I feel dirty. This article is going to talk about whether the Toronto Raptors can actually make the NBA playoffs this season or not. It seems silly, sitting six games out with multiple teams to jump and just 29 games left, but it’s actually not that improbable, so I guess I owe it to the Republic to have a look.

Now, I’m personally of the mind that a near-miss is probably best for the team. Making the playoffs would result in a quick dispatching by the Miami Heat (unless somehow the seventh seed were to be snagged). Since the team doesn’t own its lottery pick (top-three protected), there’s no incentive to miss the playoffs by a wide margin for a better pick. And since this is a relatively weak draft, it’s a good year to give up that owed pick.

A near-miss also allows this young team to play in a lot of meaningful basketball games and get the experience that comes with a playoff push. If they come up short in the end, they can always point to the 4-19 start and call it a moral victory that they were even able to come close.

This article wouldn’t have even been necessary if it weren’t for the Raptors ripping off an unlikely four-game winning streak before the All Star break, so it warrants mentioning that the team is playing pretty well right now. With a somewhat favourable schedule coming out of the break, is it possible for them to snag the eighth seed?

raps playoff odds

This is re-produced from ESPN’s playoff odds, which run simulations to determine the likelihood of various outcomes. The odds peg the Raptors to finish in the ninth spot, five games out of the playoffs. However, the simulator doesn’t know things like Rudy Gay being acquired or the Celtics losing three rotation players for the year. The fact that the odds are as high as 19 percent even without this knowledge built into the system is definitely a positive.

It’s interesting that the simulator sees such a wide range of outcomes for the Raptors from here on out, with 14-15 being the most likely but 2-27 and 25-4 both being possible in at least one simulation. If that seems crazy to you, it should, because these are the extreme outliers that occurred in at least one simulation out of the 5,000 trials run.

The simulator knows some things, but perhaps we can get a better feel for the Raptors’ chances if we break things down further. First, let’s just look at how many winnable games the Raptors have. To do this, I took the Hollinger Power Rating for each opponent, adjusted it for where each game will be played, and from there determined the “likelihood of a win.” Basically, I used the rating to determine what the line would be (this is how I get “Hollinger Pick” for my pre-games as well). Any game within three points is 50/50, any game where the Raptors are favoured by more than three is “winnable” and any game where they’re greater than three-point underdogs was “tough.”

raps playoff skedbread
So that doesn’t look good or bad, really, it just puts the onus on the team to get hot. But what about the other teams in the mix?So we can see that the Raptors have a few cupcakes, a few tough ones, and a lot of 50/50 propositions. This makes sense, as it’s completely what you’d expect if records were normally distributed throughout the league and the Raptors were a mid-level team.

raps playoff 5tm
This is where things turn far more positive for the Raptors. If we look at strength of schedule (based on opponent winning percentage, NOT the Hollinger ranking this time) and home-versus-road splits, the Raptors appear to have the easiest task the rest of the way.

Boston, along with being banged up pretty badly, spends most of their time on the road. The same goes for the Pistons and the Sixers, the latter of which face a tough schedule the rest of the way. Finally, the Bucks have an even home-road split but face a significantly harder schedule than the Raptors.

Another fortunate note is that the Raptors play the Bucks, Celtics and Pistons twice each, giving them six games that essentially count double in the playoff push. Only two of those games are at home, though, so the Raptors will be in tough to go 4-2 in that stretch and make some gains. Circle those ones on your calendar.

