Toronto Raptors

Breaking down the first half of the Toronto Raptors schedule for 2020-21 NBA season

The 2020-21 NBA season, which is set to tip-off on Dec. 22, will be split into two halves.

The first half will be played between Dec. 22 and March 4. There will then be a week-long break before the second half of the season, which is scheduled for March 11-May 16.

The first half schedule was released on Friday, while the second half of the season will be released at a later date.

For the Toronto Raptors, we now know they'll open their season on Dec. 23 against the New Orleans Pelicans. They'll then go on a two-game road trip before closing out 2020 with a matchup against the New York Knicks.

For more on Toronto's first-half schedule, here are some quick takeaways.

Let's take a trip

Positive Residual has a handy tool that calculates how far each team will travel this season based on their schedule.

For the Raptors, who are based in Tampa, Florida instead of Toronto because of COVID-19 travel restrictions between the United States and Canada, they'll travel nearly 21,500 miles in the first half of the schedule, per Positive Residual's calculations, which is the most in the NBA.

The Raptors will play 37 of their 72 games in the first portion of the season, 20 of which will be on the road.

Fortunately for the Raptors, they have a history of playing well on the road. In 2019-20, they finished with a 27-9 record away from Toronto, tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for best in the league. In 2018-19, the Raptors finished with a 26-15 record on the road, second-best in the Eastern Conference behind only the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Raptors can only hope that their past success on the road will carry into this season.

The dreaded back-to-backs

The bad? The Raptors will be on the road a lot in the first half of the season.

The good? The Raptors only have five back-to-backs in the first half of the season, tying them with the Lakers, Houston Rockets and Miami Heat for the fewest in the league.

The teams with the most back-to-backs are the Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers and Charlotte Hornets with nine each. Time will tell if that'll flip in the second half of the schedule, with the Raptors, Lakers, Rockets and Heat getting more back-to-backs and those teams getting less.

Even so, an impressive stat unearthed by NBA.com's Gilbert McGregor: Toronto has not lost consecutive games on a back-to-back since Dec. 26-27, 2017.

Strength of schedule

All things considered, the Raptors have one of the harder schedules in the league to start the season.

According to ESPN's Kevin Pelton, who used his 2020-21 NBA projections based on ESPN's real plus-minus to calculate each team's strength of schedule, the Raptors have the league's fourth-hardest schedule in the first half.

The only teams ahead of the Raptors are the Oklahoma City Thunder, Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls.

As Pelton explains, the fact that the Raptors have so few home games in the first half, some of which could have to do with the possibility that they get approval to return to Toronto at some point during the season, contributes to them having such a difficult schedule.

Reunion games

The Raptors aren't scheduled to play either the LA Clippers or Lakers in the first half of the season. That means they won't face Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol until the second half.

After winning a championship with the Raptors in 2019, Leonard left the franchise in free agency to sign with the Clippers. Even though he was with the franchise for only one year, he's widely considered to be one of the greatest Raptors of all-time.

A year later, Ibaka has joined Leonard on the Clippers, whereas Gasol has signed with the Lakers to team up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Some notable reunion games the Raptors will play in the first half of the season:

  • Dec. 26, 2020: Raptors face DeMar DeRozan and the Spurs in San Antonio.
  • Dec. 29, 2020: Raptors face Danny Green, who was traded from the Lakers to the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Philadelphia 76ers this offseason.
  • Feb. 8, 2021: Raptors face Jonas Valanciunas for the second time since he was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies.
  • March 2, 2021: Raptors face former head coach Dwane Casey, who is entering his third season as head coach of the Detroit Pistons.

National television

The Raptors will be on national television three times in the United States in the first half of the season. Two will be broadcast on ESPN and one will be broadcast on TNT.

An additional four games will be broadcast on NBA TV.

The Raptors might have more nationally televised games in the second half of the season, but for comparison, they had 15 nationally televised games in the United States in 2018-19 and 11 in 2019-20, per TSN's Josh Lewenberg.

The most nationally televised games the Raptors have had in the United States in a single season is 17, back in the Vinsanity days of 2001-02.

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