Because it’s placed smack dab in the middle of the NBA’s tumbleweed season, schedule-release day is much ballyhooed. Ultimately, it’s an uninteresting blip that you probably won’t think about again until the 2017-18 season is upon us — and even then, it really only makes sense to fret over the schedule one week at a time, at most. Things change; teams suffer injuries and veer in and out of cold slumps. What might look like a rocky part of the schedule on August 14th could be a cream puff come January.
Probably the only productive thing that Schedule Day does offer is a road map for fans looking to attend Raptors games this season. If you’re an out-of-towner, or simply don’t have the means to go to more than one or two games a year (damn you, organizational success), the schedule’s release marks day one of your countdown to this season’s Air Canada Centre visit of choice.
Circling a game on the slate isn’t a decision to be made lightly, though. You have to weigh plenty of factors like projected ticket prices, start times, sexiness of opponent, chances an opposing star might be injured (hi, Joel Embiid) and the odds that the Raptors might get blown out. If any one of those variables is out of whack, it can sewer your entire game-going experience.
To help you narrow down your selections, here are the five Raptors games you should definitely consider attending this season. And before the people get angry: screw paying out the ass to watch the Warriors demolish the Raptors.
Thursday, November 9 vs. New Orleans, 7:30pm
It’s always fun to get a game in early in the year — you know, before the crippling dread of not being as good as the Cavaliers has enveloped the fan base. In the Pelicans, you’ll get an opponent that isn’t overly threatening, yet features as a pair of stars in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins who will certainly be worth the cost of your ticket. Being that it’s less than a month into the season, there’s a pretty good chance Davis won’t even be injured yet!
In what will become something of a theme with these picks, avoiding the price-hike normally associated with Friday night or weekend games is another bonus.
Sunday, December 17 vs. Sacramento, 3:30pm
Vince Carter isn’t going to play forever, and this holiday season tilt against the Kings could very well be his final game in Toronto (at least as a visitor, since the Raptors are absolutely trading for him at the deadline). Sacramento is kind of fun now too! But not in a “cost you $150 for Row 18 in the upper deck” kind of way. De’Aaron Fox has a chance to be among the league’s most entertaining rookies, while George Hill, Buddy Hield and Zach Randolph have the chops to keep the Kings at least respectable.
There’s a risk that the Raptors will utterly stink it up against the Kings the way they did twice last season, but after the Terrence Ross nixed buzzer-beater nonsense that took place the last time Sacramento came to town, there has to be some sort of karmic justice in the cards for Toronto this December, right?
Monday, January 1 vs. Milwaukee, 7:30pm
There may be no player more staggering to watch in person than Giannis Antetokounmpo. Getting to see him outside of the playoff pressure-cooker will be a pleasant relief for anyone who decides to brave their hangover and attend this New Year’s Day affair.
It might end up being a lower energy crowd, but with plenty of people either wrapped up in holiday family gatherings or on vacation somewhere warm, you should be able to find cheap enough last minute tickets. That, or you find a buddy with season tickets who is hurting too much to make it to the game. New Year’s might not be 100% terrible after all.
For those visiting the city over the holidays, this is a perfectly situated home game. Those have been scarce over the last few seasons with the World Junior Hockey Championships occupying the ACC at the same time.
Wednesday, March 7 @ Detroit, 7:30pm
If you’re sick of the bleeding eardrums and sensory overload provided by Raptors game ops, perhaps you’ll want to make the trip to Detroit’s new arena for a Toronto takeover game. March 7 will mark the Raptors’ first trip to the Pistons’ new digs in downtown Detroit, and it’ll be a shocker if bus loads of Raps fans don’t carry on the tradition of adding pseudo-home games to Toronto’s schedule.
Detroit will host the Raptors for the second-last game of the regular season as well, but you’ll run the risk of the team’s stars sitting that one out in preparation for the playoffs. That said, if Detroit is a lottery team again, scalpers might end up paying you to take tickets of their hands.
For those looking to make a more ambitious Raptors’ road trip, the team visits the Knicks and Nets on March 11 and 13 — a Sunday and Tuesday that fall on March Break if you happen to be a teacher and/or are looking for a veiled excuse to take some time off in the middle of the second-worst month of the year. Eff you, February.
Tuesday, March 27 vs. Denver, 7:30pm
Denver is like the Milwaukee of the Western Conference: young, talented, probably going to be pretty good, but less of a hot ticket than their superiors in their respective conferences. With the Nuggets, you get an opponent that will almost certainly provide a high-scoring and exciting tilt. Nikola Jokic is a freaking treasure to watch and you get the Jamal Murray-at-home factor as well.
This game comes around the time of year where the apathy of the season’s dog days begins to dry up, and the excitement of the near-drawing playoffs begins to build, while Tuesday night is the sweet spot for good deals.
Shout out to third-tier contenders. They make for the best teams to go and see live.