The Toronto Raptors have one of the best guard duos NBA with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but can they actually make a run deep into the coming NBA Playoffs? Although the East isn’t as strong as the West, the Raptors path may be too hard to back them, making picks against them worth consideration.
To actually win the NBA Finals, the Toronto Raptors (42-29, 104.3.1 PF-101.3 PA) would first have to navigate through the Eastern Conference just to get to the conference finals before having to likely deal with one of the three teams currently ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. And to me, although the mathematical difference heading into action on Wednesday night—where Toronto hosts the Chicago Bulls (ESPN/ESPN Watch, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT; Odds: Bulls -3, 198½, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook)—is the least it can possibly be (½ game), there seems to be a decent-sized chasm between the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and those Bulls and everyone else from that point down. And the ability of both Atlanta and Chicago to potentially win the Eastern Conference is also suspect in my mind, but we will leave that for another day and another story. Right now, NBA oddsmakers have the Raptors winning the NBA Finals priced at 33/1 (888sports), while NBA odds for Toronto to win the Eastern Conference (at their highest sportsbook) are presently at 15/1 (Bwin).
Honestly, and this might be the type of thing you might only find at a website here like Sportsbook Review, but the best thing in my mind that Toronto (or the Bulls for that matter who they play tonight and can leapfrog in the standings with a win), can do is to actually lose a little bit down the stretch and try to stealthily fall into the No. 4 seed—instead of trying to finish at No. 3, as the Potential Playoff Path would be much easier in my eyes. We’ll explain below, but the Raptors can probably finish as high as that No. 3 seed and as low as the No. 5 seed. In my mind, these Dinosaurs would be way better off playing dead for the next couple of weeks to cement the No. 4 spot, or even the No. 5 spot, although the valuable Home court advantage that comes with the being seeded 4th would make it preferable. So, if Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey and his Cretaceous Period Boys knows what’s good for them, they’ll lose tonight at Home against Chicago, putting the Raptors 1½ games behind the Bulls with 10 games to go in the Regular Season. Then lose some more. So, lose baby lose?
Possible Starting Five
C—Jonas Valanciunas (12.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.70 bpg)
PF—Amir Johnson (9.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
SF—Terrence Ross (9.9 ppg, 4.4 apg)
SG—DeMar DeRozan (19.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.3 apg)
PG—Kyle Lowry (16.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 6.9 apg, 1.55 spg)—IL
Bench, Roster Depth
C—Chuck Hayes (1.8 ppg)
PF—Patrick Patterson (8.3 ppg)
PF—James Johnson (7.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.10 bpg)
SG—Louis Williams (16.0 ppg)
PG—Greivis Vásquez (9.3 ppg)
PF—Tyler Hansbrough (3.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
SF—Landry Fields (1.9 ppg)
SF—Bruno Caboclo (1.6 ppg)
C—Greg Stiemsma (0.9 ppg)
C—Lucas Nogueira (1.0 ppg)
Injuries, Coaching, Intangibles (Potential Path)
Toronto (32-38-1 ATS, 15-21 ATS Home, 17-17-1 ATS Away) is in very good shape health-wise as we head into the homestretch, with only starting PG Kyle Lowry (back spasms) having any issues and on the Injured List (IL) and sitting tonight’s game against the Bulls out. Watch Lowry’s progress though, as back problems are tricky, and if he’s not 100% come playoff time (Saturday, April 18), then the Raptors will be in a world of hurt, but they’ll try not to let anyone notice. This team runs on its tremendous Guard play, and although Greivis Vásquez (9.3 ppg) is a very capable backup, not having Lowry totally healthy would present a problem in terms of trying to progress past a potential Round 2 or Round 3, if they’re that Lucky. Fifty-seven-year-old Toronto Head Coach Dwane Casey—a native of Indianapolis—is 11 games under .500 in his 4-season tenure with the Raptors (4th in NBA, 104.3 ppg) heading into tonight’s nationally televised affair against the Bulls, and Casey could be at a disadvantage should he and Toronto end up facing the Heat (Erik Spoelstra) or those Bulls (Tom Thibodeau), whose teams have Head coaches with much more NBA Playoff coaching experience. But if he does win a series and then lose in a hard-fought one in Round 2 or the Eastern Conference Finals, he will have learned some valuable things which may help this the Raptors get over the hump down the road.
