At this point, it is basically a foregone conclusion that the Toronto Raptors are making the postseason. It would take an epic collapse to fall out of the Playoffs in a conference where a 26-35 record currently has Atlanta clinging to the eighth seed. Even for an organization that took a best-ever team record into the All-Star break in 2010 and still managed to screw up a postseason berth, falling out now would be borderline impossible. It won’t happen.

That means that, with just over a month to go until the Playoffs roll around, it’s time to start looking ahead to what’s in store for the Raptors after April 16th.

(As an aside, it still feels peculiar to be talking about the Raptors and the Playoffs this season. Heck, there is a chance that in this season, when they were supposedly looking to tank for Andrew Wiggins, they might wind up with their best record in franchise history! And that’s after trading away their most recognizable player. Okay, aside over.)

As well as they’ve played this season, though, the Playoffs are a different beast. Rotations tighten, intensity ratchets up and experience matters. Despite owning the third-best record in the East, there are some matchups that simply won’t benefit Toronto should the final standings not tilt in their favour.

Chicago demonstrated why back on February 19th. While the game was only a two-point loss, Chicago owned Toronto both physically and mentally all game long. They played at a level of intensity that Toronto looked unable to match over the course of an entire game. Chicago wants to own their opponents. They may not always win, but they will push you to the brink when they are on their game. While the two teams split the season series, the Chicago that Toronto saw on the 19th is the Chicago that Tom Thibodeau will be taking to the Playoffs, and they play the kind of basketball that grizzled Playoff veterans play when they do battle in seven-game series’. They are also exactly the kind of club that would feast on an inexperienced club like the Raptors in April.

That’s why if you’re the Raptors (or, rather, if you’re a Raptors fan), you’re probably hoping to avoid a first-round date with Chicago or Brooklyn when the Playoffs roll around next month. These are teams loaded with players who understand how the game changes in the postseason. They know how the games get more physical. How the games are called differently by the refs. They understand the pressure, both from within the team and without, and they know how to prey on inexperience, even if they couldn’t or didn’t do it during the regular season.

Also on RR today:

Raptors fans have witnessed this first hand. Back in 2007, the last time the club unexpectedly won the Atlantic Division, they were surgically picked apart by a veteran Nets squad led by Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson. It wasn’t that the Nets were more talented, but they understood how to exploit the Raptors in the postseason. They amped up the physicality against Chris Bosh, which he didn’t know how to deal with (he shot .396 from the field in that series), they packed the paint and dared the Raptors to beat them from outside, knowing that they’ll get burned occasionally but trusting that they’ll win-out in the end (which they did), and they simply forced the game to be played at their pace, on their terms, and won it in six.

This isn’t a conversation about a young club getting dominated by a veteran squad in the postseason, though. Despite the staggering lack of Playoff experience on the Raptors (most of their main rotation has never played a meaningful minute in the Playoffs, and most of those that have possess only marginal experience), this is about veteran clubs understanding how to play a seven-game series. That Nets series seven years ago saw New Jersey win two nail-biters in Toronto, but they walloped the Raptors when the games were played in the Meadowlands. They exploited their little advantages to eke out a series win, because veteran teams understand the nuances of Playoff basketball in a way that young, inexperienced teams don’t.

If things shake out well for the Raptors, though, and they can land Charlotte or Washington in round one, things could work a lot more favourably for them. Neither squad has much to offer in terms of Playoff experience, and over the course of a seven-game series a healthy Raptors squad should be able to out-execute their opposition, or at least put themselves in a position to advance to round two for the first time since 2001. While both of those squads feature players that Toronto would have a hard time matching up with one-on-one (Al Jefferson and John Wall, respectively), on a team-to-team level the Raptors probably come out ahead.

