Last Friday, the NBA shared with the world its schedule for the restart of the 2019-20 NBA season. Should everything proceed according to plan, each team, including the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors (never gets old, typing that) will play eight “seeding games,” starting July 30 in Orlando. These eight games will help determine final seeding for the NBA Playoffs, scheduled to begin mid-August.
So: Eight games to get in shape. To make sure everyone is, and stays, healthy. To re-establish chemistry, to define roles for the playoffs, to work on new sets and plays that might make the difference between a playoff win or an early exit.
But all of that aside — are these games going to be any good? Let’s look at Toronto’s eight opponents and rank all eight games on basis of their impact on the playoff chase, how tough they’re going to be, and perhaps most importantly, how fun they're going to be.
8. Miami Heat, August 3, 1:30 p.m.
Fun Factor: 2/10. Please, for the love of god, do not give us a repeat of this game. 76 points!! Defensive matchups are fine and all, but I did not enjoy seeing the Raptors miss 36 three-point attempts. It’s also gonna be game two for both these teams, so there will likely still be rust to shake off... and it’s at 1:30 p.m., too.
Challenge Factor: 8/10. Jimmy Butler (heavy sigh). Even if you took away the fact that the Heat are well-coached, are excellent defensively, have good size, and shoot the ball well from three, all things that have helped them win 41 games, they’d still have Jimmy Butler. He’s been haunting the Raptors for years, and shows no sign of slowing down.
Playoff Implications Factor 4/10: Miami still has an outside shot at the three-seed, but it seems likely they’ll finish between four and six. Should the Raptors fall to third, that makes them a potential first-round matchup as well.
Final Watchability Score: 14/30
7. Denver Nuggets, August 14, TBD
Fun Factor: 8/10. It’s fun to watch (Canadian!) Jamal Murray cook, and it’s fun to watch (Skinny!?) Nikola Jokic fling impossible passes all around the court. But this is the last game of the seeding schedule, and it seems likely both teams will have locked up their playoff placement. Will we even get to see Murray and Jokic?
Challenge Factor: 7/10. Denver has a great record at 43-22, but on paper, everything about them seems to scream “middle-of-the-pack”. They’re top-10 in offense, and in assist percentage, but not much else. I feel like the Raptors are just in a different class at this point. Still, you never know until they play the games — although again, this may not be much of a game if both teams decide to rest key players.
Playoff Implications Factor: 1/10. I expect things will all be settled at this point, and I don’t expect this to be a Finals preview, so, not much at stake. But there are two scenarios where this game matters for Toronto. Keeping in mind that Boston plays their final game on August 13, the following outcomes are in play:
- If the Raptors beat the Celtics on the 7th, but the Celtics have a half-game lead on the Raptors at this point, then this will be a must-win for the Raptors, in order to tie Boston in the standings and win the two-seed tie-breaker.
- If the Celtics beat the Raptors on the 7th, but the Raptors have a half-game lead at this point, then a Raptors loss means a tie in the standings, and the Celtics win the two-seed tie-breaker.
That’s a very specific set of circumstances though, that probably won’t happen, in which case, this game means very little.
Final Watchability Score: 16/30
6. Philadelphia 76ers, August 12, 6:30 p.m
Fun Factor: 5/10. Are Raptors-76ers games fun? They kind of make me want to pull my hair out. And it’s not because I dislike good defensive matchups. I feel like Philly takes a lot of bad shots, which makes them tough to watch, and they’re so good at taking the Raptors out of what they want to do, it’s not great fun watching the teams go the other way either. And, given the potential of (another!) second-round matchup between these teams, Nick Nurse might not empty the bag of tricks in this one — and it’s game seven of eight, which means both teams may have locked in their playoff positioning. Still, I’ll take every opportunity to watch Joel Embiid struggle against Marc Gasol. Plus, every Raptors-Sixers matchup is another opportunity to show highlights of Kawhi’s Shot, and I am always down for that!
Challenge Factor: 8/10. We know the 76ers well, and we know that, despite the flaws in their roster, with their size and defensive capabilities (sixth in halfcourt defense, according to Cleaning the Glass), the 76ers are a tough matchup for the Raptors. But, if the Raptors are fully healthy, their depth — particularly if Norman Powell continues to score so well off the bench — should make the difference in this matchup.
Playoff Implications Factor: 4/10. The Sixers won’t catch up to the Raptors, and it seems unlikely that they’ll catch the Celtics either. They also can’t fall to 7th. I wonder if they’d actually prefer to end up sixth? If they make it to the 4-5 matchup, they’ll have to face the Bucks in Round 2, should they advance. By staying in 6th, they’d face the winner of the 2 vs. 7 matchup in round two (even if it meant a tougher first-round matchup — Toronto or Boston, as opposed to Indiana or Miami). Hmm. Could this be a potential Round One preview?
Final Watchability Score: 17/30
5. Orlando Magic, August 5, 8:00 p.m.
Fun Factor: 7/10. The Magic are actually a pretty fun team to watch, with a strong inside-outside game, some great athletes, a scrappy defense and of course, our old friend Terence Ross.
Challenge Factor: 5/10. That scrappy defense can be a challenge for our Raptors, who have dropped to 12th in the league in offensive rating and 14th in half court efficiency, according to Cleaning the Glass. On the other hand, Orlando is ranked 22nd in halfcourt offense, and the Raptors second in halfcourt defense, so while this may be a defensive battle, ultimately the Raptors should have no problem dispatching the Magic.
