The Toronto Raptors have again impressed by exceeding expectations as they finished a gruelling nine-day road trip with an impressive record of 4-1, clinching a playoff berth in the process.
As the 2020 NBA Playoffs begin in a little over a month, the Raptors return to Toronto with just 18 games remaining in the regular season.
With four days until Toronto takes the floor again, there's no better time than the present to take a look ahead and break down the remainder of its regular season schedule.
Let's start with the basics.
The Raptors remaining games are evenly split, with nine at Scotiabank Arena and nine on the road. Almost fittingly, the Raptors currently hold a 23-9 record both at home and on the road; the Los Angeles Lakers (26-6) and Milwaukee Bucks (25-9) are the only two teams with better road records this season.
Toronto will see Los Angeles during its longest remaining homestand, which is a challenging three-game stretch from March 20-22:
- Friday, Mar. 20 vs. Boston Celtics
- Sunday, Mar. 22 vs. Denver Nuggets
- Tuesday, Mar. 24 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The team's longest remaining road trip is also three games:
- Sunday, Apr. 5 at Houston Rockets
- Tuesday, Apr. 7 at Washington Wizards
- Wednesday, Apr. 8 at Charlotte Hornets
The Raptors close the season with a two-game trip to Florida, where they will meet the Miami Heat on April 14 before travelling to Orlando to take on the Magic on April 15, the final day of the regular season.
With seven games separating the No. 2 Raptors and the No. 5 Pacers, it's safe to assume that the team will be returning home to host Games 1 and 2 of the opening round of the playoffs.
Speaking of the playoff push, here's how the strength of Toronto's remaining opponents can impact its finish.
Strength of schedule
According to Tankathon , the Raptors have the 12th-toughest remaining schedule in the league. This metric is based upon the collective win percentage of the team's remaining opponents, which is .513.
It's no secret that Toronto has made the most of facing lesser opponents this season, posting a record of 35-4 against teams below-.500 - a sign of a very good team that handles business. Should the 11-14 record against teams with winning records be a cause of concern?
MORE: Are the Raptors a contender if healthy?
To close the season, the Raptors have 10 games against teams that are currently at or below-.500. Interestingly enough, three of those games are against playoff contenders as Toronto faces the Memphis Grizzlies twice and the Orlando Magic once.
As for the Raptors' toughest opponents, a few difficult stretches lie ahead, in addition to some key games.
Three key matchups
Mar. 18 at Philadelphia
Toronto has taken two of the first three games against the Philadelphia 76ers this season, meaning a third win would clinch the season series. While there is little to no threat of the Sixers catching the Raptors in the standings, this win could prove to be crucial in Toronto's efforts to lock up the No. 2 seed.
Why it matters: Toronto would improve upon its record against Atlantic Division opponents, a helpful tiebreaker in the event the team is able to split the season series with Boston.
Mar. 20 vs. Boston
After the Celtics took the first two meetings of the season series, a shorthanded Raptors team went into TD Garden to earn an inspired win.
As Boston now appears to be the only team capable of overtaking Toronto as the East's No. 2 seed, a 3-1 regular-season series advantage would be a tiebreaker that the Celtics could hold over the Raptors should they finish the season with identical records.
Why it matters: There's a big difference between finishing second and third in the East this season. In addition to potential first-round opponents, the prospect of hosting a Game 7 at home in the second round is a big difference-maker, as the 2019 Raptors can attest.
A Raptors win would tie the season series, meaning if they finish with the same record as the Celtics, the next tiebreaker would be the teams' divisional record, which is why the above game in Philadelphia holds weight, as do the Raptors' final two meetings with the New York Knicks.
Apr. 1-Apr. 3 Home-and-home with Milwaukee Bucks
Realistically, there's too much ground to be made up for the Raptors to catch the Bucks in the standings, although Milwaukee's recent slide does mean that it's still possible.
In reality, this home-and-home with the Bucks is an opportunity for the Raptors to make a statement while simulating the feel of a postseason series. So far this season, Toronto is 0-2 against Milwaukee.
Why it matters: These meetings come with fewer than 10 games remaining in the season. The Raptors are already a confident bunch, but there is no a better way to gain confidence and momentum ahead of the playoffs than a win - or two - against the league's most dominant team.
Ultimately, failing to win one of the two won't negatively impact Toronto's legitimacy as a title contender but it is worth noting that it did win one of four against Milwaukee last season.
Hear me out here. 1-3 is far from ideal but in earning just one win over the Bucks - the Raptors knew that they were capable of beating this team. Despite facing a 2-0 deficit in the Eastern Conference Finals, Toronto still knew it could beat Milwaukee.
We know how that turned out.
Other schedule notes
Ahead of their home-and-home with the Bucks, the Raptors play the Grizzlies in consecutive games on March 28 (in Memphis) and March 30 (in Toronto), when former Raptor Jonas Valanciunas takes the floor at Scotiabank Arena as a visitor for the first time in his career.
Toronto also has three more sets of back-to-backs this season:
- Mar. 24 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Mar. 25 at New York Knicks
- Apr. 7 at Washington Wizards, Apr. 8 at Charlotte Hornets
- Apr. 14 at Miami Heat, Apr. 15 at Orlando Magic
MORE: How have the Raptors played in back-to-backs this season?
The Raptors have not lost games on consecutive days since Dec. 2017. They've played 31 pairs of games on back-to-back days since then, sweeping both games 13 times and splitting 18 times.
On April 10, Vince Carter and the Atlanta Hawks visit Scotiabank Arena for the second and final time this season. It's the final game in Toronto for Carter, who will retire following the end of this season, his 22nd in the NBA.
The season finale could impact the Raptors' first-round paring in more than one way. Toronto could still be playing for the No. 2 seed at that point, while Orlando could be playing to move up to No. 7 in the East, paving the way for a potential rematch of last year's opening round.
The 2020 NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday, April 18.
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