With a single-digit number of games remaining, the Toronto Raptors are making their final push to the NBA playoffs, and they have their work cut out for them. This season has not gone the way many fans would’ve wanted due to a strange season impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in a variety of areas, but the Raptors are just 2.5 games out of contention for a chance with nine games to play.
Toronto is 26-37 through 63 games played, which is the 12th best record in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors trail the Chicago Bulls by half a game for the No. 11 spot, and all they need to do is crack the top 10 to have a shot. To do that, Toronto will likely need to catch up with the Washington Wizards, who are 2.5 games ahead of the Raptors. Other teams Raptors fans should take notice of are the Indiana Pacers, who are 3.5 games ahead of Toronto, and the Charlotte Hornets, who lead a 4.5-game lead over the Raptors.
In this year’s scenario, Toronto has a much better shot at advancing than in previous seasons. In the 2020-21 NBA season format, the top six teams in each conference advance to the playoffs, while the teams with the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th best winning percentages will need to win play-in games to qualify.
After the regular season ends, the teams with the seventh and eighth best records will play each other with the winner claiming the No. 7 seed. In addition, the teams with the ninth and 10th best records will play one another, and the winner will play the the loser in the No. 7 vs. No. 8 game for the eighth spot in the playoffs.
Previously, the top eight records in the regular season advanced to the postseason in each conference.
The Raptors face a number of obstacles to find themselves in the top eight, but first they need to find themselves in the top 10 to give themselves a shot.
A popular United States sportsbook defines making the playoffs as advancing past the play-in tournament and playing a full first round series. Oddsmakers at the sportsbook suggest it is unlikely the Raptors advance to the postseason with all they will need to do in the month of May. Odds for Toronto to miss the playoffs is at -4000, while there would be a high payout if the Raptors find themselves in the top eight for the first round of the playoffs with +1260 odds.
Toronto had a four-game winning streak earlier this month, but the Raptors will look to avoid their third straight loss when they head on the road to play the Utah Jazz on Saturday, May 1 at 10 p.m. ET. Toronto has a very difficult stretch coming up with road games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers following their meeting with the Jazz.
Of the remaining schedule, Toronto has the third most difficult schedule in the entire league. Meanwhile, of the teams the Raptors would be rooting against, Chicago has the fifth toughest schedule, and Washington has the 21st most difficult schedule down the stretch. Indiana has the 20th toughest slate, and Charlotte has the 25th most difficult schedule. For a number of reasons including a brutal COVID-19 outbreak, trade deadline moves and still not playing in the home arena, a Raptors run to the playoffs would be an incredibly impressive accomplishment, as the oddsmakers showed with their numbers.
The NBA regular season is scheduled to finish on May 16 with the play-in tournament set to take place on May 18 and conclude May 21. The first round of the NBA playoffs is scheduled to start on May 22 and finish with the NBA Finals, which are set to begin on July 8.