It’s been a long time since the Toronto Raptors have been at risk of missing the playoffs. Typically at this point in the season, the Raps have solidified themselves as one of the best teams in the conference and are beginning to joust for home-court, but that has not been the case in 2021.
For many already-heavily-discussed reasons, Toronto has struggled out the gates this year, and for the first time since 2012 could miss the postseason. The Raptors are sporting a record of 10-13, which puts them at eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
Due to the severe drop off in talent in the East, the Raptors are still very much in the thick of the playoff picture, as even in a shortened season there is a lot of time left, and the 8th seed in the East will likely be hovering around the .500 mark.
Can the Toronto Raptors make the playoffs?
On top of the subpar competition around them is the fact that the Raptors have been better than their record indicates. Admittedly, they aren’t the same team as years prior, but they have been more than good enough to be sitting at .500, and have lost multiple games at the buzzer.
Looking forward, the Raptors will have to battle it out against the middle of the pack in the East to secure an eighth straight playoff appearance, and in this article, we will take a look at the teams that will try and get in their way.
The Heat have been the biggest surprise in the East this season, and for all of the wrong reasons. The biggest factor in their awful 8-14 start is the number of games they have missed due to injury, COVID-related issues, and other miscellaneous factors. That still doesn’t completely excuse it. Even when fielding a full lineup, they don’t look like the 2019-20 NBA finalists.
In many ways, the Raptors and Heat have gotten off to similar starts, the key difference being that Miami was projected to be a top-four team in the conference, whereas the Toronto Raptors were not. Despite being expected to finish below them, the Raptors will be looking to stay ahead of Miami for as long as possible.
In all likelihood, Miami is going to figure it out and make it to the playoffs, but if Toronto were able to finish ahead of them and get a higher seed, it would shake up the conference and reflect extremely nicely on Nick Nurse’s squad.
When it comes to teams that the Raptors should be jockeying with as the season continues, the Indiana Pacers are right at the top of the list. Indiana currently sits at 12-11, putting them in 5th place.
As we know, things have not gone to plan, but the Raptors are only 2.5 games behind them. As the Raptors look to continue their climb up the standings, catching the Pacers should be the main goal.
Realistically, the 76ers, Nets, Bucks, and Celtics are all a level ahead of the Raptors, but many thought that Toronto could be in the tier right below them. Having defeated and been defeated by Indiana this year, the Pacers are a good measuring stick for the Raptors.
The upstart Atlanta Hawks find themselves with an 11-12 record, which in the East is good enough for the sixth seed. Coming into the season, their goal was likely to sneak into the playoffs with the seventh or eighth spot, and 20-ish games in to the season, their goal is surely the same.
Lead by Trae Young, Atlanta likes to play fast and put up points. They’ve kept it close against the Lakers and other elite competition while beating the Clippers back on January 26th. The issue with the Hawks is often on the defensive end of the ball, as certain nights their pace takes their defence all but out of the game.
This is a young team that is still building for the future, but at this point, you’d have to say they are on track for the playoffs. Despite their initial goals being a bit higher, the Raptors find themselves in the same bracket as Atlanta.
Like many of the other teams that will be discussed, the Hawks find themselves in that middling group of Eastern Conference teams that are neither contender nor pretender. Eith well over half of the season remaining, the Raptors’ goal should still be to finish ahead of that group, even with the rocky start.
The Cavaliers have been a pleasant surprise thus far in the season. Preseason pundits were unlikely to predict just how competitive this team can be on a nightly basis, even when they aren’t winning games.
It’s no secret that Colin Sexton is the backbone of this group, but Darius Garland and others have provided a much-needed spark to an organization that has been in the basement since Lebron’s most recent departure.
Slow start or not, the Raptors have far too much talent to be behind the Cavs in the standings, and everyone in and around the organization knows that the expectation will be to make the playoffs, whereas Cleveland will likely not be in the top 8 when all the games are played.
How you finish is more important than how you start, and for the Raptors, the remainder of the season will be the true indication of where they sit on the Eastern Conference food chain. At the very least, they seem to be trending in the right direction.