The entire Raptors remaining schedule is below, along with the opponent’s winning percentage. You can judge for yourself how you think this will go. There are some nice cherry games in there, including four against the Wizards (but a warning: they have gotten much better of late and are pretty solid defensively, they just may be in tank mode now) and two against the Bobcats. The real tests, other than coming out of the break hot, will be the four-game trip at the start of March and the three-game trip at the start of April. The Raptors don’t have any sustained home stand except for right out of the break, so there’s no longer a spot to gain a tonne of momentum at home.

raps playoff sked
So, how do the Raptors have to finish? Arse, Wally and Casciaro think 19-10, Koreen thinks 17-12 is the minimum necessary to possibly get them there, and the Playoff Odds suggest 19-10, depending on who certain wins come against. Let’s have a look at what would need to happen at different performance levels. This table shows different Raptor records and the highest record for each team in the hunt that would still allow the Raptors to finish ahead of them (not tie, as the tiebreakers are still too wide open). Note that this doesn’t mean each team has to have that record for the Raptors to make the playoffs, but at least three of the four would.

raps playoff scenarios

A chunk of this analysis depends on how you feel about the Sixers and Pistons. Personally, I don’t think either has a better chance than the Raptors to make the playoffs. Toronto is playing better and is healthier, with an easier road the rest of the way.

However, one of Milwaukee or Boston needs to fall off in a pretty serious way. Even if the Raptors went on a 21-10 tear, one of those two teams would still have to play sub-.500 ball the rest of the way for the Raptors to catch them.

It’s certainly possible that Boston will, given that they are now missing Rondo, Sullinger and Barbosa and allegedly shopping Kevin Garnett to rebuild on the fly. You can definitely make the case that this aging, banged-up crew won’t handle living on the road well. But is them going 10-20 at all realistic given how well they’ve played of late? It seems unlikely, unless a trade comes before Thursday (perhaps I should have saved this article for then?).

What about the Bucks? The narrative could fit just as well here, with the Bucks becoming sellers at the deadline to try and add more pieces for next year when they won’t just be first-round fodder. With LARRY SANDERS! out for a while and the team really struggling this month, you certainly wouldn’t blame John Hammond for trying to unload a few pieces. If I were him, I’d be shopping Samuel Dalembert and Mike Dunleavy as expiring contracts and veteran help, hoping to either pick up a draft pick or find a team willing to also add on Drew Gooden’s contract (two more years at $6.7M per) to pry loose one of those players. Would a deal like that drop them to 13-18 the rest of the way, especially considering their true talent level is probably well below that of a 26-25 team? It’s possible.

So let’s highlight 19-10 as the target. That means the Raptors have to win their seven winnable games and 12 of the 15 50/50 games (or a couple tough ones), while either the Bucks go 13-18 and/or the Celtics go 11-19. That’s a lot of things that have to break right, and I wouldn’t put the odds any higher than, say, one-in-three, perhaps two-in-three if they manage to go 19-10, which isn’t at all a certainty.

The deadline on Thursday will tell us more – did the Celtics buy or sell, did the Bucks make a move, did Brian Colangelo unload Andrea Bargnani and for what? In the meantime, all I can really leave you with is this:

Correction: I originally said Eric Koreen thought 17-12 would get them in, but I had misread his tweet. He simply said that’s the absolute minimum for it to even be possible. Sorry, EK.

  • ad

    Id say 19-10 would do it. I’d got to say though, is that really in the best interest of the franchise? Id say finishing 9th and giving up the 13th or 14th pick to okc in a weak draft would be the better alternative. I mean, missing on the playoffs AGAIN would fucking suck, but they would just be swept by Miami anyways. I say the goal should be to improve the team at the deadline and offseason and come into next season a potential 4/5 seed as much as I hate to throw away the present.

    • Brandonjlee87

      For young players bow playoff experience is great. Screw everyone who says they’ll get swept by the heat. Who cares!? Playoff time for such a young squad would do a lot for their development. Even if it is a sweep. It would be at the hands of the heat. Who beat okc in 5 games. Almost a sweep

      • Matt52

         It would also mean the Raptors likely finished the year 36-23 (minimum assuming 19-10 finish) after starting year 4-19.  The Raptors would most definitely not be scrapping in to the playoffs next season unless serious injuries occurred. 

