4. Toronto (42-29)
6.Milwaukee (35-36) 19GB
7.Miami (32-38) 20.5GB
8.Boston (31-39) 22GB
9.Charlotte (30-39) 22.5GB
10.Indiana (30-40) 23GB
11.Brooklyn (29-40) 23.5GB
If the NBA playoffs started right now, the matchups would be:
Atlanta vs. Boston
Cleveland vs. Miami
Chicago vs. Milwaukee
Toronto vs. Washington
Five games separate the 6th and 11th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. For the most part it seems that the Milwaukee Bucks will be holding on to the 6th seed after defeating the Miami Heat last night 89-88 creating a 2 ½ game separation between the 6th and 7th seed – in dramatic fashion may I add.
In order for Milwaukee to fall from grace they’d need to have a substantial fall-off in their last 11 games. With a big momentum win, Jason Kidd at the helm and the Bucks ranked 2nd in defensive efficiency across the league; a Milwaukee meltdown is unlikely. The Bucks will only play 4 teams with winning records in their remaining 11 games. They’ve gone 26-11 against teams below .500 this season already. Given these numbers, the Bucks could get up to 8 more wins to close out the season on a positive note.
With the Eastern conference being a cesspool for struggling teams to stay relevant well into the summer months; the likes of the Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets will still be playing hard battling for a desperation playoff berth. However the Raptors need not really worry about those teams as the middle of the pack seems to be locked down.
The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat fit right into that pack of teams jockeying for final position, but none seem to have the potential, or schedule to usurp the Bucks.
With the Raptors set to win their second straight Atlantic division crown they’ll be seeded no lower than 4th in the East. However being 4th does not solidify home-court advantage if the record is worse than the 5th seed.
Let’s looks at the potential playoff scenarios for the Toronto Raptors:
Worst case – scenario #1:
Toronto Raptors vs. Chicago Bulls
Head to head stats: 3-0 Bulls lead
Chicago: 112 PPG 45.3REB 51.8 FG% 26.OAST
Toronto: 102 PPG 37.0REB 40.4 FG% 17.3AST
If the Toronto Raptors so happen to find themselves the opponents of the Chicago Bulls in the first round – they’re in trouble. Over the years we’ve witnessed Tom Thibodeau lead his usually injury decimated squad into the second round with legendary will power and defensive machismo.
This year’s Bulls no longer require the same desperate will power. With a loaded frontcourt with Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson – and the emerging Nikola Mirotic; Chicago is poised for a deep playoff run.
The Raptors are no stranger to the level of skill possessed by their opponents from the Windy City as they’ve fallen to Chicago three times already this season.
Noah vs. Valanciunas
Gasol vs. Johnson
Dunleavy vs. Ross
Butler vs. DeRozan
Brooks vs. Lowry
Series X-Factor: Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic
There is no other team in the NBA with a combination of big men this skilled and tenacious on both ends of the floor. Reigning DPOY Joakim Noah will lead his team by example, while Gasol will bring his championship experience to a team that has only gotten so close. Without the return of Gibson, this alone would be a tough assignment for Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson to handle. The Raptors don’t present a lot of size from the interior as the Raptors are equipped with mobile big men who are able to play a faster tempo. The Bulls showed just how easy it is for them to utilize their length and shoot over the top.
Chicago has demonstrated the ability to slow it down time and time again. This season they’re 7-1 in games decided by 3 points or less, which shows that the Bulls execute on an elite level. Heading into the season, the Bulls were favored to regain power in the East, but a slew of injuries derailed those hopes. Now imagine that Derrick Rose returns…healthy-ish.
For the Raptors to be able to pull off a miracle against the Bulls, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry would have to play out of their minds. Terrence Ross would have to wake up out of his slumber and Jonas Valanciunas would be required in the fourth quarter. If the Raptors manage to face the Bulls it’d signify that they dropped the ball hard this season.
The Bulls are a team with proven playoff success and the Raptors have no siginificant matchup advantage. Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich are smart enough players to contain Lowry within the structure of their defence. Jimmy Butler is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and completely took DeRozan out of the game the last time they matched up.
