The biggest questions facing the Raptors in the second half of the season

Alex Wong
·4 min read

The NBA finally released the second half of their regular season schedule last week. Given the postponement of Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bulls because of health and safety protocols, the rest of this week’s games (vs. Detroit on Tuesday, at Boston on Thursday) are up in the air, which means the already tight schedule might get a bit more packed after the All-Star break.

Here are a few observations and questions about the second half of the season:

Kyle Lowry's uncertain future in Toronto looms large. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Kyle Lowry's uncertain future in Toronto looms large over the second half of the season. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Will Nick Nurse prioritize rest over winning every game?

The Raptors come right out of the break with three games in four nights (vs. Atlanta, at Charlotte, at Chicago). The schedule is crammed with just one two-day break between games in March and several sets of three games in four nights and four games in six nights to close the month. In their season-long climb back to .500, the starter minutes have once again crept up. Fred VanVleet leads the team at 36.7 minutes per game, followed by Pascal Siakam (35.8), Kyle Lowry (34.3) and OG Anunoby (33.4). Nurse might not have a choice given where the Raptors are in the standings. As of Monday, they’re tied for fifth in the East with Miami and Boston, but half a game back of the fourth-seed New York Knicks and one game ahead of the 10th-seed Chicago Bulls.

Can the Raptors move up to a top-four spot in the East?

Zooming out and looking at the entire schedule, the Raptors only have two more road trips of more than two games the remainder of the season, the longest being a four-game trip at the end of April to Denver, Utah and against the two Los Angeles teams. A top-four spot is a realistic goal for this team, with the caveats of potential absences due to health and safety protocols and injury. Any East team with a record comfortably above .500 will have “home court advantage” in the first round. The actual home court matters less this season than the fact a top-four seed means the Raptors will avoid playing Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, the top three teams in the East at the moment, to start their postseason run.

Can the Raptors establish a home-court advantage at Amalie Arena?

I’m not ready to give up on the cursed Amalie Arena… yet. The Raptors are 8-7 in their temporary home so far and have gotten off to some notoriously slow starts in Tampa. They will need to pad their home record in April if they want to move up the standings. Ten of 14 games in April will be at home. It does, however, include visits from the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets. The condensed schedule and prevailing circumstances have played a role in the Raptors being so up and down this season. Maybe they can finally settle into a groove at their new home before the start of the playoffs.

How will the trade deadline impact the Raptors?

The March 25 trade deadline is fast approaching. The rumours surrounding Kyle Lowry are unlikely to let up, especially considering he appears to be the most impactful trade chip should he become available. Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster will have to decide whether to buy, sell, or stand pat. It’s unlikely the Raptors will have separated themselves from the rest of the middle of the East by then, which will make the decisions even more challenging for the front office.

There’s only one more game against the Orlando Magic this season

I haven’t enjoyed a Raptors-Magic game in years, so this is excellent news. By the way, I’m officially adding the Miami Heat to the list of Raptors opponents who are never fun to watch. Watching the Raptors try to break Miami’s zone last week made me question my love of sports.

Serge Ibaka (and Kawhi Leonard) face the Raptors twice in May

The Raptors will visit the Clippers on May 4. A week later, they will fly to Tampa for a May 11 game. It will be the first time Ibaka plays the Raptors. If Lowry is also a Clipper by then, I will pretend these games didn’t happen.

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Will the final game of the regular season matter?

It’s hard to predict anything with certainty this season. Still, I am pretty confident the final regular season game on May 16 against Indiana will be meaningful. It’s not even hard to envision a scenario where multiple teams in the East, including the Raptors, head into the final night needing a win to secure a top-six spot to avoid the play-in tournament. This would be the worst-case scenario. The best-case scenario is the Raptors continue to build on their recent surge and are resting their starters for the playoffs by then.

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