The Toronto Raptors sit 7th in the NBA's Eastern Conference, one game behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for a guaranteed playoff spot, going into Thursday’s play. The Raptors are 6.5 games out of the first seed, which the Miami Heat currently occupies.
Considering the Raptors were expected to struggle this season after losing Kyle Lowry during the summer, the team and its coaching staff have done a magnificent job of developing talent while remaining competitive. Rookie Scottie Barnes has been hugely impressive, while OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam have shown individual growth.
But with the regular season drawing to a close, it's time to start turning our attention toward the playoffs and who the Raptors could potentially face in the opening round.
PROLINE+ is currently the only place for Ontario sports betting. But the launch of the full and regulated iGaming market is closer.
The market in Ontario is expected to go live on April 4. Betting on the Raptors when the playoffs begin should prove to be popular. The playoffs start on April 16. There is a play-in tournament April 12-15.
Play-in Tournament Format
If the season finished today, the Raptors would be in the play-in tournament and face the Brooklyn Nets. But before we explore the viability of Toronto coming out of that game, it makes sense to detail how the play-in works.
The 7th seed in each conference plays the 8th seed, with the winner being ranked as the conference's 7th seed when the playoffs start. The loser of that game will face the winner of the play-in game between the 9th and 10th seeds, and whoever wins that contest becomes the playoff's 8th team for that conference.
Essentially the tournament looks like this:
- 7 plays 8
- The winner becomes 7th seed
- 9 plays 10
- The winner plays the loser of 7 vs. 8
- That winner becomes the 8th seed
So, while the Raptors are probably overmatched against the Nets, they still have an opportunity to make the playoffs by defeating either the Charlotte Hornets or Atlanta Hawks (if the standings stay the same). Regardless of the opponent, it's fair to say that if the Raptors don't move into the sixth seed before the end of the season, they will have a tough run to make the playoffs.
Potential Playoff Opponents
Assuming the Raptors enter the playoffs as the eighth seed, which seems the most likely outcome, they could face Miami, the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks or Boston Celtics. Those last three teams were all 1.5 games behind Miami going into Thursday’s action.
But for simplicity, let's say the Raptors face the Sixers and win; they could face the Celtics or perhaps the Chicago Bulls. And should Toronto come through that series, a team like the Bucks or Nets could await in the conference finals. While this seems unlikely, the playoffs usually provide us with at least one Cinderella team, and there's no reason that can't be the Raptors this year. After all, some of the team's core has championship experience from their 2019 title run, and Nick Nurse is one of the best coaches in the NBA.
Oddsmakers disagree, though, and have placed the Raptors as +5000 on DraftKings Sportsbook Ontario to win the Eastern Conference this season.
NBA Championship Odds
By now, you're getting a feel for how unlikely it is that the Raptors make the NBA Finals this year. But unlikely doesn't mean impossible, so it's worth looking at the odds and who the team could potentially face.
The DraftKings line on Toronto winning it all this year is currently set at +13000. Considering the Raptors’ challenging route to even make the postseason, that seems reasonable. Of course, operating under the assumption that the Raptors shock the world and make it to the NBA Finals, they will be faced with a team from the loaded Western Conference. The Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors have the three best records in the league, plus the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks are also strong contenders.
Toronto would undoubtedly be the underdog in any of those series, but if the Raptors could land a series with the Memphis Grizzlies, it would be their best chance of lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy this season. Both Toronto and Memphis are ahead of schedule and have mostly young and inexperienced teams. A seven-game series between these two rosters would be wide open, placing the onus on the coaching staff to produce the best scheme.
It's worth remembering that while it's always fun to dream, the Raptors do face an uphill battle to even make the postseason. Progressing to the NBA Finals is incredibly unlikely this year. But still, crazier things have happened.