My Initial Thoughts On The Raptors 2018-19 Schedule
The NBA released every team’s schedule for this season on August 10. To no ones surprise, the Raptors aren't playing on Christmas or MLK day even though they deserve to. The Raptors have been among the top teams in the league for the past few years and with the addition of a superstar - you’d think they’d maybe be in a marquee game. They do play Opening Night but no others. They will be a top team again in the East and with the conference looking like the weaker again, they should have another great regular season. They play 10 East teams four times and four East teams three time.
You can find their full schedule here
The amount of times they play each team is broken out like this:
4 games: Phi, Brk, NYK, Bos, Chi, Cle, Mil, Orl, Mia, Was
3 games: Det, Ind, Atl, Cha
2 games: Western Conference teams
This is the Raptors most nationally televised year
The Raptors are playing a total of 27 times on national TV this season. 12 of them are on NBATV so they really only have 15 games games televised on the big broadcast (7 on TNT and 8 on ESPN). 15 is the most in franchise history since 2001-02; which was the year after the Raptors were one shot away from the Finals. They're getting a little more respect around the league but it should be more. In comparison, Philadelphia and Boston both have 27 national televised games. The Raptors are a team who will be just as good if not better than both teams next season. They should have at least close to the same amount of games on national TV.
Having 15 games playing in the States is a good thing for a team and city who have been notoriously under covered because of the cost it takes to bring a production crew across the border. They have two games that will be nationally televised on opening week so if they get off to a good start, people will take notice and hopefully call for more. Each of their nationally televised games are against top tier teams. Each of the Sixers and Celtics game will be broadcasted nationally (6 of 8 on ESPN or TNT), both Golden State games, and the return of Kawhi Leonard and Demar Derozan will also be broadcasted nationally.
Games To Circle On The Calendar:
Oct 17 - Vs Cleveland Cavaliers
There is a lot of excitement surrounding the home opener this season. The franchise has shaken things up with a new coach and a questioned superstar in the mix. Toronto will look very different this season and this first game will hopefully give a good luck at how they will be able to compete for the rest of the season and answer any questions we have had about Kawhi's health since last year.
Oct 30 - Vs Philadelphia 76ers
This is the first time the Raptors will face a real powerhouse in the season and the first time they will be truly tested (First Celtics game doesn’t count because Hayward and Kyrie will be getting used to playing together and will be one of their first games back after injury). If they can get a win against a good team this early in the season, they will have confidence and swagger to keep this team near the top of the conference (hopefully) through the season.
Nov 4 - @ Los Angeles Lakers
Kawhi’s first look at Lebron since his injury and time off. This will be the first test of Kawhi’s talents and ability to play against the best player in the world and by this point in the season, the rust should be shaken off. Other than Kawhi, the rest of the team gets to show how they’ve improved and how they look playing against the guy who dominated them just three months ago.
Nov 14 - Vs Detroit Pistons
More of an emotional celebration than a talent based game. This is Dwayne Casey’s first time coming back to Toronto since he was fired and picked up by the Pistons this off season. It will be exciting to see the inevitable standing ovation from the fans and the reactions from the players when he gets introduced that night.
Nov 29 & Dec 12 - Vs & @ Golden State Warriors
Both of these games will be a showcasing of the new and improved Raptors defence. Playing the best team/offence in the world (and maybe ever) will push the Raptors and will show how much the defence has really changed. We'll get to see how big of an impact Kawhi and Danny Green have to this team and if the Raptors are actual contenders. Both of these games are nationally televised so if the Raptors can put up a good fight and compete, they will gain more respect and fans around the league.
Feb 22 - Vs San Antonio Spurs
This is another one of those emotional games as it’s Demar Derozan’s return to Toronto. It will be fun to see him back in the city and the love that everyone will give him when he’s here. I assume he’ll have a pretty solid game in front of the Toronto crowd and it will be an emotional one. We can also see whether Kawhi or Derozan looks better at that point in the season and how they match up against each other. It’s also a good look at how both teams have improved/declined from previous seasons due to this blockbuster deal.
Feb 26 - Vs Boston Celtics
By this point in the season, both teams will be 50+ games in to the year and any rust and chemistry issues will be fixed. Kawhi, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving will have gotten back (or close) to their usual all-star level selves so this will be the best game to analyze the matchup. Just like last season against Houston, the Raptors will be playing one of the best teams in the league late in the year. The late season game against Houston was regarded as the most important game for them all year because it was a good look at whether the Raptors were for real or not. I think this game could have the same implications and be just as important.
Six of the Raptors first eight games are against teams who made the playoffs. Cleveland (without Lebron), Boston, Washington (6 game series in the first round last year), Minnesota, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. This will be an especially tough stretch because in normal circumstances, this will be their adjustment period trying to get comfortable with a new coach and a new superstar.
They also have three four game road trips - the hardest of them being from Dec 11th - Dec 16th where they play: LA Clippers on Dec 11th, Golden State on Dec 12th, Portland on Dec 14th and Denver on Dec 16th.
This stretch has the Raptors playing two teams that will be fighting to make the playoffs by the end of the year and two teams that will be making the playoffs at the top of the West. Not to mention, they have to play the Warriors on the second half of a back-to-back which everyone knows is the toughest type of game, especially against that caliber of a team. Before these four games, they have a game at home on the 9th against a tough and physical team that can wear them out in Milwaukee. I can see them winning three of the possible four games in this stretch, losing only to the Warriors.
To counter the tough start to the season, the last nine games are the easiest stretch. In those nine games, they play only two teams that made the playoffs last season: Miami and Minnesota. The other seven games they play are against Charlotte, Chicago, New York, Chicago again, Orlando, Brooklyn and Charlotte again ending the season off against Miami then Minnesota.
If the Raptors are healthy and in good form, the Raptors can easily go 8-1, maybe 9-0 to top off the season. Since they have a good chance to go on an impressive run to end the year, they will have a lot of confidence going into the playoffs. That bode of confidence will hopefully help the team get deep into the playoffs and potentially make the Finals.
Do They Have A Tough Or Easy Schedule?
It’s actually a pretty easy schedule for the team. The Raptors are going to be a really good squad this season and since they’re playing in the East, they have several games against teams that won’t be contending for the playoffs and teams that are just bad. The league has the least back-to-back games ever (team average of 13.3) and the same can be said for three games in four nights. The Raptors only have 12 back-to-backs which is less than the league average and only 11 sets of three games in four nights. This means less tired legs, less rest near the end of the season and better travel schedules.
The beginning of the season for the Raptors is much more difficult than the end. They start off with a very heavy road schedule and play a lot of the tougher teams early on. Towards the end of the year on the other hand, they play at home more and, like I said in the last section, they play more bad teams. The combination of being a good team and the breakout of the schedule makes them the 5th lowest in terms of Strength of Schedule:
They also rank 6th lowest in Miles travelled:
Although the Raptors will have a bit of a transitional period, they will be more than okay. They will once again finish at the top of the East and with good confidence and fresh legs going into the playoffs, they should be a contender to make the Finals. As the season goes along and the competition lightens, the team will get more comfortable playing with each other and will give fans a lot to look forward to.