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The Raptors 2020-21 first half schedule breakdown: Key dates and season preview

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Toronto’s 26th season is to be like none other! Let’s take a look at the first half schedule and prepare ourselves.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the world, the NBA and the Toronto Raptors had to compromise on a set-location outside of Toronto for their season to go on. After some debate, it was decided: the Raptors will tip-off their 26th season of existence in their new temporary home of Tampa, Florida at Amalie Arena.

Last week, the NBA released the schedule for all teams this past Friday. There’s a catch, though: the season is broken into two halves and will be 72 games instead of the usual 82. The first half of the season goes from December 23 to March 4. The All-Star break (without the festivities) will follow after from March 5-10 and the second half of the season will begin on March 11 to May 16. The new play-in tournament will start on May 18-21, with the NBA Playoffs commencing on May 22 to July 22.

With the logistics and the NBA calendar dates out of the way, let’s review the first half of the Raptors’ season schedule.

Schedule Breakdown

First, while every game for the Raptors is technically a road game, we still have to break down the first 37 games into the two standard categories: home and away, by month. Take a look.

As you can see, Toronto will play 17 games at their temporary home of Amalie Arena, and 20 games on the road. To jump ahead: this means they’ll play 19 games at home and 16 games on the road in the second half of the season.

Luckily, the Raptors will only have five sets of back-to-backs in the first-half schedule, which is a four-way tie for the fewest back-to-backs in the league. While this is a good sign, there’s a chance Toronto may play way more back-to-backs in the second half of the season to balance it out. Brace yourself, in any case.

The season does get a little tricky in January and February for the Raps as they will have five sets of the dreaded 3-games-in-4-nights variety. February also includes a brutal six-game road trip that also includes a stretch of four games in six nights.

Season-Series Breakdown

Since this season has ben condensed to 72 games, there won’t be any four-game season series, regardless of divisional opponents or teams within the same conference. Instead, there will be three-game season-serieses between all teams within the same conference, for a total of 42 games played within their respective conference. There’s a neat bit of logic there — a whole season of best-of-3s!

The season series for teams in the same conference is randomized by the league office in terms of which team gets to have two games at home and one on the road or one game at home and two games on the road. Again, not as important to the Raptors right now, but something to keep in mind.

Meanwhile, regarding interconference play, the Raps will play each Western Conference team twice, one at home and one on the road, for a total of 30 games per usual.

In the first half of the season, the Raptors will play 24 games against teams in the Eastern Conference and 13 games against teams in the Western Conference. Which means, in the second half of the season Toronto will play 18 games against East teams and 17 games against West teams.

National TV Games

The Raptors won’t have the national TV spotlight as much this season — but that just gives Toronto fans more grievances to air at the naysayers! Toronto will play four games on national TV, which is split between ESPN and TNT, including another three on NBATV, for a total of seven national TV appearances. Those games are:

National TV Broadcast Schedule:

Jan. 2 at New Orleans Pelicans on NBA TV at 6:30 p.m.

Jan. 16 vs. Charlotte Hornets on NBA TV at 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 24 at Indiana Pacers on NBA TV at 3:30 p.m.

Feb. 5 at Brooklyn Nets on ESPN at 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 18 at Milwaukee Bucks on TNT at 6:30 p.m.

Feb. 24 at Miami Heat on ESPN at 7:30 p.m.

Mar. 4 at Boston Celtics on TNT at 7:00 p.m.

And here is the full first-half of the season sked for the Raptors:

Key Games and Dates for the Season

This may be a season like no other, but the Raptors are still going to play some games against old friends and foes. It’s time to keep track of all that — so here are some key dates to circle on your calendar!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020, at 7:30 PM – vs. New Orleans Pelicans | Season Opener

For the second season in a row, the Raptors will open their season against the Pelicans. Led by Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, this should be an exciting game to kick-off the season.

Saturday, December 26, 2020, at 7:30 PM – at San Antonio Spurs | Boxing Day Clash

The Raptors won’t play on Christmas Day but as usual, they will play on Boxing Day against former Raptor DeMar DeRozan and his Spurs. Toronto last played on Boxing Day in the 2018-19 season and their overall record on the stat holiday is 8-6.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020, at 7:00 PM – at Philadelphia 76ers| First Rival Meeting

The Raps will get an early meeting with the 76ers, who tweaked their team during the offseason. They sent out Josh Richardson and Al Horford and brought in Seth Curry, Dwight Howard, and former Raptor Danny Green. This theoretically should give the 76ers more space and shooting to operate, which they lacked last season. With regards to the game, Joel Embiid will surely look to punish the Raptors since Marc Gasol is now in Los Angeles. Here’s hoping Aron Baynes can step up.

Thursday, December 31, 2020, at 7:30 PM – vs. New York Knicks | New Year’s Eve Bash

For as bad as 2020 has been, it feels right for the Raptors to tip into 2021 after a contest against the lowly Knicks. It’s not a game to be excited for — but we can be happy this calendar year is finally ending!

Thursday, January 4, 2021, at 7:30 PM – vs. Boston Celtics | Showdown with the Celtics

After a heartbreaking Game 7 finish to last season, the Raptors meet the Celtics for the first time in 2021. Back in the Bubble, there were plenty of highs in that series, like OG Anunoby’s miraculous game-winner in Game 3 and the otherworldly Game 6 double-OT win. This first meeting may trigger some tough Game 7 memories but it will be a chance to exact some small measure of revenge.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at 7:00 PM – at Phoenix Suns | First look at New Suns

The Suns went out and made a blockbuster trade to acquire Chris Paul from the Thunder to form a big 3 (?) with Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton. We have yet to see what this pairing will look like but it suggests a lethal offensive team, if nothing else.

