Who Should the Raptors Want to Face in the First Round of the Playoffs?
The idea of thinking ahead and picking the opponent you prefer has proven a dangerous proposition for the Raptors in the past, and locked in at the number 2 seed, does it really matter who they play in the first round?
Perhaps it does, perhaps it doesn’t, either way let’s take a look at the four possible opponents the Raptors may get in Round One of the playoffs.
Detroit Pistons (39-39) (3-0 vs. Raptors this season)
Theoretically, this may seem like the team that the Raptors may want to avoid. After all, the Pistons have beaten the Raptors all three times this season, raising questions about whether coach Dwayne Casey has his former team ‘figured out’. While the 3-0 sweep may not necessarily be a coincidence, all three games were relatively close and the Raptors had some important absences.
None of that, however, is meant to undermine the Pistons as they have enjoyed good spells of basketball throughout the year and are, all in all, a much-improved team since the All-Star break and trade deadline. With that said, I don’t feel as though they have nearly enough firepower to match the Raptors. The Pistons rank 23rd in scoring, 29thin field goal percentage and 22ndin 3-point percentage. Blake Griffin can have the occasional explosive game, but realistically, I wouldn’t anticipate the Pistons winning more than one game against the Raptors in a seven game series.
Brooklyn Nets (39-40) (1-3 vs. Raptors this season)
The Nets have become the darling of the NBA this season, with fans buying in and wanting to see this team, composed of basically a bunch of scrap parts and reclamation projects, make it into the playoffs and succeed. They play an up-tempo entertaining brand of basketball that revolves around their guard play and perimeter shooting.
The playoffs, as we know, is a whole different ballgame and one has to wonder how the Nets will adapt. If shots aren’t falling, Brooklyn’s defense is nowhere near good enough to keep them in games. Their youth and inexperience should inevitably catch up to them in a playoff series and I actually think the Raptors match up quite well with them.
Orlando Magic (39-40) (2-2 vs. Raptors this season)
The Magic are an interesting team, featuring some solid veterans (Vucevic, Fournier) and bright young players (Gordon, Isaac). They are in the midst of a strong 8-2 run in their last ten games as they continue to make a playoff push. Similarly to the Nets, they are very poor on the defensive end and lack playoff experience on their roster.
They also lack depth with a very modest and unreliable bench that really only consists of Terrence Ross. Sure, playoff rotations shrink anyway, but foul trouble here and there or a knock to a key player could cripple this team. They’ve actually faired well against the Raptors this season, splitting the series 2-2. Of the four teams being discussed here, the Magic are probably the least talented of the bunch and pose very little of a threat to the Raptors
Miami Heat (38-40) (0-3 vs. Raptors this season)
Interestingly, the team currently on the outside of the final playoff spot and the team without a single win against the Raptors this season, may actually pose the biggest threat. Unlike the other three teams, this Heat squad actually has plenty of playoff experience. Dwyane Wade has the playoff moxie that very few other players in the NBA do. Erik Spoelstra has coached in the NBA Finals numerous times. Goran Dragic, Kelly Olynyk , and the majority of their roster all have at least some playoff experience.
For various reasons, the Heat have just not been able to figure it out this season. Talent wise, they are the 5thor 6thbest team in the East, but things haven’t seemed to click. While I don’t feel as though they could defeat the Raptors in a playoff series, I do believe they are the only team of the four here that could actually make it interesting. Josh Richardson, Justice Winslow, James Johnson and Bam Adebayo are all very versatile, rangy defenders, that could prove tricky for the Raptors to deal with.