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Toronto Raptors

Taking a closer look at the Toronto Raptors' potential playoff opponents

blake-griffin-kemba-walker-aaron-gordon-raptors-022419-ftr-nba-getty
The Pistons, Hornets and Magic are among five teams that could face the Raptors in April (NBA Getty Images)

With under 20 games left to play, the Toronto Raptors will more than likely finish first or second in the Eastern Conference at the end of the regular season. The Raptors' success in the 2018-19 season will result in a first-round postseason date with either the East's No. 7 or No. 8 seed and home-court advantage for at least two rounds.

As the season winds down, the focus will begin to shift towards the Raptors' potential playoff opponents. With just a few games separating the East's No. 7 and No. 11 seeds, let's take a closer look at how Toronto matches up with a few of the teams it could meet in the first round…

Detroit Pistons

2018-19 season series: Pistons lead 2-0

There is a sense of familiarity here, as Dwane Casey is now at the helm in Detroit after serving as Toronto's head coach for seven seasons. As a result of Casey's late-game playcalling, the Pistons are one of just four teams to have won at Scotiabank Arena this season.

Pistons All-Star forward Blake Griffin, who is averaging a career-high 26.3 points to go along with 8.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game this season, and centre Andre Drummond combine to make one of the more fearsome frontcourt duos in the NBA. While Kyle Lowry, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard give Toronto the advantage on the perimeter, Griffin and Drummond present a unique matchup for the big man rotation of Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol.

One stat to know: The Pistons allow a league-low 9.5 made 3-pointers per game and limit their opponents to 33.4 percent shooting from 3-point range - another league-low. While Toronto makes over 11 threes per game, it shot 4-for-20 against Detroit in the loss on Nov. 14.

Brooklyn Nets

2018-19 season series: Raptors lead 2-1

To the surprise of many, Brooklyn has solidified itself as a legitimate playoff contender thanks to the emergence of its stable of young talent.

On the perimeter, 23-year-old D'Angelo Russell is coming off of the first All-Star selection of his young career while the über-talented Caris LeVert and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Spencer Dinwiddie look to shake off rust after returning from injuries and 3-point contest champ Joe Harris is connecting on his 5.1 3-point attempts per game at a league-leading 47.2 percent clip.

The Nets are a bit thinner on the interior, but second-year centre Jarrett Allen is developing into an elite rim protector while averaging 11.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. This is an intriguing matchup as two of the first three meetings between the teams were decided by two points or less.

One stat to know: Led by Harris and Russell, the Nets are sixth in the league with 12.5 made 3-pointers per game. While Toronto gives up just 10.5 3-pointers per contest (8th in the league), Brooklyn sank a season-high 20 3-pointers at Scotiabank Arena on Feb. 11.

Charlotte Hornets

2018-19 season series: Raptors lead 1-0

For the Hornets, things begin and end with All-Star guard Kemba Walker, who is averaging 25.1 points per game - he is one of two players to score 60 points in a game this season.

After Walker, the Hornets' offence is mainly a balanced attack that relies on the scoring of Jeremy Lamb, Marvin Williams, Malik Monk, Tony Parker, Cody Zeller and Nicolas Batum.

While Walker and Kyle Lowry would make for an intriguing All-Star battle, the remainder of the Raptors starters hold an edge over the Hornets starting unit, which is still being adjusted over 60 games into the season.

One stat to know: The Hornets take care of the ball better than any other team in the league, averaging just 12.5 turnovers per game. Toronto has forced 15.5 turnovers in its wins this season.

Orlando Magic

2018-19 season series: Magic lead 2-1

On Dec. 28, the Magic defeated the Raptors 116-87 - Toronto's biggest loss of the season. In the first meeting between the teams on Nov. 20, it took a game-winner from Danny Green after Orlando stormed back from 18 down.

Based on the results of the first two meetings, the Magic should have some confidence to compete with the Raptors in a seven-game series.

In the midst of a career year, All-Star Nikola Vucevic (20.5 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game), serves as the anchor for a team that also relies heavily on budding star Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and former Raptor Terrence Ross.

One stat to know: The Raptors shot a season-low 29.5 percent from the field against the Magic on Dec. 28. It was just the sixth time in franchise history that the Raptors shot below 30 percent from the field and the team's worst shooting performance sine shooting 29.1 percent from the field in a 2009 loss to the Grizzlies.

Miami Heat

2018-19 season series: Raptors lead 2-0

It's the last go-round for three-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade, who will retire at the end of this season. During the stretch run of this season, expect the Heat to use Wade's last year as extra motivation to make a playoff push and send the 16-year veteran off the right way.

At 37, Wade's 14.1 points pace the Heat's second unit while Josh Richardson leads the team with 17.6 points per game. Goran Dragic, who has returned to the lineup after undergoing knee surgery earlier in the year, looks to help this team get over the hump. At full strength, a lineup of Dragic, Richardson, Justise Winslow, James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside is one of the strongest starting lineups among the team's vying for a playoff spot.

In the most recent meeting between the two teams, 30 points from Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors to a two-point win after trailing by as many as 17 points in the game.

One stat to know: Miami's 104.8 points per game is the lowest among all teams that are in playoff contention. While the Heat's Defensive Rating (106.9) is top-10, their Offensive Rating of 105.8 is one of the league's worst.

Washington Wizards

2018-19 season series: Raptors win 4-0

While centre Dwight Howard has been out since mid-November and guard John Wall will be out for a calendar year after undergoing surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon, All-Star guard Bradley Beal has continued to will this Wizards team to victories that have kept them in the playoff hunt.

The Raptors might have swept the season series 4-0, but it was far from easy. Kawhi Leonard rested during the first meeting between the two teams but the Raptors escaped Capital One Arena with a four-point win early in the season. In mid-January, Leonard (41 points) and Beal (43 points) duelled, but a 3-pointer from Serge Ibaka would put Toronto up for good as the Raptors earned a two-point double-overtime win in D.C.

Ultimately, the lack of depth due to injury and trades will be what either keeps the Wizards out of the postseason or makes things difficult for them in a potential postseason meeting with the Raptors. Still, the outstanding play of Beal would be more than enough to make things interesting in a rematch of last season's 1-8 matchup.

One stat to know: In addition to averaging a career-high 5.4 assists per game this season, Bradley Beal averaged 9.5 assists over the Wizards four-game regular-season series with the Raptors this year.

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