Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors: Can't-miss games in the second half of the 2020-21 NBA season

The schedule for the second half of the 2020-21 NBA season has been released.

Following the All-Star break, the Toronto Raptors will open the second half of their schedule against the Atlanta Hawks on March 11. They'll play their last game of the regular season on May 16 when they face the Indiana Pacers.

Between those two games, the Raptors have a number of matchups you won't want to miss.

Here are five in particular that stand out.

Utah Jazz

Date: March 19

The Jazz have been the most dominant team in the league this season.

At 25-6, they currently have the best record in the NBA, holding a three game lead over the Lakers and a 3.5 game lead over the Clippers. They've been doing it with ease as well. According to NBA.com, the Jazz have been outscoring opponents by an average of 9.4 points per possession on the strength of the league's fourth-best offence and second-best defence.

The Jazz have two All-Stars this season in Donovan Mitchell, who is averaging 24.5 points and 5.2 assists per game, and Rudy Gobert, who is one of the front-runners for Defensive Player of the Year. Additionally, Mike Conley is a candidate to replace Anthony Davis in the 2021 NBA All-Star Game if the Lakers star is unable to play due to injury.

This will be a good test for the Raptors.

Denver Nuggets

Date: March 24

The first meeting between the Raptors and Nuggets this season.

The Nuggets proved to be one of the best teams in the Western Conference last season, defeating the Jazz and Clippers en route to the Western Conference Finals. They're only three games above .500 right now, but they're led by an MVP candidate in Nikola Jokic and one of the league's rising stars in Kitchener, Ontario native Jamal Murray.

Though Murray wasn't among the reserves for this season's All-Star Game, he's been playing like an All-Star lately. He's averaging 31.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists over his last five games, including a historic 50-point outburst against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In 10 career games against the Raptors, Murray is averaging 14.8 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Date: March 31

Oklahoma City is home to two of the most interesting Canadians in the NBA.

Now in his third season in the league, Toronto, Ontario native Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is leading the Thunder's rebuild, establishing himself as an All-Star candidate with averages of 22.8 points, 6.5 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game. He's joined in the backcourt by Luguentz Dort, who has quickly made a name for himself as one of the league's best perimeter defenders.

Dort is also starting to expand his offensive game. Not only is he shooting more 3s this season, he's getting more opportunities to create his own offence to promising results.

This Thunder team is playing the long game but they've been more competitive than expected, sporting a 12-19 record.

Los Angeles Lakers

Date: April 6

Not only will this be the first time the Raptors face the defending champions, it'll be their first time facing Marc Gasol since he signed with the Lakers.

Gasol was only with the Raptors for one-and-a-half seasons but made a tremendous impact during his short time with the franchise. He started in 62 of the 70 regular season games he appeared in with the Raptors and helped the franchise win the championship in 2019, giving Toronto a much-needed defensive anchor, as well as one of the best 3-point shooters and passers at the centre position.

"The main things [Gasol] brought to us was our team sense of who we thought we could become," Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said of Gasol.

"After we had him for a few games, we were like, 'This guy is good, he's smart, he can pass.' Everybody was like, 'We're better, and we could become really good.' I think that's a big thing to contribute to a team."

While Gasol signed only a two-year, $5.3 million deal with the Lakers, he finds himself in another opportunity to be a difference-maker on a title contender.

LA Clippers

Date: May 4

For two reasons.

One, this will mark the third game the Raptors will have played against Kawhi Leonard since leaving the franchise for the Clippers. Leonard's time with the Raptors was short-lived but will never be forgotten, with him leading the team to its first championship en route to his second Finals MVP award.

In two games against the Raptors last season, Leonard averaged 17.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.5 assists on .400/.250/.929 shooting splits.

Two, this will be the first time the Raptors face Serge Ibaka since he signed with the Clippers.

Ibaka joined the Raptors at the trade deadline of the 2016-17 season. He went from being the team's starting centre to its backup centre during his three-and-a-half seasons with the Raptors, but he played a pivotal role in their success. He formed one of the best centre rotations in the league with Gasol, had a number of big moments in Toronto's championship run in 2019 and is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career, in which he averaged a career-best 15.4 points per game.

Other notable games

San Antonio Spurs (April 14): This will mark DeMar DeRozan's sixth time playing the Raptors since being traded to the Spurs. He's averaging 22.0 points, 7.6 assists and 7.4 rebounds per game against the Raptors in his career.

Brooklyn Nets (April 21): The Raptors have already played the Nets once this season, but Kevin Durant left the game early due to health and safety protocols, so this will be Toronto's first real look at Brooklyn's new Big Three. Led by Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, the Nets currently have the best offensive rating in the NBA.

Memphis Grizzlies (May 8): Toronto faces a former Raptor in Jonas Valanciunas, as well as two Canadians in Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke. The Raptors and Grizzlies have already played each other once this season.

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