  • K.J.P

    “what was all that one and a million talk?” <—-that's what i'll say in April. Great write up Blake. I wouldn't mind getting the eighth seed though. Playing against Miami for at least four games in a row. That's a learning experience! Plus, if we do win at least one of those games it would be a victory. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/ronnie.sparks.5 Ronnie Sparks

       Agreed

  • Steve

    Great article love the stats and analysis. In my opinion, if the raptors want to make the playoffs this year thee have todo tthe boozer deal. I know it cripples our cap space and there won’t be much of a future, you have to take risks in order to make the playoffs. One other possibility is for bargnani to step up and be a good 3rd or 4th option. But judging the past, where is raptor fans had hopes for bargs, he just did not deliver and live up. Big reason why I want him gone but these next 29 games will be fun and we hope they find a way to sneak in to that 8th spot.

  • StandUpComedian

    Don’t set your expectations too high and you won’t be disappointed…

    • Jack Hodgins NZ

      That is not a great attitude for life

      • Thornbury

        Completely agree, but it is sort of how we Raptors fans cope. That and copious amounts of in game liquor consumption

  • Slick_r1

    Good article. Just one thing who cares of raptors were to end up in 8th spot. Alteast they’re in the playoffs. I don’t think people expect this team to be a championship team anytime soon. But alteast they’re gaining experience if they were to make 8th. So it’s stupid when people say what’s the point because they would be eliminated in 1st rd th Miami. The point is making playoffs is building on something.

    • WhiteVegas

      Who wouldn’t love to watch the Raptors play the Heat in the Playoffs? It would get a ton of buzz around the team heading into next season. We might even be able to steal a game or two.

    • kameko

      Um hello draft picks. Duh.

  • thead

    one thing you could focus on is the two games with Mil represent a four game swing if we take both. 

  • Hasib

    Ideally we make the playoffs OR miss the playoffs and get the #1 overall pick via fluke the same way Chicago got D-Rose after barely missing the playoffs.

    😀

  • ckh26

    Nice article.  The hackneyed phrase anything can happen was written for sports. Boston is doing it with smoke and mirrors and its nearing midnight for the over the hill gang in green. Milwaukee has that injury with Sanders (how long is he supposed be out for ?) and if they roll the dice on a trade for one of Ellis/Jennings that would add another variable. Variables can be good or they can be hellish. Our chances are 50/50 to get into the 8th spot. 

    Re the draft pick .. is it the finishing in the playoffs that determines worst to first rankings or is is it overall record that determines your draft spot. Long way to say can you get into the playoffs and still be in the lottery ?

     

    • BoshRawr

       Got em on pretty much all of my fantasy teams, he’s supposedly back tomorrow.

    • ezz_bee

      Only teams who miss the playoffs can be in the lottery.  The odds of winning the lottery are different for every team, the better your ranking the fewer ping pong balls you get, the lower your overall odds.  The only way a team that makes the playoffs gets a lottery pick is if they have another team’s pick that isn’t top three protected.

  • Guy from Future

    Screw all of your negativity. Mark these words down, “The Toronto Raptors are not just going to make the Playoffs, but will also be the 2013 NBA Champions”. They have “Ice in their Veins” now.

    KAPEESHE!!!

  • Slap Dog Hoops

    It’s not even worth considering.  The Raptors would have to win elven straight just to get to .500 to even stand a chance at the last playoff berth.  If they manage to win more than 30 games, it should be considered a victory in itself.

  • Raptors fan

    I saa they need 21-8 but 19-10 would work. The last seven games there 5-2 so at this rate they could go 10-4 15-3 20-4 25-4

  • Arsenalist

    Excellent article with great analysis. 

  • Mapko

    Making playoffs as an 8 seed would be fantastic on 2 fronts:
    -Playoff experience even if we were to get swept (unlikely);
    -Fact that we made playoffs after such a horrible start would be a great boost of confidence for this relatively young team going forward to next year.
    -Just making playoffs would also get us a mid first rounder this year (maybe a decent backup PG?)
    In terms of those 50/50 games -we were on the short end of a lot of them this year -MAYBE lady luck decides to balance things this year?
    Any chance refs might feel “guilty” for shafting us 4 times(?) this year?
    OK last one is totally wish-full thinking.
    In the end 19-10 and we take last spot (over old Celtics).

