You know that feeling you get when you’re about to see a really bad movie? You know it’s bad, but for some reason or the other, you’re forced to see it and you just tell yourself that it won’t be awful and there’ll be some good parts of it. The Raptors schedule feels a lot like that.

Take one look at the schedule and you already know that this season’s early run follows the same pattern as the last two – a grueling roadtrip. All teams have to eventually travel out west, usually twice a year, but the timing of the trip means a lot. If a team is facing the western heavy hitters or minnows later in the season, there’s a good chance that both have less to play for, with the poor teams already out of the playoff race and the bigger ones gearing up for one. The Raptors have been unfortunate enough over the last two years to be bitten early by a roadtrip, this year more so.

In 2009-10, the Raptors went out West twice in November and came back with a 2-5 record, the year before that a western trip sandwiched between a home date with Portland saw them go 0-5. The early travel and associated setbacks can have a demoralizing effect on players and coaches, and it’s important that the panic button not be hit. As likely as we are to get trounced in these stretches, it is equally likely that we can rebound once the schedule inevitably evens up. If we were fielding a contending team next year, we would put serious weight into our losses against the better teams in the league, but since we’re not, any such defeats will fall into the category of expected rather than disappointing. Unlike last year when the mainstream media constantly made excuses about the team by pointing to it’s schedule and maintaining that they could mount a playoff challenge, this year’s edition should make life for them easy. As it stands, nobody thinks we’re a playoff team so there’s no need to pretend we are.

Sacramento, Utah, LA Lakers, and Portland, followed by Orlando, Miami, Washington and Philadelphia with three back-to-backs in there can easily spell disaster for November. The three “winnable” games at this point appear to be home games against Golden State and Charlotte, and a matchup in Washington. Assuming we win our two October games (New York and Cleveland), it is entirely possible that the Raptors could stand at 5-12. Win or lose, the evaluative criteria of the Raptors (or any team) should be a consistent effort and an expression of sincere disappointment if one is not put forward. This is not a squad that has designs on contention, but whose sole purpose is to lay the groundwork for the future. A trying season may be hard to stomach, but it can go a long way in weeding out who the right characters are for the future. For example, last year we saw that Hedo Turkoglu is not a man to rely on when the going goes tough, and that Jarrett Jack might be one. The upcoming season is a test of character as much as it is a test of ability, and perhaps it is that character that should be judged each and every game, even before tallying the wins and losses.

Tim Chisholm has spared us the work and pointed out key dates on the schedule.

A playoff appearance next season appears to be a longshot and a 25-30 win-total is looking more and more like reality. But since it’s the summer and there’s little else going on, let’s speculate on where we might finish. Here are five teams that are clearly better than us:

  1. Heat: Unless Wade collides with LeBron they’re a top 3 team in the East.
  2. Celtics: Already good, but the addition of Shaq under the tutelage of Doc Rivers makes them better.
  3. Magic: A team with Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter is automatically a top four team.
  4. Hawks: The experience of another playoff season will only make them better. Pound-for-pound, they have more talent than the Raptors at every position.
  5. Bulls: Boozer just could be a better fit for that team than Bosh would have been. With Taj Gibson maturing and Noah already a solid defender, the Bulls have legitimate home-court aspirations.

Here are two teams we hope we’re better than but are probably not:

  1. Bucks: We have seen teams have surprising regular seasons followed by a valiant effort in the playoffs, only to disappoint the season after. Our own Raptors did that in 2006-07. They retained John Salmons which was key and added Corey Maggette, who could very well define just how much they improve or decline. Whether Delfino can have another great season remains to be seen, there’s also the small issue of the scouting report on Jennings being out.
  2. Bobcats: Not sure what Boris Diaw’s still doing on that roster, but it’s safe to say that the Bobcats got worse. They lost their best defensive big and their starting point guard, neither of which were replaced sufficiently. If there’s a team that the Raptors could “overtake”, the Bobcats are it. But since they play defense and can rebound you still give them the edge over the Raps who have yet to prove they can do either.

Four team’s we’d be going up against for a playoff spot:

  1. Knicks: So they got Anthony Randolph and Amare Stoudemire; the point-guard situation is suspect which means Stoudemire could be starved for scoring opportunities, the Knicks will be exciting but that doesn’t mean they’ll be good. ESPN picked them to make the playoffs, one can only assume the Knicks bought their way into it.
  2. Wizards: John Wall, Al Thornton and Kirk Hinrich. Jarrett Jack, Sonny Weems and DeMar DeRozan. Andray Blatche, Josh Howard and Nick Young. Amir Johnson, Marco Belinelli and Leandro Barbosa. Pretty even.
  3. Sixers: I’m a big believer that Doug Collins is a great NBA analyst. Not sure about a head coach. I can already see the Sixers tuning out his yelling and screaming.
  4. Pistons: The most talented team to not make the playoffs. You have to think the Pistons will be better, and dare I say, even surprising. They have a mix of youth and veterans with Austin Daye, Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey, Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Charlie V. It just happens to be the wrong mix.

The rest who don’t deserve a line: Pacers, Cavs, Nets. How ESPN picked the Raptors to be dead last is beyond me. We have to be better than the Pacers and Cavs, we just have to.