Despite having the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since the 2007-08 campaign safely in the bag, the Toronto Raptors are by no means in cruise control with 10 games remaining; instead of resting their starters, the week ahead is likely to force the Atlantic Division leaders to play some of the their best basketball.
At the end of Sunday, the Raptors held a 2.5 game lead over the Brooklyn Nets, who have also crept into the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed after a start that had first-year head coach Jason Kidd reconsidering his recent career change.
Trailing the first-place Indiana Pacers in the conference by 9.5 games, the Raptors have been the lead dog of a pack that’s hungry for a playoff existence. This group has consisted of the Chicago Bulls, Nets and Washington Wizards for the past couple of months, and with just four games between them the next two weeks should be interesting.
Beginning with Monday’s visit to the Miami Heat in south Florida, Toronto’s week won’t be easy with home games against the Pacers on Wednesday and the Houston Rockets on Friday. In seven games against those three teams this season, Toronto has gone a combined 1-6, with its only win coming on New Year’s Day in a tilt with Indiana at the Air Canada Center.
With the Bulls just one game back of the Raptors in the East and the Nets only 1.5 games behind Chicago, Toronto can’t afford to go winless over the next five days. After Friday however, each of the Raptors’ last six regular season games will come against teams that currently sport losing records and began planning their respective draft strategies over a month ago.
Buy comparison, beginning on March 31, the Bulls will face three teams headed for the playoffs over their last nine games and only two with winning records, while the Nets will also meet trio of playoff teams as well as just two that currently own records above .500 over their final 10 contests.
Washington has a schedule a little less friendly than the others beginning on Monday, and will square off against four playoff teams over its final nine outings. But with two of those coming versus the Charlotte Bobcats, the Wizards will also see only two opponents with winning records before the postseason.