  • Matt52

    This really is a great article.  Thanks, Blake.  Great breakdown.

  • HellBoy

    Great job Blake.  Just want to add that nobody cares what Eric Koreen thinks.

  • Sherrilq67

    Actually at this rate it’s possible with the schedule they have that they could possibly finish 23-6

  • FAQ

    TRaps will make the playoffs if BC can pull off a miraculous trade this week… and get a half-decent playmaking PG… otherwise it’s dubious.

  • hateslosing

    Awesome write up. 

  • sleepz

    The narrative has been established.

    They make a late playoff run and end up 9 or 10th, “they will definitely make the playoffs next year”. A large assumption considering you don’t know how much other teams will improve in the offseason. The Wiz have been above .500 since Wall came back from injury. Philly might have Bynum actually on the court.

    If the Raps play .500 ball or thereabouts the rest of the way,which is possible with their schedule, the 4-19 start will be blamed like its something that didn’t happen.lol

    When will there be some accountability?

    • SR

      This sounds like the most likely outcome, one that is all too familiar to Toronto sports fans…

    • Jamshid

      “When will there be some accountability?”
      Never !!! Look at how herd is happy again with BC  after Gay trade !! BC has not been able to move AB, Kleiza, Fileds and … There is huge hole at back up PG  :) and this team will be over the Cap this summer and will not be able to make any move.

  • ezz_bee

    Regardless how the season ends, based on how the players we have, and with Casey as coach, I’m 85% confident that make the playoffs next year, somewhere between the 8-6th seed.  Now if something weird happens like a season ending injury to Gay, or a trade that guts the whole team for draft picks (both unlikely scenario’s) I just don’t see them missing the playoffs.  Even if teams like Washington, Cleveland, and Philly step up, teams like Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta, are big question marks.

    If Toronto can get consistent bench production for Bargnani (unlikely) or move him in a trade that gets us a strong combo PF/C (50/50) then I think this team can be a top 5 team in the East, and be in the hunt for home court in the first round (although, I don’t seem them getting homecourt, just challenging for it, if that makes sense.) 

    AS for this year, I went through the raps schedule and that of the Bucks, before this article was posted, and although I’d LOVE for the raps to make the playoffs, and don’t care too much about giving up our draft pick next year as opposed to this year, I just do not see the raps making it.  They’d have to play to well over too long of a stretch, they’ve already had a number of games this year, where I’ve thought, “Man if they can win this game, then maybe playoffs are a possibility”  like the OKC loss at home, that ended our first  big run, and the recent Boston game.

    Ultimately, I just don’t see it happening, even though I’d be awesome if it did.  But I’m okay with that, because either way they are playing well and I think will continue to do so, and I can sustain myself with the knowledge that the raps are going to be in the playoffs next year.  And giving up that pick now as opposed to next year doesn’t hurt us either.

    So in summary, Raps aren’t making the playoffs, and that’s okay.  Not because it’s better to give up the pick this year, but because the future of team looks good.  (as long as your okay with a team whose ceiling is the second round, which at this point I am).

  • Bears

    Excellent article!  Wonderful breakdown.
    In my opinion, the Raps have a very small window, realistically they have 9 more losses left (41-41).  Meanwhile, the bucks have a 7 loss cushion and the Celtics have an 8 loss cushion over us.

  • skeptical

    This article makes me even more disappointed in the Raptors performance early this year. Winning just a few of the “easy” games that got away would’ve drastically changed the backend odds.  Seriously: 4-19.  Despite a great deal of improvement since that time, despite bad calls affecting some outcomes, that is the story of the season right there.

    Next year should be more exciting because there is a strong possibility that Toronto will be involved in the playoff picture.  But for now it’s just waiting to see if another trade is found and what the young players can show off between now and the end of the year.