April marks a bittersweet time for NBA fans at the University of Toronto, as exam season is made slightly less dreadful with the countdown to playoff basketball underway.
With Toronto’s regular season success, Raptors fans are excited for what the postseason may bring. But are fans naïve for thinking that Toronto has any chance of making it to the NBA Finals, or possibly even winning it all?
Looking at potential first-round opponents, there’s little doubt that Toronto wouldn’t be able to easily do away with teams such as the Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat, and the Detroit Pistons in a best-of-seven series with home court advantage.
The real question facing the Raptors is how they will fare against potential second round and Conference Finals matchups with the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, and Eastern Conference favourites Milwaukee Bucks.
Looking at the Celtics, Boston has struggled since the All-Star break with a record under .500 and a bottom-10 offensive rating during this stretch.
Offensive consistency is where Toronto appears to get the edge in this matchup, as the Raptors currently sit in the top 10 for offensive rating. Also, with Pascal Siakam’s dominant performances against Boston this season, it’s difficult to imagine the Celtics getting past the Raptors in a playoff matchup.
Shifting to the 76ers, the Raptors are one of the few teams in the league who can match up effectively against the Sixers’ starting five, one of the best in the NBA, due to the athleticism that the Raptors also have at all five positions on the floor.
This is what led to Toronto’s success against Philadelphia this season, as the Raptors defeated the Sixers in three of their four regular-season matchups, with Kawhi Leonard sitting out for the Raptors in their only loss.
The Sixers have the star power, but with their poor three-point shooting and defensive liabilities, the odds in this series are in Toronto’s favour.
The Bucks are Toronto’s biggest obstacle to hopes of a conference championship, as Giannis Antetokounmpo is sure to continue his MVP-calibre season through the playoffs. But Toronto does have some advantages over Milwaukee.
With the length and athleticism of Siakam and Serge Ibaka, the Raptors have strong defensive options to limit the damage that Antetokounmpo can do on offense. The Bucks have also been hit with the injury bug late in the season, as Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell, Nikola Mirotic, and Pau Gasol are all currently nursing injuries.
If the Bucks aren’t able to get healthy down the stretch, and the Raptors are able to limit spacing on defense and make things difficult for Antetokounmpo, Toronto has a strong chance of coming out on top.
Although the Raptors have a legitimate shot at reaching the NBA Finals, envisioning a Raptors championship parade in June is nothing short of farfetched.
The Raptors would be slated to face-off against the juggernaut Golden State Warriors in the finals, who are currently the favourites by far to win the NBA Championship.
Despite playing short of their full capabilities in the regular season due to injury concerns, the Warriors currently sit atop of the highly competitive Western Conference and are entering the playoffs with quite possibly the most talent-filled starting lineup in NBA history.
The Warriors are by far the best three-point shooting team in the league and would be sure to terrorize the Raptors’ defense across a seven-game series.
Also, the Warriors have the benefit of championship experience, as they are currently eyeing their third straight NBA title, unlike the Raptors, who have many new players that are still in the process of learning how to mesh together.
All in all, if you’re a Raptors fan who’d be satisfied with a conference championship, the 2018–2019 postseason is likely to be rewarding. But if you were expecting nothing short of a Raptors title banner? Maybe next season.