Toronto vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Season series: 2-1 Raptors
Raptors: 97.0 ppg 41.7 FG% 52.3 REB 19.3 AST
Bucks: 84.3 ppg 40.9 FG% 39.0 REB 21.7AST
On the surface it seems that the Bucks would be the best matchup for the Raptors in the post-season. DeMar DeRozan exchanging tomahawk hammers with the Greek Freak Giannis Anteokounmpo, Kyle Lowry going head-to-head with Michael Carter-Williams. Tyler Ennis playing his first playoff series against his hometown. Storyline’s for days!
Toronto won the season series 2-1, have a plus 13 point differential and dominate the Bucks on the glass averaging 50+ rebounds over three games.
Now let’s remove the Bruno game from the equation. The game where the Raptors whooped the Bucks by 42 points and Bruno Caboclo scored 8 points during his 12-minute debut.
With the numbers adjusted the situation then becomes much different. The Bucks and Raptors went on to split their next two games against each other. Both of which were tightly contested defensive contests.
Raptors: 83.5 ppg 36.5% FG 50.0REB 15.5AST
Bucks: 85.5 ppg 43.0% FG 43.5REB 23AST
Pachulia vs. Valanciunas
Ilyasova vs. Johnson
Antetokounmpo vs. Ross
Middleton vs. DeRozan
MCW vs. Lowry
Series X-Factor: Toronto’s mentality
The Raptors have the tools they need offensively to take care of the Bucks. The problem with the Raptors in this matchup is their tendency to get over-confident in situations yet to be decided. Milwaukee is a young team without playoff experience. By overachieving this season, they put themselves in a very similar position to the Raptors last year. The difference is that the Bucks are playing some elite defence; boasting a top 5 points against average at 97.4 – putting them in a tie with the Atlanta Hawks.
The Bucks have nothing to lose once they get to the playoffs so they’ll be playing with a lot less pressure than the Toronto Raptors. Results come with expectations. If the Raptors get into the playoffs against the Bucks, they’ll be expected to win that series. With the best fan-base in the NBA, Jurassic Park outside the Air Canada Centre and support from across the country; be sure that all eyes will be on the Toronto Raptors if this series comes to fruition. Should they fail to get into the second round and lose to a Bucks team led by Jason Kidd – expect big changes for the Raptors.
Best Case – Scenario #3:
Toronto Raptors vs. Washington Wizards
Season series: 3-0
Raptors : 106 ppg 40 REB 20.6 AST 44.9 % FG
Wizards: 97.6 ppg 46.6REB 23.3AST 42.9% FG
The best case for Toronto this post season would be getting into the playoffs to play the Washington Wizards. The Raptors swept Washington in the regular season series. Therefore if the Raptors and Wizards finish with identical records – Toronto wins the tiebreaker.
Based on the numbers alone, the Raptors shouldn’t have any problems scoring on the inconsistent defence presented by the Wizards. They’re a veteran group hoping that their will and experience will get them over the hump this year.
The Raptors and Wizards played 3 very competitive games over the year. Those are the type of victories a team needs in order to instill belief within themselves that they can overcome whatever the Wizards can throw at them.
Gortat vs. Valanciunas
Nene vs. Johnson
Pierce vs. Ross
Beal vs. DeRozan
Wall vs. Lowry
Series X-factor: Toronto’s bench
An All-Star matchup between Lowry and John Wall is definitely something to look forward to should this become the fate of the Raptors. However it’s that guy Paul Pierce that the Raptors need to be weary of. Especially with the way last season’s playoff hopes ended with a “blocked shot” by this very man.
Luckily this year the Raptors fortified their small-forward position with James Johnson because Lowry and DeRozan are sure to have their hands full with the offensively gifted Wall and Beal.
The X-factor for this series will be the depth of the Raptors. Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez will be needed to stabilize the often-slow starting Raptors.
With quality victories already had against Washington, the Wizaeds will be ready for Toronto regardless of the seed because losing 7 times to any team would be embarrassing. As of last year, both teams are playoff tested ready to move into that next echelon of Eastern conference powerhouses.
Bottom line is that the best case scenario for the Raptors heading into the playoffs would be to face the Washington Wizards. It’s what’s best for the Raptors, it’s best for the fans and its what’s best for the NBA ratings.