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The Rap-Up Road to 60: Picking winners for the final two games

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With 58 wins and two games left: Will the Raptors hit the magic number? The Road to 60 concludes.

NBA: Miami Heat at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

In the 71-year history of the NBA, 76 teams have achieved 60 wins or more in a single season. Can the Raptors join the club? Possibly. Does it matter? Not really. When I wrote my first Raptors HQ article on January 13, predicting the Raps to finish with the best record in the East, it was a lukewarm-to-hot take on a Raptors squad that was about to hit the easy part of their schedule. In hindsight, one could say that the same premise was used when I started predicting Raptor game outcomes after the All-Star break (13/18 correct, by the by).

No, this isn’t a veiled attempt at a humble-brag. The Raptors have made my job easier by being predictable. They beat non-playoff teams and, more consistently than other teams, brought their A-game for tougher competition. No longer are the days when the Raptors played to their competition’s level.

While the Road to 60 has always had a specific goal as its mission statement, the “Road” has always been more important than the “60”. Toronto entered the All-Star break with a 7-game win-streak, All-Star guards and coaching staff, and the best record in the East. I remember wondering, “how many wins would it take to finish no. 1”? Getting a franchise record 57 would surely put us in the neighbourhood. But 60 is the kind of number that would make this season extra special.

Re-read the first sentence of this post. That’s approximately one team every season that achieves 60 wins. How amazing would it be for this Raptors team, in this season, to truly change its culture, and make the leap that this fanbase has been waiting over two decades for?

Monday, April 9 @ Detroit Pistons

Oh, my mistake, we do have one more home game.

The Raptors are in the enviable position of clinching their playoff position with enough time to rest players. Correction, here’s the enviable position every team would want: Who will play tonight? DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas rested on Sunday. Dwane Casey didn’t want to mess with the Bench Mob, so Norm Powell and Bebe Nogueira leapfrogged into the starting lineup. How good are these lineups? The Raptors have two of the five best +/- differentials for 5-man lineups (played at least 300 minutes together). And both lineups are entirely different! Casey could rest the NBA’s 3rd-ranked lineup (OG Anunoby, DeRozan, JV, Lowry, and Serge Ibaka), and still roll out the NBA’s 5th-ranked lineup (C.J. Miles, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright).

The Pistons have been eliminated from the playoffs, and have a one percent chance of landing in the top-3. Otherwise, they’ll be sending their first-round pick to the Clippers, as part of the Blake Griffin trade — who just so happens to be out for the season. What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall for the end-of-season discussion between head coach, Stan Van Gundy, and President of Basketball Operations..... Stan Van Gundy.

Prediction

No Blake + No Playoffs = No Chance for Detroit. Raptors won’t need overtime this time around, winning 114-108. Before we move on. Quick: name the Pistons starters in their previous game! Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson? That’s easy. Stanley Johnson? Good job, keep going. Luke Kennard? You sure you didn’t cheat? Anthony Tolliver? Okay, you definitely cheated because his career ended a month ago.

Wednesday, April 11 @ Miami Heat

What a perplexing team to predict. Pounding the Cleveland LeBrons by 19, but following that up with losses to the Nets at home, and Knicks by 24! The Heat have given the Raptors a hard time this season — ending their 12-game home win streak in January, then losing a tight one, 115-112, that was also in Toronto. But here’s an interesting stat for Raps fans. Miami has lost twice each to possible six-seed opponents, Cleveland and Philadelphia. However, the’re 3-2 combined against possible 7-or-8-seed opponents, Boston and Toronto.

With the Thunder in town on Monday, is it possible Erik Spoelstra throws the final two games for a more favourable playoff match-up? If these two meet in the first round, it would lack the star power a Raps-Bucks or Raps-Wizards match-up would. Would the NBA dare put Raps-Heat in the Saturday 12:30 time slot? A spot generally saved for “second-tier” playoff match-ups. A time slot where you’re definitely not seeing Houston or Golden State. Whoa, my mind has drifted. Let’s just jump straight to the prediction.

Prediction

The Raps and Heat have two of the league’s best defenses — 5th and 6th, respectively, in Defensive Rating. With many players probably sitting, this may be a low-scoring affair. Toronto is 6-8 when held under 100 points. You thought I was going to predict the Raptors to get #60, didn’t you? Heat win 96-89.

Road to 60 Outlook

Whether or not Toronto gets 60, wasn’t this fun? While it would’ve been nice to tie a pretty bow around a 60-win season, it would’ve been a fruitless pursuit if it also meant sacrificing valuable rest for our stars.

This has been a season of knocking over obstacles. Raptors can’t shoot? Toronto’s rank fifth in 3-pointers made. Raptors run too much iso? Toronto rank sixth in assists per game. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry choke in the playoffs? That’ll get knocked over in the very first playoff game — just please don’t let it be scheduled on Saturday afternoon!