Toronto Raptors NBA Bubble Restart Preview
TORONTO RAPTORS (46-18, 2nd place)
Where are they now: So much has changed since mid-March, but one fact remains constant: The Toronto Raptors are the defending NBA champions. They proved to be resilient in dealing with the free-agent departure of star forward Kawhi Leonard a year ago, and it stands to reason that Raptors head coach Nick Nurse will have his players focused once again as the team regroups for another deep playoff run in the strangest season on record.
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The Raptors arrived to the NBA bubble in second place in the Eastern Conference, 6 1/2 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks and three games in front of the third-place Boston Celtics. Injuries to key players such as Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet forced the Raptors to rely on a deep bench during the first part of the season, but now Toronto has returned to full health as it crosses the border for a competitive stretch of games beginning Aug. 1.
Raptors players might feel like honorary Florida residents by the time this season comes to an end. The team arrived June 22 for pre-training camp workouts because of logistical issues with staying in Canada, which would have required 14-day quarantines for anyone coming over the border from the United States to train. Every other NBA team was able to train at its home facility, and it remains to be seen whether the extended stay in the Sunshine State will help or hurt the Raptors.
“I’ve asked the guys to really self-monitor themselves, especially the veteran guys, and ease into things here a little bit,” Nurse said. “We try to get to the majority of action early in practice to avoid fatigue and get to the main part. … I’m really leaving it to them. They know their bodies best and how they’re feeling.”
Toronto Raptors First Half Highlights
The Raptors were hitting their stride just as the season skidded to a sudden stop. Toronto won 21 of its final 25 games, including a remarkable 15-game winning streak from Jan. 15-Feb. 10 and a four-game winning streak from March 3-9. However, one of the team’s losses over its final 25 games included a 108-97 setback against the Bucks. The Raptors went 0-2 against the Bucks, with both losses coming by double digits.
Pascal Siakam enjoyed a breakthrough season with a team-high 23.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest, and the Raptors will rely on him heavily when action resumes near Orlando. Feisty veteran Kyle Lowry contributed 19.7 points per game in the backcourt, which also includes a streaky scorer in VanVleet (17.6 points per game). The Raptors found ways to replace the void left by Leonard’s departure.
Toronto Raptors NBA Bubble Roster Rundown and Raptors Playoff Outlook
Toronto is healthy as it takes aim at a deep postseason run. Lowry and VanVleet are slated to start in the backcourt, while OG Anunoby and Siakam comprise the starting forwards and Serge Ibaka is set at center. Gasol figures to get plenty of minutes at center, as well, while Terence Davis and Norman Powell also will come off the bench and possess difference-making talent for the Raptors.
Toronto Raptors Playoff outlook: Barring a major surprise, the Raptors will lock up the No. 2 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto has virtually no shot at making up the difference against the top-seeded Bucks, so it just needs to fend off third-place Boston, with the aforementioned three-game gap in the standings between the teams.
The Raptors likely will face either the Brooklyn Nets or Orlando Magic in the first round. In either case, Toronto figures to be heavily favored as it braces for a more competitive matchup in the conference semifinals and potentially the conference finals.
Toronto Raptors Best bets: The Raptors are listed at +700 to win the Eastern Conference, according to the Sugar Hill betting site. Fellow Eastern Conference rival Boston is listed at +700, while the Miami Heat are +900. Of course, the overwhelming favorite is the Milwaukee Bucks at -167 to claim the conference title.
If anything goes wrong with the Bucks, it opens the door for potentially great value with a bet on the Raptors. Toronto has the depth and mindset to go deep into the playoffs, and it could capitalize if anything goes wrong with Milwaukee and Giannis Antetokounmpo ends up missing time.