The question is whether or not any of this means anything to the people tasked with running this Raptors squad. In a lot of ways the organization is playing with house money right now. The club has wildly outperformed expectations. Several players are having career-years out of nowhere. It would be easy for the team to say that any postseason experience is valuable, and that win or lose they will just be whetting the roster’s appetite for more in the future. After all, Dwane Casey has said repeatedly all season long that this year is as much about development as a postseason berth. While Thibodeau had his club grinding at a Playoff intensity in February, Casey may be more inclined to allow his team to play like they’ve been playing all season long, let the Playoffs arrive and let the chips fall where they may. Whereas most coaches might start experimenting with lineups, rotations and schemes that they will break out in full-force in the postseason, Casey may well keep working to get his young guys experience and his largish rotation playing time. That strategy may not exactly tune the team up for what Playoff basketball is like, but it maintains this season’s developmental goals and doesn’t over-invest in the meaning of this year’s surprise Playoff appearance.

In fact, that’s probably the biggest fear Raptors fans carry into this year’s postseason. It isn’t about whether or not the Raptors will acquit themselves admirably or not, it’s how deeply the club in investing in this season-long Cinderella story. Back in 2007, after the Nets dispatched the Raptors in round one, management doubled-down on a flawed roster, intoxicated by their unexpected success, and failed to build on their achievements as a result. The team got worse in each of the next two years because they never acknowledged how far away they were from contention despite their gaudy finish in the standings in ’07. Fans wouldn’t even be blamed for secretly hoping that the Raptors go down in round one to a more experienced club this year because it would send a message to management that this team ins’t ready, that it isn’t close and that more foundational work needs to be done before anyone should be satisfied with the makeup of the roster.

Whatever happens once the Playoffs are done, that the Raptors are almost assuredly going is still the real story here. The next month will be a fascinating one to watch, as we’ll get to see not only how the ever-shifting matchup situation plays out (if they Playoffs were to start today the third-seed Raptors would take on the sixth-seed Nets) but also how coach Casey chooses to tinker with his approach heading into the postseason – if at all. It was the Playoff berth that was never meant to happen, so how the organization chooses to approach it remains one of last intriguing story lines left to play out this season.

  • yabadabaYOLO

    Kind of off topic but how sick would Gerald green be on this team. It would be dunks everywhere where ross and green just tearing things up

    In a seven game series it would be scary to think about them

    • afrocarter

      Any scarier than DeRozan/Ross? DeMar has clearly been a better player than Green (though Green has had a great year as well).

      • yabadabaYOLO

        Obviously derozan is better by far

        I was just saying green would be a dangerous option off the bench. He would be a big wing player to replace either dd or ross when they get tired

      • yabadabaYOLO

        Obviously derozan is better than green by far

        I was just saying green being the first person off the bench would be dangerous. Having 3 athletics wings would be so strong come playoff time because all three could go off any given night

    • FUVC

      That should be could the “Active Green & Ross”!!!!

      • Rapchat

        This is an AWESOME comment! HA

  • KuH

    Dwane Casey has pretty good playoff experience with Dallas as a coach (and conversely, if we meet the Nets, Jason Kidd is a rookie head coach).

    It will be interesting to see if the coach’s playoff experience matters as much as the players’.

  • AnthonyF

    C’mon TimW, isn’t this a perfect place to piss in Raptor fan’s corn flakes and tell them how terrible the playoffs will be….. I miss him so much!!!!!!

    • jacobdr4

      I don’t know if your trying to make a joke about tim w being negative again but this is clearly tim chisholm.

      • jacobdr4

        Nevermind just reread your post lol

  • AnthonyF

    Another point about the 2007 Playoffs….. Yes NJ rolled us in the two games in NJ (and game 1 we were somewhat awestruck), but there were 8 seconds (or one shot) from a game 7, so please don’t say they were “surgically picked apart”…

    • afrocarter

      Though that Calderon pass to Bosh was surgically picked off by Jefferson :(((

      • Lyall

        Yea but it was too obvious.

  • Nilanka15

    I think the 2007 Raptor team’s biggest problem was a lack of secondary scoring option. We had Bosh (who was neutralized by Mikey freakin’ Moore), and everyone else. Was any team scared of Calderon or Parker dropping 25? Definitely not.

    This year, we’ve got 2 legit scorers in Lowry and DeRozan, and even Salmons and Vasquez have the ability to turn a broken play into 2 points. I’m not suggesting this current team are worldbeaters, but their offense isn’t as one-dimensional as the 2007 team, without even saying anything about our improved defense.

