);
Toronto Raptors

Crystal ball outlook for Toronto Raptors

What's in store for the Raptors in the second half?
What's in store for the Raptors in the second half? (Getty Images; DAZN illustration)

After defeating the Washington Wizards on Friday, the Toronto Raptors now sit at 27-14 after 41 games.

The first half of the Raptors' season is officially in the books.

As Toronto heads to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves as part of the second half of a back-to-back, our focus shifts to the second half of the season and all that it will entail.

With that in mind, here are some of the biggest storylines for the final 41 games of the Raptors' season.

Getting and staying healthy

The injury bug hit the Raptors hard in the first half of the season.

According to Spotrac , Toronto has missed a total of 143 games already this season due to injury. Not only does that rank the Raptors fourth in the league - the Portland Trail Blazers (151), Washington Wizards (181) and Golden State Warriors (203) being the only teams that have missed more games to injury - it surpasses the franchise's total from last season, when they missed a total of 102 total games to injury.

The Raptors have suffered injuries to key players, too. To start the season, it was Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka who were out for an extended period of time. More recently, Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell and Marc Gasol were each sidelined for almost a month.

MORE: Why January is a big month for Raptors

Fred VanVleet has even dealt with injuries, missing five games in December with a knee injury and five games (and counting) in January with a hamstring injury.

Fortunately for the Raptors, they enter the second half of the season with everyone back in uniform, save for VanVleet, although it appears as though his return is around the corner. Expecting them to not miss another game to injury would obviously be ridiculous, but if they have more luck on that front than they did in the first half of the season, we'll get to see what this Raptors team can really do.

- Scott Rafferty ( @crabdribbles )

How will Nurse manage lineups when the Raptors are at full strength?

We saw what the Raptors were capable of when they got out to a 6-2 start before Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka got hurt.

We saw what the Raptors were capable of even after that, extending that strong start to 15-4 without their two veterans.

They continued to win consistently, rattling off five straight shortly thereafter to reach a 21-8 start, but the vicious injury bug started to take its toll, biting Toronto's key rotational players in bunches.

Just as Lowry and Ibaka got healthy, the Raptors lost Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell all in the same game. When that trio was starting to come back, Fred VanVleet went down.

Since that game against the New Orleans Pelicans way back on Nov. 8 when Lowry and Ibaka went down - the eighth game of the season - Toronto has not played with its team at full strength.

MORE: Toronto's biggest lessons from the 1st half of the season

VanVleet's injury seems to be progressing properly and his return is coming sooner rather than later. That means head coach Nick Nurse has some decisions to make when it comes to both the starting lineup and the rotation.

VanVleet was awesome before his injury, but Powell was awesome filling in the starting lineup whenever needed. Who will Nurse start at that second guard spot?

When it comes to the bench rotation, Terence Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher all stepped up when they received an increased opportunity. With Ibaka and either Powell or VanVleet falling back to the second unit, Nurse has to figure out how to manage that trio's minutes. Patrick McCaw has also been in the mix a lot lately, adding another player whose minutes need adjusting.

This team has a lot of talent and there's a bunch of players who earned playing time while other guys were hurt. The Raptors are going to have to get adjusted to a full roster quickly to continue this success, and it all starts with how Nurse manages the lineups and playing time.

- Kyle Irving ( @KyleIrv_ )

Jockeying for playoff position

Despite being one of the league's most injury-plagued teams in the first half of the season, the Raptors now sit just 1.5 games back of the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed.

That they are within reach of the exact same seed they rode to an NBA title in 2019 is an encouraging prospect moving forward.

According to Tankathon , the Raptors have the league's third-easiest remaining schedule based on the cumulative win percentage of their remaining opponents. As a team that has come to take advantage when facing lesser opponents, it appears to be a prime opportunity to move up in the standings during the season's stretch run.

MORE: Where are the Raptors in latest Power Rankings?

A second or third-place finish in the East means avoiding a second-round meeting with the juggernaut that is the Milwaukee Bucks. Last year's second-place finish meant the Raptors hosted Game 7 of the East Semis at Scotiabank Arena.

We know how that one went.

