The NBA is officially back, with Day 1 of the seeding games starting tonight. However, one of the issues surrounding this round of games is asking: just how meaningful are these contests for these teams? At the very least, these games are a good tune-up before the real action of the playoffs starts. Still, there are playoff seeding implications, and looking at the Raptors’ schedule, it seems like they got the short end of the stick. Or did they?
Josh Kern did an excellent job ranking the Raptors’ seeding games previously. This time, we’ll look at the other non-Toronto seeding games that could have some implications on the Raptors’ ultimate position.
There are a few things set in stone, e.g. the Milwaukee Bucks holding on to the top spot, but other storylines are still up in the air and could potentially affect who the Raptors’ face in the playoffs. Our focus is on Raptors’ bid to maintain the second seed, but we also have to wonder if a slide to third (to potentially face the hurting Pacers) may be better in the long run.
Let’s review ten seeding games that could potentially impact the Raptors’ run through the final eight regular season games and their playoff positioning.
August 1 at 7pm EST - Indiana Pacers vs. Philadelphia 76ers
This matchup was supposed to be a momentum swing game, but now with Victor Oladipo’s shaky health and Domantas Sabonis’ injury, it looks like Philly will stroll into that 4-5 matchup.
That is unless, of course, they want to avoid the Bucks in the first round. Given their easy schedule, it would be hard for Philly to tank, but then they’re used to “The Process” and losing games on purpose, so maybe... Anyway, let’s say they secure this game, then the Raptors vs. Sixers game on August 12th could very well have more of a G League feel.
Games to Watch
July 30 at 9pm EST - LA Lakers vs. LA Clippers
The first real NBA game tonight might be the New Orleans Pelicans against the Utah Jazz, but all of the attention will be on the battle of LA. The Lakers don’t really have much to play for in these seeding games, as they sit 5.5 games ahead of the Clippers. What’s left for them is pride, and to use these contests for shape-up and scouting purposes.
The Lakers most likely will approach the first few games with the intent to win, but won’t kill themselves in the process as they are already shorthanded. This game is probably the only seeding game that truly matters to them, so should they win we might see a bit of coasting for the rest of the seeding games.
Of course, if the Lakers get embarrassed by the Clippers, they might come into the Raptors game on a mission, granting Toronto’s first game a higher degree of difficulty.
July 31 at 4pm EST - Memphis Grizzlies vs. Portland Trail Blazers
The Grizzlies’ magic number is five to guarantee a play-in spot, but if they want to avoid a play-in en route to the playoffs, they must have a better seeding record than either the Blazers or the Pelicans. This first game is a tone-setter for the Grizzlies, as they need to come up with a big win to build up some momentum and put the pressure on the Pelicans when they face each other on August 3rd.
What Raptors fans should be aiming for here is for the Grizzlies to win — but we’ll get more into the Grizzlies-related implications below.
August 1 at 1pm EST - Miami Heat vs. Denver Nuggets
The Heat has one of the toughest seeding game schedules. However, their playoff spot is pretty much guaranteed to be in the 4-5 bracket. The Celtics’ soft schedule makes it hard for the Heat to overcome the 2.5 games difference, so I’m fascinated to see how they will treat these seeding games.
The Nuggets’ situation is also fascinating. The Nuggets trail the Clippers by 1.5 games. However, the Clippers’ schedule makes it hard for the Nuggets to gain any ground. Maintaining the third seed might be ideal for them as they could potentially face the Jazz, Rockets, or even the Mavericks.
A Heat loss would likely mean they go hard in their next game (vs. the Raptors), as it’s the first game of their back-to-back. Still, before we even get to that, I’m more interested to see how the Heat match up when the Nuggets go big on them.
August 2 at 3:30pm EST - Portlant Trail Blazers vs. Boston Celtics
The Raptors’ magic number is six, and Boston would have to realistically go 5-3 or higher to steal the second seed from the Raptors. It all comes down to how the Celtics view the playoff picture. That 2-seed pretty much guarantees an Orlando Magic matchup, while third place would potentially get the Pacers.
With Kemba Walker’s ailing knee, the Celtics would probably see what they can do in the first half of the seeding games while keeping an eye on the Raptors’ schedule. The Blazers will come into this game fighting for their playoff hopes, turning every game into a must-win. While we’d like to get the Grizzlies some breathing room, a Celtics loss would give the Raptors some space.
Of course, this game could be moot if Damian Lillard can’t play through his recent foot injury.
August 3 at 6:30pm EST - Memphis Grizzlies vs. New Orleans Pelicans
If the Grizzlies can take care of business against the Blazers and the Pelicans, their magic number is down to one. Even better, if the Grizzlies start 3-0 (beating the Blazers, Spurs, and Pelicans), they’ve guaranteed their play-in spot.
The Raptors face the Grizzlies on August 9th, the fifth seeding game for Toronto and sixth for Memphis. A win here by the Grizzlies and a combination of Blazers/Pelicans misfortune and we may see Toronto start to step off the gas pedal.
If the Grizzlies don’t get off to a good start, their games against the Raptors and the Celtics on the latter part of their schedule will likely become a must-win for them, unless they are content with the play-in.
August 4 at 6:30pm EST - Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics
This game is the Heat’s second game of their back-to-back, with the first coming against the Raptors. As with any Jimmy Butler-led team, there’s more than a good chance that the Heat will go after Toronto, which could turn this contest against Boston into a schedule loss.
However, if the Heat start with a losing skid, they may have to push harder against the Celtics, exhaustion be damned. Of course, for the Raptors, a Celtics loss would always be appreciated.
August 6 at 8pm EST - Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets
The ideal outcome here is for the Nuggets to win. The Nuggets need to be in a situation where the last two seeding games don’t matter to them anymore. If the Raptors somehow need a win late in their schedule, their contest against the Nuggets on the last day could be found money.
Meanwhile, as is something of a theme here, the Blazers really can’t afford to lose many games at all. Desperate times, for sure.
August 7 at 4pm - Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
This is a tough match-up for the Grizzlies, but there might be more incentive for them to push for this game. Is it too much to ask the Grizzlies to go 5-0? It’s ideal for the Grizzlies to get off to a 5-0 or a 4-1 start, for obvious reasons.
This scenario makes their games (some, if not all) against the Raptors, Celtics, and the Bucks not as meaningful. It’s also worth noting that should the Raptors get off to a good start (and/or Celtics falter), they can help the Grizzlies by taking an L to kick out the pretenders below Memphis.
August 9 at 6:30pm EST - Portland Trail Blazers vs. Philadelphia 76ers
This game is on the second night of a back-to-back for the Blazers, as they get to play the Clippers the night before. If the Blazers’ play-in hopes are still alive at this point (sixth seeding game), they will push the Sixers hard. This game could be the Sixers’ first opponent that can put up a fight in their first five games. By then, however, maybe the Sixers have secured their spot in the 4-5 playoff bracket and are just cruising to the end.
The ideal scenario for the Raptors here is for the Sixers to win. A Sixers win would make their game against the Raptors on August 12th mostly non-consequential for them.
August 11 at 6:30pm EST - Boston Celtics vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Yes, we’re rounding once again to Ja Morant, Jonas Valanciunas, and the Grizzlies. There’s a chance that Memphis might still be fighting to win games around this time, and there’s no better way for them to get one than at the expense of the Celtics.
If Boston is still somehow in the running for second place, a Grizzlies win here would be a gift to the Raptors. If nothing else, it’ll be fun to watch these contests all coming down to the wire.