The Toronto Raptors are currently in position to be the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Now, they must maintain that all-important spot.
In a season where everything is breaking right for the Toronto Raptors (except health), the franchise is looking for one more win – a top-two seed in the Eastern Conference when the postseason rolls around.
The Milwaukee Bucks all but have the top seed in the conference locked up, as they’re lapping everyone in the NBA right now. But the Raptors have positioned themselves to potentially be the second seed, which would allow them to host the first two rounds of the playoffs and maybe even the first three if the Bucks trip up in the postseason.
As it stands, the Raptors are one game ahead of the Boston Celtics in the loss column entering the All-Star break, meaning it’s going to be a fight to the finish. Coach Nick Nurse will have to use his wile to keep his team fresh for the playoffs, while prioritizing a quest for the No. 2 seed.
One way the Raptors can hang on to their seeding is to ease off the pedal for some of their stars. It might seem counterintuitive, but the NBA season can be a long slog and exhaustion begins to catch up to even the best-conditioned players.
Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are all on the wrong side of 30, so resting them on a rotation against vastly inferior teams could be a way to keep them fresh for both the postseason and for some of the more challenging games remaining on Toronto’s schedule.
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Injuries have also wreaked havoc on Toronto this season, with every member of the rotation except rookie Terence Davis missing at least some time in 2019-20. Ensuring players are fully healthy for the big games is essential – Toronto has proven more than capable of beating the bad teams this season, with a 31-2 record against sub-.500 teams prior to Wednesday’s loss against the Brooklyn Nets.
Speaking of the schedule, the best way the Raptors can hang on to their seed is to continue to beat the teams they’re supposed to and have been all year. They have the 10th-hardest schedule left this season, according to Tankathon, so it’s not smooth sailing from here on out.
That being said, there are two dates each left with the Golden State Warriors and the New York Knicks. The Toronto Raptors also close their season against the Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta Hawks, Knicks, Miami Heat and Orlando Magic. Five of those six teams could have losing records in April.
The Raptors do have three games left against the Bucks, including an unusual home-and-home at the beginning of April (which follows a home-and-home against the Memphis Grizzlies in one of the strangest scheduling oddities of the season).
They also have limited opportunities against the teams most likely to catch them in the standings, with a home game against the Celtics on March 20 and a road game at the Heat on April 14. The Raptors are a combined 1-4 against those two teams, so the importance of those games can’t be overstated.
At the moment, the Toronto Raptors are rolling right towards the Eastern Conference’s second seed. There’s still time for that train to derail, but the Raptors are setting themselves up for at least two home postseason series.