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Tuesday talking point: First round opponent?

With all the negativity floating around the Raptors (and by extension, the posts on this site) right now, I felt like it was high time to inject some positivity. Sure, there may not be much of a point to the rest of the Raptors’ season, but there is still something every red blooded Raptor fan is looking forward to: playoffs. April 15th is the last day of the regular season, and then the fun starts – the pundits mispronouncing Jonas’ name in multiple inexplicable ways, picking apart Lou Williams, DeMar DeRozan doing ballhandling drills in a film studio to a Pitbull song, all of it.

I LOVE the playoffs. And the carrot of the Raptors making it through the first round, or mayyyyybe more (hey, they won last night?), is far more than enough to get me through a semi-depressing Trailblazers loss on a Sunday.

That’s why I’m putting this to you: put on your foresight caps, Republic, and let’s do some prognosticating. Who do you want to see the Raptors play in the first round this year?

The possibilities

Note: We’re excluding anyone below Charlotte in the standings, even though it’s possible Brooklyn or even Detroit could sneak in. I’m also disqualifying Cleveland though I suppose the Raptors and Cavs could potentially finish 4/5.

Boston Celtics

Current record: 30-36, 9th in the East

Season head to head: Raptors lead 2-0, two games left to play

Pros: This is the ultimate “happy to be here” team… Raptors have these guys covered at literally every position… KELLY OLYNYK IN THE PLAYOFFS (in Canada)… Good chance to make their presence felt against an up-and-coming division rival… Exceedingly winnable, Raptors would be favoured everywhere.

Cons: Isaiah Thomas could go ham and win a couple games by himself… Marcus Smart could take out DeMar or Lowry at the legs and I wouldn’t be shocked… KELLY OLYNYK IN THE PLAYOFFS :(… Underrated defensively… One of the East’s hottest teams… Very well coached.

Random Raptor stat line: 6 points for Stiemsma! Got 12 minutes of playing time in the November 5 matchup even though it was just a 3 point win, and went 2 for 2 from the field and the line (and committed 3 fouls to boot).

The verdict: The chance of this happening are totally dependant on the Raptors catching fire – I could see Boston moving up to 7th more easily than I can see Toronto catching Cleveland for 2nd, but you never know. Regardless, it’s a dream matchup: a marquee city, a division rival, and a very beatable opponent. Also, I’d love to see the fallout of Masai yelling “F*ck Boston.” Rating: seven Shavlik Randolph years in the league (how?).

Charlotte Hornets

Current record: 29-36, 10th in the East

Season head to head: Hornets lead 2-0, two games left to play

Pros: Lacking a bonafide star, unless you count Al Jefferson… Chance to beat a team peripherally related to MJ… Equally as inexperienced as the Raptors, come playoff time… Literally nobody in the states would pay attention to this series, taking the heat off the Raptors… Lance Stephenson.

Cons: The Raptors just don’t seem to matchup well with these guys, have been killed in regular season matchups dating back two years… Defensive stalwarts abound, and MKG might be the league’s best wing defender in waiting… Kemba F*cking Walker… Literally nobody in the states would pay attention to this series, putting all the pressure on the favoured Raptors… Just watch all the ESPN pundits pick Charlotte in this one.

Random Raptor stat line: Landry Fields started and played 10 minutes in the matchup January 8, and threw up the classic 0/0/0/0/0/0/0 stat line, took no shots and was a -21. That’s dedication.

The verdict: Given both teams’ spots in the standings, this one is a bit of a long shot (the Raps would likely have to catch Cleveland for second, and Charlotte would have to move up to 7th), but it’s a nightmare matchup for Toronto for all sorts of reasons. A loss to Charlotte in the first round is the most depressing realistic scenario out there for the Raps, and, to boot, it’s almost certain to be a boring series. Rating: zero Bismacks.

Chicago Bulls

Current record: 40-28, 4th in the East

Season head to head: Bulls lead 2-0, two games left to play

Pros: This team can’t stay healthy, and the spectre of Derrick Rose looms over every game… Get to watch the inevitable/hilarious Jonas/Noah confrontation… Bulls are slumping almost as bad as the Raptors lately… High profile matchup, would get the team some exposure… Would definitely be a 4/5 matchup, meaning the winner plays Atlanta and not the Cavs.

Cons: Tom Thibodeau… Pau Gasol… Jimmy Butler… Nikola Mirotic… I could go on.

Random Raptor stat line: How’s this for a complete game? In their first matchup on November 13, James Johnson put up 16 points, 5 rebounds, an assist, 4 blocks, and 4 steals on 7 for 9 shooting. Swoon.