    • stretch bigman

      Agreed with that but I think the bigger issue after the playoffs (no matter what happens) will be is how do you disassemble a top #4 seed team if you are Masai? I think he is going to have to continue down this road with this team, like it or not as how can he then turn to the fanbase and say he is going to make big changes? Tough call and not one I’m sure he could even make if he wanted to.

      My personal feeling on the matter is whatever the course of action he takes, as a GM he should be judged by the team results but also the talent he brings in during his tenure. When BC took over he had Bosh and Calderon in place and brought in TJ, Garbo, Parker, etc. He never added anyone more talented to the roster than Bosh, so imo his tenure was a fail based on that alone (not to mention he had huge team building issues).

      If Masai, can add more talented players to the roster than what he has now I don’t think the fanbase will be concerned with him ‘changing directions’, if he decides to go another route. However if the talent he has or builds around are mainly the players BC acquired and he’s just adding to that mix, I see that as a fail on his part.

      • john

        Excellent analysis. Yes, we need to bring in another ace talent. However if Demar somehow keeps upping his game next two years, to lets say 25 PER, it may be wise to have the reigns remain in his hands while looking for a solution at the 3.

        • stretch bigman

          I like Demar. I think he has improved his game considerably this year and has started hitting the boards which is important.

          All things considered how good do you think Demar is? I hear a lot of different comparisons.
          I hear the George comparison but George is younger than Demar, more skilled and is a far better ball handler and defensive player so i don’t find that comparison to be accurate.

          I see Demar as more Joe Johnson than anything else. This is a compliment to Demar imo especially if you remember Joe early Atl days. Not the greatest ball handler but can get to his spots on the floor. The only issue I have with that was Joe could never take Atlanta to the promised lands even when AlHorford and Josh were around.

          • john

            I don’t think Demar is going to reach the level I suggested, but given his drive to get better every season, I wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibility. You had originally argued that Masai’s tenure would he a failure if he doesn’t bring in someone more talented than anyone he inherited. While I somewhat agree with you I simply brought up a scenario in which that wouldn’t be the case, however unlikely it may be.

        • noname

          you mean at the 4 right? cuz i think terrence ross is our 3 of the future and in fact i think ha has a higher ceiling than derozan (think of how derozan was playing at ross’ age. and plus ross has already better defense than derozan now). Amir is a great big off the bench and so are 2pat and hans, but i think we are one legit starting power forward away from having a contender caliber starting 5 (when i say this, i think of millsap, love, aldrige, even john henson has that type of potential although he’s buried in the bucks rotation). Then round out the bench with savvy, veteran experience and fresh young legs who can lead the charge and voilà! you got yourself a contender.

          • john

            Yes, we need an upgrade at the 4 as well. I have concerns about Ross’s size at the 3 though in the playoffs. Having him start is fine vs most teams, but we need someone bigger to match up vs certain teams.

      • Nilanka15

        If Lowry decides to test the waters, Masai may not have a choice. As much as DeRozan has improved this year, Lowry is the reason we’re talking about a top 4 seed.

        • stretch bigman

          I agree with that as well. I think that there are far less options moving forward than most believe.

          You resign Lowry and the boys and you are conceivably going in the direction with the team you have (not a good prospect for the future imho) but if you let Lowry walk, what was the purpose of this season? He is balancing a very fine line at the moment. As much praise as has been heaped upon him (he’s done a good job but the whole ‘Messiah’ thing is way overblown), the fortunes of this team for the next few years will be determined this offseason.

        • stretch bigman

          No doubt.