Wednesday, January 10, 2021, at 5:30 PM – at Golden State Warriors | NBA Finals Rematch

The Raptors took on the Warriors once last season and won 121-113 in what was something of a botched Finals rematch. Stephen Curry had returned from his 58-game absence due to a hand injury, but Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were both out due to injuries. Curry did light up the Raps for 23 points in 27 minutes but as you may recall: it was Norman Powell who stole the show. Stormin’ Norman went off for a career-high 37 points, which helped him win the last Eastern Conference Player of the Week award before the season was suspened. While we’ll never quite have a true NBA Finals rematch between these two teams, this should still be a fun contest!

Wednesday, January 11, 2021, at 7:00 PM – at Portland Trail Blazers | Juggernaut Offense

The Trail Blazers are a loaded team. While their defense may be average, they always have Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to keep the team in games. Never forget last season’s meeting in Portland where the Raptors, without Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, were led by Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam to a 114-106 win, while holding Lillard to nine points, snapping his streak of 230 games of recording double-digit points. Let’s hope for a repeat.

Monday, January 18, 2021, at 7:30 PM – vs. Dallas Mavericks | MLK Day

The last home game against the Mavs was a special one. Down 30 in the third quarter with just under three minutes left, Lowry and co. pulled off the unthinkable, outscoring Dallas 47-21 to win 110-107. We can only hope for more magic from Lowry on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day matchup against Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, and the Mavericks.

Wednesday/Friday, January 20/22, 2021 at 7:30 PM – vs. Miami Heat | Another Ugly Game?

The Raptors will get their first look at Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo’s Heat team in a two-game home series in Tampa. We all know how ugly Miami-Toronto games are — just look back at their game in the NBA Bubble — but this will be a good test for Toronto.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021, at 7:30 PM – vs. Milwaukee Bucks | Continued Recruitment

The first meeting between Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Raptors this season will take place in Tampa. Nothing else to report here. Definitely no tampering news.

Friday, February 5, 2021, at 7:30 PM – at Brooklyn Nets | The Ky & KD Show

This will be the first meeting the Raps will have against Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. This will also be — by my accounting —- one of the more exciting games in the first-half schedule.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021, at 7:30 PM – at Washington Wizards | Two Offensive Wizards

We don’t quite know what to expect from a Russell Westbrook-Bradley Beal backcourt just yet, but one thing we should expect: explosive fun on offense. Lowry and VanVleet will have their hands in slowing those two down — but they should also be able to squeeze past them on the other end of the floor.

Tuesday/Thursday, February 16/18, 2021, at 7:00/6:00: PM – at Milwaukee Bucks | Final Pitch

These will be the last two meetings the Raptors will have against the Bucks in the regular season — a two-game away series in Milwaukee. Toronto will need to make one good last effort in swaying Giannis to sign with Toronto in the summer. But let’s be cool about it.

Sunday/Tuesday, February 21/23, 2021 at 6:00/7:30 PM – vs. Philadelphia 76ers | Ring Night?

Danny Green makes his long-awaited return to Toron—to Tampa… to potentially receive his 2019 championship ring? Well, Green said he would like to receive his ring in Toronto with fans in the arena, which comically may not happen until next season.

Friday, February 26, 2021, at 7:30 PM – vs. Houston Rockets | Houston Has a Problem

Since this contest is deep into February, we don’t know what to expect from this Houston Rockets team. As it stands right now, their roster makeup with James Harden, John Wall, and up-and-coming big man Christian Wood should provide some sort of show. But what if Harden is traded? Best to circle this one in pencil.

Thursday, March 4, 2021, at 7:30 PM – at Boston Celtics | Last First-Half Game

This is final game of the first half of the season before the All-Star break begins. The Raptors will need to finish off on a high note and grab a win against this Celtics team before going into the break. It could be crucial down the final stretch of the regular season.

Tough Stretches This Season

The Raptors are in for some tough times, and with the circumstances on hand it only makes this season just a little more difficult. Here are some particular rough patches that factor in strong teams, back-to-backs, three-games-in-four-nights, and road trips.

January

Jan. 4 vs. Boston Celtics | Jan. 6 at Phoenix Suns | Jan. 8 at Sacramento Kings | Jan. 10 at Golden State Warriors | Jan. 11 at Portland Trail Blazers |

Jan. 20/22 vs. Miami Heat | Jan. 24/25 at Indiana Pacers | Jan. 27 vs. Milwaukee Bucks

February

Feb. 2-12 six-game road trip: at Orlando Magic, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics.

Feb. 16-26: at Milwaukee Bucks (two-game road series), at Minnesota Timberwolves, vs. Philadelphia 76ers (two-game home series), at Miami Heat, vs. Houston Rockets.

72-game Road Trip?

As mentioned earlier, this season will indeed be a grueling one for the Raptors. They will be travelling the most miles in the league throughout the first half of the season. While the NBA did make an effort in cutting travel with two-game home/away series, it seems it wasn’t enough to actually lower the miles travelled.

Nonetheless, the Raptors will find a way to grind it out and make the most out of this season, given the circumstances. Now, stay tuned for our second-half season schedule breakdown whenever it becomes available.