With home-court advantage and a slightly-less tumultuous path at stake, expect the fight for playoff spots in the East to intensify as this season winds down. And the Raptors will be in the centre of it all.

- Gilbert McGregor ( @GMcGregor21 )

What happens at the deadline?

Just last season, the Raptors motioned to acquire Marc Gasol at the trade deadline in a move that helped fuel their historic title run.

This season poses even more questions.

Gasol and Serge Ibaka are in the final year of their respective deals and while they are each key to this team's success, questions surrounding whether or not they will be packaged in a trade have arisen.

MORE: Ibaka deserves a standing ovation

If not those two, Masai Ujiri could make an unexpected swing to acquire a piece to put this team over the top. His decision will likely be impacted by where the Raptors stand in the East's playoff picture after the next few weeks of action.

As we've seen in the past, Ujiri has the ability to make the calculated risk that allows this team to maximize its potential. If he sees a way for them to go on a deep run this postseason, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him shake things up again at the trade deadline.

- Gilbert McGregor ( @GMcGregor21 )

Full credit to the defending champs?

The more the Raptors continue to win games and compete in the Eastern Conference, the more they get retroactive praise for the season they had a year ago.

Let's face it, for every person who points out how magical a season the Raptors had in 2018-19, there's someone who's quick to point out a negative. Whether it's Boston's lack of chemistry or Philadelphia choking away its opportunity or Giannis Antetokounmpo not being able to hit long-range jumpers or Golden State not being healthy.

MORE: Re-live the Raptors' historic title run

There are also many who believe the 2019 championship Raptors were a product of Kawhi Leonard. Leonard was a large part of Toronto's run - there's no denying that - but the team around him was pretty good. And if you didn't think they were, they're proving it this season. Sans Leonard, the Raptors haven't missed a beat. Only injuries to their key players have them swimming in the middle of the pack in the East.

With health finally on their side, the Raptors can move forward and try and lock down a top-three seed in the East. A playoff series win or two without Leonard may have many looking at the 2019 version of the team completely different. The Raptors might not win the title in 2020, but they may be able to silence the noise that they lucked their way into a title in 2019.

Especially if the Clippers, Kawhi's new team, aren't able to win one of their own.

- Carlan Gay ( @TheCarlanGay )

Will Kyle Lowry be an All-Star?

It's safe to assume the Raptors will get at least one All-Star this season in Pascal Siakam, whether he's voted in as a starter or a reserve. But what about Kyle Lowry?

While Lowry didn't have much of a case a month ago, mostly due to the time he missed at the start of the season, he stepped up in a big way while Siakam, Powell and Gasol were sidelined with injuries. In those 11 games, he led the Raptors with averages of 23.3 points, 8.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 40.0 minutes per contest. The Raptors went 6-5 during that stretch, which is impressive considering they were down two starters, plus Powell, who was playing the best basketball of his career prior to his injury.

As a result, the Raptors maintained their place at the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

MORE: Making the All-Star case for Siakam, Lowry, VanVleet

If Lowry is recognized as an All-Star this season, he will surpass Vince Carter and Chris Bosh for the most All-Star selections in franchise history with six. DeMar DeRozan is the only other player who was a multi-time All-Star during his time with the Raptors, earning four selections.

It won't be easy - Lowry faces stiff competition in the likes of Kemba Walker, Trae Young, Ben Simmons, Jaylen Brown, Bradley Beal and Khris Middleton, to name a few - but there's no doubt that he's played well enough to be in consideration.

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

More from NBA.com

#LeBron #Butler
NBA announces Finals schedule
NBA.com Staff
james-butler-ftr.jpg
Finals preview: Can the Heat slow down LeBron and A.D.?
Kyle Irving
Lakers, Heat - NBA Finalists
Heat, Lakers become unprecedented NBA Finals opponents
NBA.com Staff
#Butler
Butler: Bam's 'going to be the reason that we win a championship'
Benyam Kidane
Bam Adebayo
Bam's late-game takeover carries Miami to NBA Finals
Yash Matange
tatum-hayward-ftr.png
What's next for the Celtics?
Kyle Irving
More News