Playoff Implications Factor: 6/10. This is one of Toronto’s two games against sub-.500 teams (Memphis being the other), and it’s important for the Raps to take care of business, since the rest of the schedule is so tough. Beyond that, the Magic may be Toronto’s first-round playoff opponent again, so it could be an important tune-up.
Final Watchability Score: 18/30
4. Memphis Grizzlies, August 9, 2:00 p.m.
Fun Factor: 9/10. The Raptors and Grizzlies haven’t played each other since the Marc Gasol trade, so this will be our first chance to see Jonas Valanciunas play against the Raptors. It’ll also be our first chance to see Ja Morant play, and to see Jaren Jackson Jr. as a sophomore. Beyond that the Grizzlies are an athletic team that likes to get out and run (top three in the league in possessions that start in transition) and move the ball well (top eight in assist percentage). And hey — they have two Canadians on the roster too! I’m really looking forward to this one. The only thing keeping it from being a 10: It’s a mid-afternoon game. Ugh.
Challenge Factor: 6/10. There will be some unfamiliarity here, since these two teams haven’t faced each other before. The Grizzlies are big (Jackson, at 6’3”, is their smallest starter), which could be problematic with the Raptors’ small backcourt. And for the Grizzlies, who are hanging on to that eighth seed, every win counts, which means they should be playing at top intensity But the Raptors are the better team here, and since this is the fifth game on the schedule, the team should be fully back into shape and humming.
Playoff Implications Factor: 6/10. As with the Magic, it’s important that the Raptors beat the “bad” teams on their schedule, since every other game is so damn tough. But this has far greater implications for Memphis’ playoff hopes than those of the Raptors.
Final Watchability Score: 21/30
3. Milwaukee Bucks, August 10, 6:30 p.m.
Fun Factor: 7/10. Who doesn’t love watching Giannis Antetokounmpo? He’s the MVP and a human cheat code, an unstoppable freight train with arms and legs flying everywhere. I’m not sure the rest of his team is very watchable, though. They’re awfully predictable, outside of Giannis, thanks to Mike “Never Adjust” Budenholzer. Khris Middleton is good, but not exciting. Brook Lopez is exceedingly punchable. I guess it’s fun watching Eric Bledsoe fall to pieces trying to guard Kyle Lowry?
Challenge Factor: 9/10. The Bucks are the best team in the league, a well-oiled machine whose pieces fit together exceedingly well. He might be predictable, but Budenholzer has the personnel to put everything he wants to do into action. Does Nick Nurse have enough monkey-wrenches to make said machine break down? We may not see it here, as Nurse might hold back any surprises for a potential playoff matchup. The only reason this isn’t a 10 is that the Bucks should have wrapped the top seed by this point, and without much to play for, might choose to rest some bodies.
Playoff Implications Factor: 6/10. The Bucks may not have much to play for, but if the Raptors haven’t sewn up the two-seed by the time of this meeting (their sixth game) then a win here will be critical.
Final Watchability Score: 22/30
2. Los Angeles Lakers, August 1, 8:30 p.m.
Fun Factor: 10/10. This is the champs’ first game (and LA’s second) so it might be sloppy. But the excitement will be off the charts! I know that, despite all of my many, many misgivings about this whole restart, I’m already looking forward to this one. It’s the Lakers! LeBron James! A potential Finals matchup!
Challenge Factor: 10/10. The Lakers are the second-best team in the league, have probably the second-best player ever still playing at a high level and have a defensive player of the year candidate in Anthony Davis. The rest of the roster might seem like an odd mish-mash of parts, but Frank Vogel has made it work. They’re second in fast break scoring, sixth in halfcourt offense, and have the third-best defense. They will, however, be missing Avery Bradley, but I don’t think his absence can keep the Lakers from being a true test for the champs.
Playoff Implications Factor 3/10: Other than it being important for both teams to pick up early wins, there aren’t really any playoff implications here — unless it is, indeed, a chance for both of these teams to size each other up, should they meet in the Finals.
Final Watchability Score: 23/30
1. Boston Celtics, August 7, 8:00 p.m.
Fun Factor: 9/10. The Raptors and Celtics have had some pretty great matchups over the past several years; it might even be Toronto’s best rivalry, even though they’ve never met in the playoffs. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are fun young players to watch and root for (Gordon Haywood is the exact opposite on both counts), Kemba Walker can go off anytime (and has, many times, against the Raptors) and Marcus Smart is probably captain of the “guy you hate but would love to have on your own team” team. He and Kyle Lowry are pretty much the Spider-Man meme brought to life.
Challenge Factor: 10/10. The Celtics are good. They have a deep cadre of big, long wings, solid bodies up front, and of course, the pesky Smart. They’re well coached (Brad Stevens has become overrated in recent years, but he’s still a good coach). They're top-five in both offensive and defensive rating. It’s a darn good matchup, and would probably make for a darn good playoff series. Speaking of...
Playoff Implications Factor: 10/10. This is probably the most important game on the schedule for both teams. Boston needs to make up three games to overtake Toronto for the second seed (and a likely easier first-round opponent) and a win here would also give them the tiebreaker, with a 3-1 season series victory. A Raptors win would give them an extra game up and the tiebreaker (thanks to division record). The game is also in the middle of the schedule for both teams, meaning the standings will still be in question. This is the big one, folks.
Final Watchability Score: 29/30
All of the above, of course, assumes health and safety for all of the players, and that certainly isn’t a given. But, fingers crossed, if everything goes according to plan, we’ve got some good, exciting basketball to come.