Kawhi Leonard summed up the regular season best: 82 practices. But right now, it’s playoff time.
With it coming down to the final night, the brackets are set and the Raptors will tip at 5. With a big win over Charlotte, the Orlando Magic clinched the 7th seed and get to face the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. It certainly won’t be too long of a journey for them, but the Magic have finally made it back to the playoffs in one of the feel-good stories of the year.
There’s a lot to discuss and breakdown in this first round matchup, so let’s get ready to rumble.
To start, the season outcome between these two teams when they played is inconsistent. The season series was 2-2, but injuries certainly played a role. Still, Orlando shouldn’t be taken lightly and they do have the capability of showing up and executing. They’re not sneaky good, but they’re sneaky decent.
Outside of the bottom 4 teams in the east, there’s certainly an argument to be made that Orlando is the hottest, winning 8 of their last 10. They may not have a star player like D’Angelo Russell or Blake Griffin, but they have mobile, long athletes that can play various positions defensively and get hot from three.
Defensively, the Magic match up well against the Raptors. Various long and athletic wing players like Terrence Ross, Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon that can use their length and athleticism to cause stress against our forwards in Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam. Their best player is also Nikola Vucevic, an all-star force inside the paint that has the capabilities to knock down the three.
This handful of players for the Magic can cause some panic for teams, but the Raptors depth, guard play and overall talent level will be extremely difficult for the Magic to compete with an attempt to overcome.
This will be a great series for guards like Lowry, VanVleet, and Green to find their rhythms early in the playoffs with a lack of guard depth on the other side. Toronto guards will look to push the pace, as Orlando’s halfcourt defense is definitely excellent.
The rookie versus the vet.
This is an important aspect of playoff basketball that many fans of the game generally overlook. In the eye’s of a coach, it’s a chess game. The Magic’s coach, Steve Clifford is a solid coach. Having coached the Charlotte Hornets to a few playoff runs before being hired by the Magic this year, it’s easy to say he’s got the upper hand in terms of experience being the number 1 guy as opposed to Nurse.
Nurse takes coaching “on the fly” and follows the flow of a basketball game, which in layman’s terms essentially means that he will play his best 5 players, whomever it is on any given night. For example, if Norm Powell is having an amazing scoring game off the bench, Nurse will look to find more time for him and maybe he’ll play more than a starter on that given night.
He game-plans throughout the actual game, changing players in or out depending on what is needed at any given time. This was one of the main complaints with the Raptors former coach, Dwane Casey. He’d often stick with the original game plan without adapting to the actual flow of the game. Nurse could get creative against a lineup of athletic wings in Orlando.
We all know the playoffs are a completely different beast than the NBA regular season. A team may sneak into the playoffs without any star power, but when it gets to this part of the year, it’s extremely hard to win.
That’s where the Raptors are completely different. These playoffs are a completely different beast, as Masai has pieced together the most talented roster in Toronto Raptors history. With the likes of Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam and the Resurgence of Danny Green and Serge Ibaka, the Raptors have players that can be the star of the show on any given night.
This Raptors team, unlike any other, has a true superstar and someone that can take over a game in Kawhi Leonard. When we need a bucket or a big defensive play, we have a guy that can get the job done every time. This is something Orlando lacks completely.
Do I think the Magic will upset the Raptors? No, definitely not. Could the Magic cause some problems for the Raptors and ? Possibly.
But what I do know is that, although this may be one of the toughest first round match-up’s in the east, It’s a good warm-up for the Raptors. No, Orlando isn’t going to upset the Raptors. But the Magic will play hard and as a team. They’ll push the Raptors every game even if it’s only a 4 or 5 game series. Dealing with a dominant center in Vucevic will give the Raptors a chance to practice sets to help prepare them for the monster that they’ll potentially be meeting in the second round, Joel Embiid.
What I recommend is to enjoy some good basketball, don’t get too stressed out and look for the Raptors to close this one out in 5 or under and begin prepping for the probable battle with Joel Embiid, who will begin to get very, very annoying very, very quickly.
It’s finally here. Strap in, folks.