Can The Raptors Banish Playoff Demons?
The Toronto Raptors will be battling the weight of expectation as well as their opponents the Orlando Magic in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
No team has underachieved more in the post-season than the Raptors in recent history, failing to reach the NBA Finals, despite their array of talent and strong performances in the Eastern Conference during the regular term.
Toronto have won over 50 matches in a season for the fourth year in a row. However, they’ve underwhelmed in their last two attempts to surge towards the crown, suffering whitewash defeats at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Without LeBron James in the Conference, the club have a huge opportunity to challenge for a place in the Finals. The Magic will not make life easy for them given their quality, having claimed the Southeast Division crown.
Orlando return to the playoffs for the first time in seven years. The team have been starved of success, but there are a number of talented young players emerging on the roster that could give the Raptors all they can handle.
The Magic have not won a playoff series since their run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010. However, a victory over Toronto would put them back on the NBA map and highlight a fine first season in charge for Steve Clifford.
The Raptors were brutal in their response to their defeat to the Cavaliers in the Conference Semi-Finals last season. Dwane Casey, who had won the Coach of the Year award, was fired by the club after their post-season failure. Nick Nurse replaced him on the sideline as Toronto aimed to address their issues in the playoffs. DeMar DeRozan was used as bait to lure Kawhi Leonard to Toronto in a trade deal with the San Antonio Spurs.
DeRozan was an excellent player for the Raptors during his time with the club, earning three All-Star berths. However, the prospect of trading for the NBA Finals MVP from 2014 was too much to pass up and Leonard has not disappointed in his first term in Toronto.
The 27-year-old has averaged 26.6 points per game, displaying a strong level of consistency. His famed work in the defensive third in the court has also been impressive. Nurse will now be hopeful that Leonard can deliver on the big stage in the post-season.
Kyle Lowry has remained one of the NBA’s leading point guards. Only Russell Westbrook has contributed more assists to his team this term. Lowry has struggled to raise the level of his game to a dominant level in the playoffs.
The Raptors have needed more from him in the big moments, but he along with DeRozan failed to match LeBron and the Cavaliers. Now paired with Leonard, Lowry will be aiming to make a surge to the Finals for the first time. Pascal Siakam, Danny Green, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet are also going to have be contributors to see of the Magic and the other quality sides potentially down the line.
The Magic will have a quick turnaround after playing the final game of their season on Wednesday. They were able to end their season on a high note to secure their place in the playoffs, winning their last four games of the regular campaign. Their run included a hammering of the Atlanta Hawks where Clifford’s men scored 149 points. Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross and Vucevic all notched 25 points apiece, highlighting Orlando’s scoring prowess.
Clifford has done a fine job of reviving the fortunes of the franchise. He will have enjoyed their victory over the Charlotte Hornets in the final game of the season given that he was fired by the Hornets last term. The Magic have returned to the post-season for the first time since 2012, winning their division for the first time 2010. Although the Southeast Division lacked quality this season, it was still an achievement for Orlando to signal that they’re trending in the right direction.
The performances of Vucevic have played a significant role in their improvement. Vucevic has played through the Magic’s playoff drought and has not established himself as the leader on the team. He has proven over the season that he is capable of raising his game against the stronger teams – notably against the Boston Celtics. Aaron Gordon has also had his moments, producing a 25-point performance in his side’s win over the Golden State Warriors. The Magic have the ability to win one-off games, but whether Clifford’s men can produce four victories over Toronto is another matter.
Head to Head
Games Played: 85 Toronto Raptors: 46 Orlando Magic: 39
This season the two teams have split their four-game series. The Raptors won the first game, extending their winning run over the Magic to five games. However, Orlando ended their run of defeats with a brilliant performance, securing a 116-87 victory as Vucevic scored 30 points.
Ross was the next Magic player to deliver a fine outing, putting the Raptors to the sword in February. However, Nurse’s men bounced back with a victory as Green took charge of proceedings on home soil.
The pressure in on the Raptors to take care of business. They have to set the tone from the off if they are to beat out the Bucks among the other teams in the Eastern Conference to the advance to the Finals.
With Leonard in their ranks they have an experienced player that has found his peak form in the playoffs before. Vucevic is a good player, while Gordon and Fourier also have quality. However, Toronto are the better side and should advance to the Conference Semi-Finals.
Toronto Raptors To Beat Orlando Magic Game One
Saturday 13th April 2019 17:00 EST (22:00 BST)
Toronto Raptors To Beat Orlando Magic Playoff Series
Saturday 13th April 2019 17:00 EST (22:00 BST)
- Kawhi Leonard
- Nikola Vucevic
- Orlando Magic
- Toronto Raptors