The road to 60 wins got off to a rocky start on Friday vs. Milwaukee, but it continues this week with four games against East rivals — including three lottery-bound teams. While previous Rap-Up versions highlighted the best NBA game to watch on each day, I’m switching up the format to only preview upcoming Raptor games.
The Raptors are projected to amass a franchise-record 58 wins, according to Basketball Reference, or 59 wins, if you fancy FiveThirtyEight. To surpass the franchise record of 56 wins (shoutout to Bismack Biyombo and the 2015-16 squad), the Raptors will need to go 16-8 (.667 win%), which is very doable considering their current state (.707 win%).
But why stop there? A record of 19-5 gets the Raptors membership to the exclusive 60-win club. It’s a possible outcome. So, in that spirit, week by week we’re going to look into the Raps schedule and make some predictions with an eye to the 60-win plateau.
Here comes the Road to 60.
Monday, February 26 vs. Detroit Pistons
When these teams met a month ago, the Raptors were 3.5 games out of first in the East, the Pistons were higher than the Sixers in the standings, and Jonas Valanciunas had hit a grand total of six three-pointers for the season (42 games). You know what’s happened over the last 40-ish days. Toronto beat the Pistons and steam-rolled their way to the top spot in the East, JV has averaged almost one three-pointer per game (over the subsequent 16 games), and Detroit went on to a season-long 8-game losing streak. That skid prompted a blockbuster deal from Stan Van Gundy for Blake Griffin.
The results from the trade are mixed so far, with Detroit going 5-5 in Griffin’s 10 games. He has fit in nicely, maintaining similar averages (20/7.6/5.6) as he had in L.A. (22.6/7.9/5.4). The attention he’s drawn has opened things up for his teammates. Andre Drummond, Reggie Bullock, Ish Smith, Stanley Johnson, and Anthony Tolliver (basically the next five in minutes played) have all seen boosts in points, rebounds, assists, and eFG% since Griffin joined. While Drummond was already leading the league in total rebounds per game before the trade, he’s led the league in offensive and defensive rebounding since partnering with the All-Star forward.
The .500 record since the Blake trade is quite deceiving. Three of the five wins came against lottery teams (Grizzlies, Nets, and Hawks), while the other two were “schedule losses” for their opponents (both the Heat and Blazers were on the second night of back-to-backs and playing the third road game in four nights). Speaking of which, on Monday night Detroit will be playing their second game of a road back-to-back and third game in four nights. Schedule loss or not, this should be a wire-to-wire win. Raps rev past the Pistons 110 - 95.
Wednesday, February 28 @ Orlando Magic
Before the All-Star break, Orlando inexplicably ran off a season-high tying three-game win streak — temporarily damaging their 2018 draft lottery odds. They’ve since come to their senses and began losing again. The Magic (Tragic?) are the only team to have three separate seven-game losing streaks this season. If they lose in OKC on Monday, this home game vs. Toronto could be the fourth!
Orlando acquired Serge Ibaka from the Thunder on draft night in 2016. In his first game visiting his former team, Ibaka had his best game of the season, scoring a career-high 31 points, while adding in 9 boards, 4 blocks, and nailing both 3-point attempts. This game marks Ibaka’s first visit to Orlando since being traded to Toronto.
Let the tanking continue! Toronto dropped 131 points (in regulation!) when these teams last faced off in March 2017. The Raptors have since become an even better offensive machine while regularly taking care of business against lottery-bound teams. Raps win a trip to Disney World, 118 - 104.
Friday, March 2 @ Washington Wizards
Am I being too much of a homer if I think the Raps should win this game fairly easily? Didn’t the Raps start last season (game no. 4, actually) by beating Washington (again), making it eight straight and 12 of 13? Sure, the Wizards have won two of three this season, including the last meeting on Feb. 1 — all without John Wall. Do you know when was the last time Washington has won two in a row against the Raptors? March 31, 2013(!!) or 18 games ago.
Washington caught the Raps off-guard in early November — coming back from a season-opening, six-game road swing — and handed Toronto its first home-loss of the season. Dwane Casey smartened up, reduced JV’s role considerably (under 17 minutes), and won the rematch two weeks later. Casey somehow forgot this strategy when Washington came to town on Feb. 1 (JV back to 29 minutes). Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat ran pick-and-roll all game long, basically mimicking the same strategy they employed to sweep Toronto out of the 2015 playoffs.
It’s cute that people think this is a rivalry. It’s easy to point out the 2014-15 campaign, where a better Raptor squad was out-coached and out-played while being swept as a higher seed. But this ain’t your older brother’s Raptors. Toronto employs the league’s best bench, while Washington is giving minutes to Ian Mahinmi and Jodie Meeks to spot their starters some rest. Raptors make the Wizards disappear 114 - 105.
Sunday, March 4 vs. Charlotte Hornets
Raps/Hornets games this season — all Toronto wins:
- November 29: 126 - 113
- December 20: 129 - 111
- February 11: 123 - 103
Notice any theme? On top of these drubbings, Charlotte will be wrapping up a three-game road trip after facing two other top-tier East foes — Philly and Boston.
No need to get cute with this. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan haven’t played in the fourth quarter in either of the previous two meetings with Charlotte. They may not be needed for this one either. Raps sting the Hornets 119 - 99.
Road to 60 Outlook
If all goes according to the predictions above, Toronto would need 14 more wins over their final 19 games to get to 60. That’s equivalent (.737 win%) to Toronto’s (possible) record at the end of the week (.725 win%).
What do you guys think of this week’s predictions?