Tank or fight for the play-in? Raptors Insider Lookahead April 13th-18th

The Toronto Raptors have 18 games remaining on their schedule. Sitting in 11th in the Eastern Conference standings, the Raptors are six games out of the eighth spot.

As enticing as a lottery pick may seem, Toronto would still get a solid pick in this year’s draft even if they finish 10th in the East and compete in the play-in tournament. The Raptors are two games behind the Chicago Bulls for the 10th seed.

All that being said, the Raptors still have a chance during this next four-game homestand to make a push for the play-in. This stretch will truly determine whether the rest of the season will be about competing for wins or developing for the future (tanking).

Tuesday April 13th Hawks @ Raptors 7:30pm (TSN)

We all remember what happened last time the Raptors matched up against the Atlanta Hawks. Or maybe you tried to forget the fact that Tony Snell hit a game-winning three at the buzzer.

The Hawks have won six of their last seven games and are the fourth seed in the East. Trae Young will of course be the Raptors’ main focus defensively, as he has had a stellar season averaging 25.4 points and 9.5 assists. But they can’t make the same mistake they made last time, over-committing to Young while leaving Snell open for a good look at a game-winner.

Prediction: Raptors get revenge 1-0

Player to Watch: Bogdan Bogdanovic

Bogdanovic missed 25 consecutive games this season due to a knee injury, but he has finally found his stride as of late and he’s making a big difference for the Hawks. Over the past eight games, Bogdanovic has averaged 21.6 PPG including a 32 point performance against the Charlotte Hornets yesterday where he hit a career-high eight threes.

Wednesday April 14th Spurs @ Raptors 7:30pm (TSN)

The San Antonio Spurs snapped their five-game losing streak last night thanks to some late game heroics from a familiar face, DeMar DeRozan.

It seems like it doesn’t matter who is on this roster, as long as Gregg Popovich is the head coach of the Spurs, San Antonio will always be in the playoff hunt. The last time the Raptors and Spurs faced off this season was back on December 26th. The Spurs came away with a 119-114 victory while DeRozan and Fred VanVleet both put up a game-high 27 points.

Prediction: Spurs get the narrow victory, 1-1.

Player to watch: DeMar DeRozan

DeRozan is in his contract year and is reportedly going to take an open approach to free agency this summer. Expect DeRozan to put up some big numbers against his former squad while also trying to put the league on notice that he wants to get paid this summer.

Friday April 16th Magic @ Raptors 7:30pm (TSN)

The last time the Raptors faced the Orlando Magic this season, Fred VanVleet put up a franchise-record 54 points.

My oh my, how things have changed since then. The Orlando Magic traded away their core group of Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, and Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline. Meanwhile, Fred VanVleet is continuing to recover from a hip injury, and even when he is feeling healthy enough to come back he will still have to serve a one-game suspension.

Prediction: Raptors school the young Magic, 2-1.

Player to Watch: Mo Bamba

At seven feet tall with a seven-foot-10-inch wingspan, Mo Bamba has always been an intriguing prospect. Now that Vucevic is no longer on the roster, Bamba is finally getting his chance to show whether or not he can reach his high ceiling. Over the past three games, Bamba has been solid, averaging 18 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

Sunday April 18th Thunder @ Raptors (Sportsnet)

Gary Trent Jr.’s first break out game as a Raptor was a 31-point performance in a loss to the OKC Thunder back on March 31st.

Since then, Trent has only gotten better and more confident, hitting a game-winning buzzer-beater against the Washington Wizards and putting up a new career-high 44 points on crazy efficiency against the Cavaliers on Saturday. Trent has had success against OKC even during his time with the Portland Trail Blazers. Hopefully for fans and the team, he can lead the Raptors to a much-needed win against the short-handed Thunder.

Prediction: Raptors finish home stand 3-1.

Player to watch: Luguentz Dort

Montreal-native Luguentz Dort has returned to the Thunder’s lineup after missing seven games with a concussion. OKC is dealing with several injuries right now to key players including fellow Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. I’m really not sure how the Raptors lost to this group of kids last time out and I expect them to be much better this time around.

If the Raptors are indeed able to go 3-1 over this four game home stand, they could find themselves in that 10th spot in the East. The play-in tournament has really become the main focus of the season at this point, but if the losses continue to pile up the focus will surely switch to the draft lottery.

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