Do my eyes deceive me? Is this... a two-game week?! As of Monday, March 26, no team has played more games since the All-Star Break than the Raptors. Last week was the most disappointing one in a long time, with two losses to playoff teams (well, playoff-adjace, in the Clips’ case) and two narrow wins over lottery teams. This also means I went 2-2 in my picks too — not great.
Still, with multiple days off surrounding the next couple of games, the timing couldn’t have come at a better time for Toronto. The top-seed and home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs is still very likely to happen, so the priority now should be health.
Tuesday, March 27 vs. Denver Nuggets
It always seems to be an interesting match-up when these two meet. Over their last five games, Denver has won three (with two in blowout fashion, including this season’s only other contest), while Toronto has eked out two close wins. With the Raptors’ magic number shrinking with each passing victory (or Celtic injury), combined with the Nuggets on the cusp of a playoff spot, it wouldn’t be hard to make a case for a Toronto loss. However, Denver’s in the midst of a season-long seven-game road trip that’s included a double-overtime loss in Miami and a loss in Memphis (yes, that’s the Grizzlies only victory since January!). The Nuggets will also be playing the back-end of a back-to-back, having just completed a date with the Sixers on Monday.
Granted, the Raptors were blitzed in their only other meeting with the Nuggets this season — a 129-111 thrashing which Toronto never led, even trailing by as much as 36 points — but that was a much different time for both teams. For starters, the Raptor who led the team in minutes was Norm Powell. The other huge difference is the recent absence of Gary Harris, whose knee injury will keep the team’s leading scorer out during this crucial stretch.
The Raptors have not looked amazing of late — dropping to 14th in DRtg since the All-Star Break — but are still two wins away from tying the franchise record. The team is about as healthy as you’d want a title contender to be in late March. They’ll be facing a road-weary Denver squad that’s playing their third consecutive playoff team out of [checks schedule], whoa nelly, they’re playing playoff teams for the remainder of their schedule! It’ll be a rocky one, but the Raps prevail 110-108.
Saturday, March 31 @ Boston Celtics
I know Boston has a leprechaun for a mascot and a four-leaf clover in their logo, but the Celtics’ luck this season has been mind-boggling. This is not to discount what Boston’s accomplished this year. Brad Stevens has crafted the league’s best defense, despite losing four of his best defensive players from last season. He’s squeezed every ounce of skill out of his guys and is about to finish with the second-best record in the East — masterfully achieved without his All-Star forward, Gordon Hayward. That being said, have you seen Boston’s record at home against the NBA elite (Toronto, Cleveland, Golden State, and Houston)? 4-1, with one win against each.
Boston beat Golden State, even though Kyrie Irving shot 4-of-16. They defeated Houston, despite trailing for all but the final three seconds. The C’s dispatched these Raptors without Kyrie, and held the Cavs to a season-low 88 points. Stevens finds ways to win, regardless of who’s on the court.
Toronto finally gets rest, but something about playing in the Garden has yielded unfavourable results for elite teams. The Celtics inch a little closer to the Raps for the one-seed, winning 99-95. Toronto butts everywhere clench a little harder.
Road to 60 Outlook
With only six games remaining and Dwane Casey trying to get his starters some valuable rest, the road to 60 wins looks like it’ll come down to the final game. Going 5-1 has never sounded too daunting for this Raptor squad, especially with how well they’ve played all season. However, when you consider four of the remaining games are against teams battling for playoff position, is 60 wins really that important?