the regular season. Miraculously, everyone is finally healthy. The team is in third place in the Eastern Conference and has been one of the better offensive and defensive units since the All-Star break — they’re one of three teams to be in the top 10 in both ratings. It feels good to write all of these things.
Since our usual Rap man, Mitch Robson, is lost in a bracket-ological prison of his own design, I’m here once again to bring the Weekly Rap to a, uh, wrap. We’ve had some kind of run. Let’s make our pick for the week and then talk playoffs — which is really all we care about now on April 10th.
April 12 - @ Cleveland Cavaliers
I headed out to play rec league basketball yesterday afternoon comfortable in the idea that the Cavaliers would beat the Hawks. They were up by 20-some odd points and their victory seemed assured. The benefits of this outcome were two-fold: it would cement the Cavs as the no. 1 seed, thus keeping them from the Raptors for as long as possible in the playoffs, and it would slide the Hawks into 6th — a favourite first round matchup for Toronto.
Now both things are in doubt. Somehow the Hawks went 2-0 against the Cavs this past week and have sunk their talons into fifth place with a vengeance. They’re now a full game up on the Bucks, and both teams have two games left.
The Cavaliers meanwhile are back even with the Celtics (though they own the tie breaker) and are full-on reeling. They also have two games left, and as coach Ty Lue has mentioned, the squad’s stars will only get rest once they clinch that top seed. They play the Heat tonight and then the Raptors on Wednesday. Given Miami’s desperation (and the soul crushing loss the Hawks just delivered to the Cavs), I’ll give the win to the Heat tonight. This sets up a scenario where the Cavs need that final win more than the Raptors. How about that turn of events?
Long story short: the Raptors are going 0-1 this week, after dropping the game to the Cavs in Cleveland, to give them the 1-seed and secure the 3-seed. Such gamesmanship!
Worrying about the Cavs placement in the post-season is all find and good, but this still leaves us in a pickle vis-a-vis first round matchups. As of this writing, the full situation is thus (using 5th place as the baseline target):
5th Place - Atlanta Hawks
Games Back: —
6th Place - Milwaukee Bucks
Games Back: 1.0
Remaining Schedule: vs. Hornets, @ Celtics
7th Place - Indiana Pacers
Games Back: 2.0
Remaining Schedule: @ 76ers, vs. Hawks
If I’m the Raptors, I feel like the Hawks are probably the best matchup, while the Pacers are the most known quantity. The Bucks offer a scary ceiling, with Giannis and the returned Khris Middleton creating havoc. On paper, Toronto can beat all of these teams in a 7-game series owing to their superior depth of talent. But still, it wouldn’t be a Raptors playoff run without a surplus of nervous energy coming in.
Anyway, a close study of the situation suggests this: the Bucks can definitely go 2-0 — they’ve got the hapless Hornets first, then the Celtics who may or may not be resting for the last game of the season.
The Hawks play the Hornets on the second night of their back-to-back (against the Bucks) but then have a desperate Pacers team the final game of the season.
The Pacers have an easy road game against the D-League Sixers, and then the showdown that I believe will determine the whole dang thing: Hawks vs. Pacers at the end of the season.
Re-reading the previous three paragraphs does not make this any clearer, but we’ll know the answer soon enough. (My pick is still the Hawks in 6th, for a first round match-up guaranteed to be shown on NBA TV and then erased from history.)
How do you think the final week of the season will play out for the Raptors?