When it comes to any future Potential Playoff Matchups—if the NBA Playoffs were to start tonight (Wednesday)—the No. 4-seeded Raptors would be play the No. 5 seed, right now the Washington Wizards (40-31), a team which Toronto was a perfect 3-0 against (2-1 ATS) in the Regular Season, winning by 19, 4 (OT) and 2. Should the Raptors survive possible extinction in Round 1, theoretically, they would play the winner of the No. 1-Seeded Atlanta Hawks (+750 to win NBA Championship, Boylesports) and the, surprise, now No. 8th-seeded Boston Celtics (500/1, Paddy Power), a series this team can most definitely win, even against the Hawks—although Toronto would probably have to steal a game in Atlanta in either Game 1 or Game 2—to make that happen. Then, if in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Raptors would likely be meeting the No. 2-seed Cleveland Cavaliers (+300, bet365) and a major matchup problem with their Timofey Mozgov—Kevin Love—LeBron James—JR Smith—Kyrie Irving starting 5. The Cavaliers are the team the Raptors need to avoid the most.
The Raptors have won 0 Conference Championships and 0 NBA Titles in club history, so suggesting Futures or Props bets on this team is ill advised, but do remember the potential edge the Raptors (11-2 vs. Division) could have as a No. 4 (or even No. 5) seed compared to a No. 3 reality—a spot they can claim tonight with a victory over Chicago—as well as that 3-0 SU Regular Season mark against Washington while making your NBA picks. The team’s weaknesses? Toronto ranks 26th in Rebounding (41.5 rpg); 22nd is Assists (20.8 apg)—despite having two killer G’s—and 23rd in Points Allowed (101.3 ppg); the Raptors haven’t proven they can win on the Road consistently (18-17 SU); Toronto’s Defense is very suspect (23rd in NBA, 101.3 ppg) as is its Rebounding 26th in NBA, 41.8); and, Head Coach Casey might not be the type of guy to navigate the likes of the Cavaliers, Hawks and Bulls just quite yet. This team has really grown, but there’s still that healthy chasm in my mind between 3 and 4 (spots) in the East. And, if the Bulls Derrick Rose were 100% healthy, that chasm would be clearer. And, like the Houston Rockets, the Raptors (29-15 vs. Conference) are often accused of being a sort of one-man team (DeRozan), as was shown in their last outing, a 108-104 loss to the Detroit Pistons when their star SG DeRozan led the team in Points (22), Rebounds (11) and Assists (4). Another thing you can actually toss in, is that invisible and seldom talked about negative of the toughness of being the lone Canadian team in a league with 29 other teams from the United States of America. You came to the party in a Red Dress and all the other girls had on Blue Dresses. Waaah. We still love you.
Toronto’s strengths? Their Second 5 is absolutely fabulous and extremely productive offensively. They Raptors have also been gradually getting better every season and have an impressive and underrated front line in Valanciunas, Johnson and Ross, and this team has proven it can consistently beat teams from its own conference (29-15). And, oh yeah, Toronto plays in the Eastern Conference, where the tiny Fort Wayne Mad Ants are even making a predictably mad, ant-like dash to The Finish Line for the postseason. There are no odds on the Mad Ants winning the NBA Finals, though. Big Brother bites back, Bubba. But the key for me here in terms of the Raptors actually having a chance to really surprise everyone and make a deep run into these coming playoffs will be the play of the Not-So-Obvious Key Players like Valanciunas, Johnson, Vásquez and Williams, the latter averaging a stellar 16.0 ppg coming off the bench for Toronto. Everyone will be focusing on DeRozan and Lowry, and if these other unheralded starters and role guys can shine, then, who knows? Maybe Canada wins its first Eastern Conference championship and maybe even its first NBA title. The laughing would be heard all the way down in Alabama my friend. I might even flee with my cat to the Outer Hebrides or something should that nightmarish scenario happen. It’s bad enough that The Snow And Maple Syrup Lovers To The North are supreme at Hockey and Health Care, have Tim Horton’s and that their Lake Monsters (Ogopogo) have way cooler names than ours (Champ), but to win the NBA championship? I believe my boy Nostradamus warned of such blasphemy in Quatrain 11 or 47 or 9 or something. Better stock up on Coffee-mate®.
Anyway, if you think the Raptors can beat the Hawks and Cavaliers en route (likely) to getting to the NBA Finals (June 6), cuz, then maybe a Name The Finalists Prop bet would be the ticket for you. Currently, an NBA Finals between these Raptors and the Golden State Warriors has odds of 33/1 (Sky Bet) while an NBA Championship series between the Raptors and defending league champion San Antonio Spurs is lined at 50/1. Two other teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the upstart Memphis Grizzlies—who we profiled earlier in the day—are both at 100/1 (Sky Bet), while an unlikely NBA Finals series between Toronto and the Los Angeles Clippers is a massive 125/1 (Sky Bet). Perish the thought. Next up on Thursday in our continuing series of NBA Playoff Profiles here at SBR, we’ll take a look at the Portland Trail Blazers and the Chicago Bulls. Enjoy the show.
PREDICTED PLAYOFF DESTINY: Raptors eliminated by Cavaliers or Hawks in Round 2
RELATED NBA PICK: Raptors Round 1 Series Moneyline if Playing the Washington Wizards