The verdict: This matchup would mean both teams slide a spot in the current standings, but it’s not impossible – the Wizards are only a game behind the Raptors, and half a game behind the Bulls. This is that classic “play hard in a loss” type matchup for the Raptors, who will certainly not be favoured no matter whether they have home court advantage or not. It’ll likely provide some great basketball, some moral victories, and a first round exit. Rating: Three Doug McDermott SI covers.

Indiana Pacers

Current record: 30-36, 7th in the East, Raptors beat them last night

Season head to head: Raptors win 3-0

Pros: Raptors have owned this matchup this year… Indiana doesn’t seem to be able to keep up to the Raptors’ pace… Doesn’t have a go-to scorer that can punish the Raps’ poor defence… Guys, this team starts Solomon Hill.

Cons: Genuine sleeper… Impeccably coached… Playoff experience… Paul George looms over everything.

Random Raptor stat line: Let’s go with Lowry’s slump busting 22-10-11 triple double from last night.

The verdict: The Pacers are the team currently scaring the crap out of every East contender, as you know that a first round series would be a knock-down, drag-out affair, even with Paul George out. However, this is a matchup that works better for the Raptors in some ways than a team like the Cavaliers. I feel like the Raptors would be favoured, even with George, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him back in the lineup. Rating: Five bench players with zero points.

Miami Heat

Current record: 30-36, 8th in the East, beat Cleveland last night

Season head to head: Tied 1-1, one game to go.

Pros: No Chris Bosh… Older, injury prone squad… We win the fan matchup in a landslide… No real bench to speak of… Raptors finally snapped a 16-game skid against the Heat last week.

Cons: Had to snap a 16-game skid against them last week… 4/5 of that starting lineup is bonkers, even with Bosh out… Lot of savvy veterans with playoff experience, championship pedigree… Well-coached… The young-ish Raptors have to play road playoff games in Miami, AKA party central… DOS MINUTOS.

Random Raptor stat line: Patrick Patterson got his first start of the season with Amir Johnson out in these teams’ first matchup. His response? No points in 15 minutes. C’mon, Pat.

The verdict: I would LOVE to see this matchup, but I have a feeling it’s a bit of a pipe dream, unless the Raptors dominate the rest of the year and sneak up to second. With that being said, this would be exactly what the doctor ordered for the young Raptors: a very winnable matchup against a veteran laden team that’s sure to both push them and give them confidence going forward.  Rating: DIEZ MINUTOS.

Milwaukee Bucks

Current record: 34-32, 6th in the East

Season head to head: Raptors lead 2-1, but Bucks held Raps to 75 points in last matchup.

Pros: Less playoff experience than the Raptors… Chance to get revenge against Jason Kidd… Get to watch the Greek Freak play a playoff series… Raptors’ most impressive win of the year came against these guys… The Raptor > Bango the Buck… Mallory Edens.

Cons: These guys are LONG and have proven they can seriously crush the Raps with defence… The Greek Freak would make his playoff debut against the Raptors… Nice veteran bench that can help deal with inexperience… Ultimate wild-card in the playoffs.

Random Raptor stat line: There’s only one answer for this.

The verdict: I’m optimistic about this one, which is good, because it’s one of the more likely possibilities. I don’t feel like the Bucks have the consistent enough scorers to hang with a team like the Raptors, who will likely win a game or two just due to Milwaukee not being hot from the field. That said, I could absolutely see the Buck steal a game – or the series – with defence. Rating: Seven foot wingspans (ugh. I’m sorry).

Washington Wizards

Current record: 39-28, 5th in the East

Season head to head: Raptors won 3-0

Pros: Raptors have owned this matchup this year… Might actually have a coaching advantage, if you can believe it… Chance to get some playoff revenge against Paul Pierce… Washington needs their full team together to be effective… Close enough for home fans to travel… Would be a seriously intense series, as a rivalry’s developed between these teams… Lowry vs Wall for 7 games could be a breakout for both of them.

Cons: John Wall could steal multiple games, so could Bradley Beal… The spectre of Paul Pierce looms… One of those matchups that the U.S. media will play as a guaranteed Wizards win… G Man is in our lives for a couple weeks.

Random Raptor stat line: Kyle Lowry mini triple double alert! He went for 13, 11 and 10 in a Rondo-esque performance on November 7.

The verdict: I feel like the Raptors own the Wizards, which is reason enough for me to pause. These teams are closer than the 3-0 season matchup indicates, and although I do feel like the Raptors would be favoured no matter who has home court advantage, there are enough guys on the Wizards that scare me enough to drop them a couple points. Rating: Seven Drew Gooden beard points.

What do you think? Anyone you’d like to see the Raps face off with in the first round?

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