Remember the first day of school? You’ve got your newest/cleanest/trendiest outfit...
No. The school analogy is a bit of a stretch.
Papers have been signed and the keys to your brand new Tesla Model S are in your hand. Step inside the vehicle and enjoy that new car smell...
No. The car analogy won’t work.
The football is placed on a tee. The Kicker puts one arm in the air. Eleven men start running in unison...
No. Getting closer, but wrong sport.
[Trumpets blare] [Luther Vandross’ voice fills the air] “The ball is tipped... and there you are. You’re running for your life. You’re a shooting star.”
No. Right sport, but wrong players.
The beginning of a new NBA season is always filled with so much hope and anticipation. There’s simply nothing quite like the opening game for your favourite team. The Toronto Raptors are no different.
Since Toronto last played a meaningful game, Raptor fans have witnessed LEBRONTO jokes; Dwane Casey winning Coach of the Year; Dwane Casey losing his job; Fred VanVleet re-signing; surprisingly showing up as an odds-on favourite to land disgruntled Spurs star, Kawhi Leonard; landing said star in exchange for the face of the franchise, DeMar DeRozan; DeRozan’s IG; Kawhi allegedly not wanting to report; waiting for Kawhi to speak; more waiting for Kawhi to speak; Kawhi finally speaks, and is a fun guy; Kawhi laughs; Lowry not looking like he’s happy; Lowry is actually quite happy; but not as happy as new head coach Nick Nurse, and his affinity to try all kinds of lineups. It’s been a lot.
Let’s get these damn games started already!
Wednesday, October 17 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
What better way for the Raptors to kick-off their most important season in franchise history, than a date with their playoff demons/daddies/destroyers. This is obviously a much different Cavs team the Raptors will be playing. In fact, if you look a little further back at last season’s opener, Cleveland started Kevin Love, Jae Crowder (now in Utah), Dwyane Wade (back in Miami), LeBron James (La La Land), and Derrick Rose (LOL). This season’s starters? Love, George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., and something called Cedi Osman.
Nick Nurse has vowed to keep his lineups versatile and won’t commit to a consistent starting five. I was going to predict who that five would be, but he could just as easily trot out the bench crew he used in the preseason finale — the same group that destroyed a Pelicans squad playing all their starters — and still get the W.
The Raptors have won nine of their last 11 season openers, including the last five consecutive by an average margin of victory of 11 points. Toronto will reign supreme from beyond the arc — think 15-for-35 — and stretch that streak to six with a comfortable 121 - 98 victory.
Friday, October 19 vs. Boston Celtics
Let’s all pump the brakes. It’s only the second game of the season. Nobody’s winning the conference in mid-October. Nurse is going to be experimenting with his lineups for at least another six weeks. Brad Stevens is surely not revealing any hands this early in the season.
Aaahhh, who am I kidding? This is as huge an early-season game that I can ever remember. Two of the deepest squads in the NBA go toe-to-toe and try to stake claim to the title of team-to-beat in the East. Imagine Kyrie Irving calling for a high screen from Gordon Hayward, to shed himself from Kyle Lowry’s pesky defense, only to be met by Kawhi freaking Leonard. Or Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown — Boston’s best wing defenders — unable to help double-team Lowry or Leonard, because they’d be leaving Danny Green or OG Anunoby open for corner threes. And besides, what is Smart to do — he with the highest turnover rate on the team — when he sees Pascal Siakam barrelling down in transition with Fred VanVleet and C.J. Miles finding their respective spots behind the arc? Good luck.
As much as I’d like to predict another Raptor victory, I have a couple of concerns. If the preseason was any indicator (hint: it was), Toronto should be among the league leaders in 3-pointers taken. Boston, however, ended last season with the stingiest 3-point defense, allowing a league-low 3-point FG% of 33.9%.
Leonard, as great as he can surely be, has been struggling with his shot throughout the preseason. In two of the three preseason games he played, Leonard shot poorly at the line (4/8 @ Utah; 6/11 vs. Portland). In the only other preseason game, he only hit three of his 12 field goal attempts.
Finally, I’d give the coaching edge to Boston. Stevens is arguably the best coach in the league, while Nurse is still trying to fix the butt groove in the head coach’s chair. Boston squeezes out the win, 103 - 100.
Saturday, October 20 @ Washington Wizards
Off-season acquisition Austin Rivers thinks the Wizards “have a chance to compete with the best of the East,” but only mentioned the Celtics and Sixers in his interview with CBS Sports. His new teammates need to educate him on what happened the last time a Wizard slighted the Raptors. Washington’s other notable off-season moves also made for interesting news. The aforementioned Rivers was acquired in a trade for Marcin Gortat. Gortat’s starting role was quickly replaced with the signing of Dwight Howard, who may miss the beginning of the season due to (being?) a pain in the butt. Finally, Jeff Green was signed to a minimum one-year deal. Bradley Beal is excited, to say the least, “Jeff is a star, man, because he’s built like LeBron and almost plays like him.”
While this is probably a big deal for Washington to face the team that eliminated them from the playoffs, the Raptors match-up even better now than they did in April. The Wizards may have improved their bench slightly, but they still can’t compete with the Bench Mob. Toronto has won 8 of their last 9 regular season meetings in DC. Despite playing on the road, on the back-end of a back-to-back, the Raptors get back on track and the end the first week of the season with a 110 - 99 win.