As of today, the Toronto Raptors sit at a 6-10 record. This is good enough for first place in the woeful Atlantic Division and by definition fourth in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors have had a modest schedule early on, but the month of December promises to test the squad much more.
Through October and November, the Raptors have played only five Western Conference opponents (one of them being the horrendously bad 3-15 Utah Jazz) and the Raptors are 2-3 against them. Not bad, especially considering that two of those games were on the road and all those opponents are projected Western Conference playoff teams (minus the lowly Jazz). On the flip side, the Raptors have struggled to protect their home court, sporting a 3-6 record thus far against much lesser competition within the Eastern Conference. In short, the team has been inconsistent. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to Raptor fans as the team’s youth (average age of 25.3), coupled with the roster’s holes, and the collective inability of the team to cure the team’s offensive woes, are all equally at play right now.
The Raptors definitely have the talent to emerge as a playoff team out East, but the gap is closing between them and the rest of the Atlantic Division. As of today, no team in the Atlantic sits any more than three games back of the Raptors. That’s an uneasy thought for some Raptor fans as many in Raptor nation are hopeful that the franchise will make it to the postseason for the first time in over five years. The Atlantic Division has been surprisingly terrible so far, but that doesn’t mean that one of the division’s sleeping giants (ex. New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets) won’t eventually wake up and actually come to play one of these days. If they do, the Raptors may be hard pressed to keep their throne on top of the Atlantic Division.
As December has now rolled around, the Raptors immediately embark on a three-game west coast trip where the franchise has been historically bad. In total, the team faces seven Western Conference opponents in the month of December; amongst them are the San Antonio Spurs (twice), Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers (remember Kobe Bryant should be back in the lineup), and Phoenix Suns, respectively. Raptor nation shouldn’t bank on the dinos claiming too many Ws out West so it’s imperative that the Raps feast on the weaker Eastern Conference competition. The only problem is that even the East schedule isn’t too generous this month. The Raptors will travel twice to the Windy City to play the Chicago Bulls which will surely be a tough pair of games considering the pride of the Bulls’ players and brilliance of Tom Thibodeau and his coaching staff. The Raptors will also then have a home and home series with the Knicks, two must-wins if they are to distance themselves from the Atlantic pack. The 76ers also come to town on Dec.13, another crucial game as they are currently only trailing the Raptors by one game. In total, the Raptors have nine of 13 games on the road in the month of December.
The Raptors can only hope that the Knicks continue to sputter along and the Nets continue to succumb to injuries as the Raps will be given no early season breaks through the NBA schedule. This young squad will be tested during this month, and it will start tonight at Oracle Arena. Buckle up Raptor nation; this ride could get bumpy.