  • Saskatoon Raps Fan

    I get the playoff experience argument, but im more scared of john wall and the wiz than the geezers in Brooklyn. VC Jkidd and Rjefferson were alot closer to their primes than this version of the nets. The 07 nets were experienced and capable. i think these nets are more just experienced

  • Philoveritas

    I for one am just glad to see some meaningful games down the stretch, as die-hard a fan as I have been of this team for a couple of decades, over the last few seasons I have tuned out when the promise of a fresh new Jays season, or a Habs playoff run was far less painful than watching my beloved Raptors play for ping pong balls. I truly believe that they can beat the Nets, then again I thought so in 07 under eerily similar divisional circumstances, Boston a write off, Raps come from nowhere to take home-court, and a veteran Nets squad under-performing. Though the faces have changed, or at least changed teams, or careers, or cities, not a soul from the coaching staff, the players, or the front office is still around the Raptors from that time so it is just history that only the fans remember intimately. I am going to be glad to tune out of other sports(of which I have witnessed championships by my respective teams) to watch the Raptors give it their all in the postseason.

  • ItsAboutFun

    Playoff experience blah blah blah blah, it would seem to put a damper on a season with 21 games left to play. hahahah, but couldn’t be bothered to pay much attention past “this season, when they were supposedly looking to tank for Andrew Wiggins”. “Supposedly” by what criteria? A hundred fans clamouring for it does not constitute the reality of what the organization has done from square 1 to square now.

    • stretch bigman

      But you can accurately summarize what the collective fanbase was feeling at the time?

      Ok.lol

  • Branndon Badger

    Terrence ross! that’s all lol.

  • Why

    Odds are virtually 100% that The Raps will play one of Chi, NJ, or Wahington. No point worrying about who they play – each will present a huge challenge as each team has more experience and/or front end talent than Raps.

    • noname

      not washington…I personally think we would feast on them. But you are right about chicago and brooklyn.

  • Mugsy

    Great write-up. The playoff analysis of the potential matchups is dead on IMO. But the picture going forward is much more positive for the Raps. As you said, nobody expected a top 4 seed, if even the playoffs. And thats the approach they should have going in. Fighting as underdogs, no matter what happens. Worse case scenario they get bounced but gain experience. If they go in with this approach a battle to the last minute, I think it cements their winning culture.

    Then next year you have experience and a hungry squad ready to get back there with improving Val and Ross. With Derozan and hopefully Lowry keeping up production, the focus then should be developing Val’s defense, and continued experience for Ross. They both have the tools to up their games to where they earn 32+mpgs. If they do I Val is easily a double double guy, and Ross a 16+ppg with ever evolving defense. Combine that with Derozan, Lowry, and the solid supporting cast and it looks like a future Eastern Contender.

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  • Doomedhuman

    Have a smile reading a few predictions from the start of the season:

    “As far as basketball is concerned, the Raptors could be good, perhaps even good enough to
    snag the seventh or eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Chances are, though,
    that this squad will be bound for the late lottery, and that Ujiri might just
    as well shop some of Toronto’s pieces around the league to see what kind of
    building blocks he can get in return.”

    Bleacher Report

    “But everything about the Drakes is uncertain. Lowry’s in the
    last year of his contract, with a checkered NBA past, and Gay may well opt out
    of the final year of his deal in order to test free agency this summer. DeRozan
    is overpaid, but still learning.4 Masai
    Ujiri, the Drakes’ new GM, will have chances to blow this roster up if other
    teams sweating their win totals offer even just a little something for these
    guys. Go that route, and the Drakes would sink below the morass — and into the
    high-lottery sweepstakes.”

    Grantland

    Predicted Eastern Conference Seeding- various online experts

    Matt Hrdlicka
    1.
    Chicago Bulls
    2.
    Miami Heat
    3.
    Indiana Pacers
    4.
    Atlanta Hawks
    5.
    Brooklyn Nets
    6.
    New York Knicks
    7.
    Washington Wizards
    8.
    Cleveland Cavaliers

    Kevin Yeung
    1.

    Heat
    2.
    Pacers
    3.
    Bulls
    4.
    Nets
    5.
    Knicks
    6.
    Hawks
    7.
    Wizards
    8.
    Cavaliers

    Andrew Ford
    1.
    Miami Heat
    2.
    Chicago Bulls
    3.
    Indiana Pacers
    4.

    Brooklyn Nets
    5.
    New York Knicks
    6.
    Atlanta Hawks
    7.
    Cleveland Cavaliers
    8.
    Washington Wizards