Photo credit: Nathan Denette/CP
The Toronto Raptors will resume the second half of the NBA regular season starting Thursday night in Tampa against the Atlanta Hawks. The Raptors had a very tough first half of the season, due in large part to injuries and positive COVID tests among their players and coaching staff.
But now it’s time to put the excuses to the side, as the schedule will only get more difficult for the Raptors who are sitting at eighth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 17-19.
The Raptors have debatably the most difficult schedule in the league in the second half of the season, which features a flat-out scary five-game stretch from April 27th to May 4th. In the span of eight days, the Raptors will face the Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers. All of those games except against Brooklyn are on the road.
Not only will they face all those teams in five straight games, but they will also face each of them twice at some point during the next 35 games. Let’s have a look at the Raptors’ most difficult and anticipated matchups in the second half of the season.
vs. Utah Jazz, March 19th
The Utah Jazz have been on fire this season, with a league-leading record of 27-9 and three All-Star selections. Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, and head coach Quinn Snyder have this team looking like a well-oiled machine. The team chemistry is on point and they had some amazing ball movement highlights throughout the first half of the year.
vs. Denver Nuggets, March 24th
Offensively, the Denver Nuggets are a nightmare to guard and Nikola Jokic presents the Raptors with a big mismatch issue at the centre position. Kitchener-native Jamal Murray was on a tear before the break and it’s always a treat for Canada Basketball fans to watch one of the best Canadian players in the world.
vs. Phoenix Suns, March 26th
The Phoenix Suns went undefeated during the NBA’s Bubble restart in Orlando and the additions of Chris Paul and Jae Crowder have brought some key veteran leadership to this team. Led by their young stars Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, the Suns are currently sitting at second in the Western Conference with a record of 24-11.
vs. Los Angeles Lakers, April 6th
The Raptors will get their first look at LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers this season on April 6th. Anthony Davis is still recovering from a calf issue and it’s unclear if the Raptors will have to worry about that big man matchup for at least their first meeting with the Lakers. Despite Davis’ injury, the Lakers are currently third in the Western Conference and we all know that a LeBron James-led team is hard to beat on any given night.
vs. San Antonio Spurs, April 14th
It’s always bittersweet watching the former Raptor DeMar DeRozan matchup against Toronto. In their first meeting this season (all the way back on Boxing Day), DeRozan played very well leading the San Antonio Spurs to a 119-114 win. Raptors fans always look forward to this matchup to see best friends DeRozan and Kyle Lowry reunite, but we’ll have to see if either of them will still be on their respective rosters after the March 25th trade deadline. DeRozan was also very deserving of an All-Star selection this year and the Spurs were the only team with a record above 0.500 that didn’t have an All-Star.
vs. Brooklyn Nets, April 21st
The Raptors 123-117 win over the Brooklyn Nets earlier this year was one of the highlights of the first half for Toronto. This time around things should be very different though. Kevin Durant should be back soon after missing an extended period of time with a hamstring injury and the Nets have just recently acquired Blake Griffin, another big name to join their already star-studded lineup.
At Los Angeles Clippers, May 4th
The Raptors will face the Clippers in Los Angeles to cap off their grueling five-game stretch I mentioned earlier. Kawhi Leonard is quietly having a great season this year averaging 26.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.5 steals a night. As a Raptors fan, It’s always hard to see Leonard in a Clippers jersey, but now Serge Ibaka will be wearing one too? Going to be a tough sight to see and a tough team to stop.
The good news for the Raptors is that they only have four games against teams above 0.500 in the East (two of them being against the New York Knicks; only a game over 0.500), the bad news is they have 13 games against teams over 0.500 in the West.
They will certainly have their work cut out for them over the next 35 games but if there’s one team who can handle adversity, it’s the Toronto Raptors.