Get ready for a full season of the Toronto Raptors as defending NBA Champions. In a sense, every game will have heightened importance because it will contain the reigning champion. Of course, some will still be more important than others. Here’s 10 to which you can look forward.
October 22, New Orleans Pelicans @ Toronto:
The opening game of the season will be one for the ages. If you thought Kyle Lowry’s standing ovation after the Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks to qualify for the NBA Finals was a tear-jerker, then wait until you see this next one. Toronto will receive their rings and raise their championship banner. The Raptors will open their season with a raucous celebration. The dessert will be no afterthought, as Pascal Siakam will welcome Zion Williamson into the NBA.
October 25, Toronto @ Boston Celtics:
For too long, the NBA viewing public has been deprived of one playoff series that would settle recurring arguments around the world: Toronto against Boston. The Atlantic Division rivals have danced around each other for far too long, and both teams have retooled entering the 2019-20 season. Toronto will be missing Kawhi Leonard, while the Celtics lost Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. Expect both to remain contenders for the Eastern Conference crown, as perhaps this season will finally be the one in which Boston and Toronto meet in the playoffs. First, Boston will be a stiff test for Toronto’s first road game of the season.
January 12, San Antonio Spurs @ Toronto:
DeMar DeRozan’s return to Toronto has been, is, and will forever be meaningful. DeRozan was the crown jewel of the Raptors for the better part of a decade, and he loved the city as much as it loved him. It doesn’t matter that Toronto won its first championship in its first post-DeRozan season; the man remains a Raptors icon. He will certainly receive an extended standing ovation in his first game in Toronto of the 2019-20 season.
January 22, Philadelphia 76ers @ Toronto:
The 76ers have to partially feel that if Kawhi Leonard’s outrageous bouncing game-winner hadn’t fallen, they would have had a great chance at the 2018-19 NBA Championship. Such is the thin line between timelines, but the 76ers have reason to detest their Toronto counterparts. Having added Al Horford and Josh Richardson, the 76ers are arguably one of the leading contenders to compete for this upcoming season’s crown. Their first visit to Toronto since the two teams’ historic game seven will be sure to contain fireworks.
November 2, Toronto @ Milwaukee Bucks:
Giannis Antetokounmpo only has so long left in Milwaukee before he comes to Tor… er, before he becomes a free agent. And every game between now and then will be of increasingly heightened importance for the Bucks’ franchise. 2018-19 was a coming-out party for the superstar, as he captured MVP honours. However, he ran into a brick wall in Marc Gasol and the Raptors in the playoffs, and his elimination resulted in nightmares that remain in his head to this day. Now he knows what the playoffs can be like, and his first game against the defending champions since his ouster will be a measure at revenge.
November 10, Toronto @ Los Angeles Lakers:
Any change the Raptors get at LeBron James is meaningful. The guy was a one-man wrecking crew in the East for an eternity. The Raptors winning the championship may not let us forget James having beat Toronto in 10 straight playoff games, but it does help us forgive. The Lakers added Anthony Davis over the summer, too, so Los Angeles will be hugely improved. And oh yeah, they stole NBA Champion Danny Green, so there will be plenty of storylines to enjoy in this one.
November 11, Toronto @ Los Angeles Clippers:
It may not be Kawhi Leonard’s first game back in Toronto, but it will be the first game between Leonard and his former championship squad. The Raptors have nothing but love for their former teammate, but they’ll be out to prove something in this one. The Clippers are an early favourite for the 2019-20 title, and the Raptors will be trying to prove that Leonard left behind the perfect situation. Expect playoff-level execution from the jump.
February 7, Toronto @ Indiana Pacers:
Ok, this might be a stretch. But the trade deadline this year falls in the early morning of February 7. We know Masai Ujiri won’t hesitate to pull the trigger on major trades if something big is on the table; the guy traded away two institutions in DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas. The Raptors have several appealing veterans who can contribute big to championship teams: Lowry, Gasol, and Serge Ibaka, especially. If Toronto doesn’t look capable of competing in the playoffs, or if someone puts a godfather offer on the table, it’s possible that Toronto’s game on February 7 could be the start of a new era.
December 11, Los Angeles Clippers @ Toronto:
If Toronto’s first game against the Clippers will be about the physical intensity, then the return to Toronto will be about the emotional intensity. Expect the crowd to serenade Leonard all night. This is the city that adopted Leonard as one of its own, offered him free everything, put up murals, and eventually celebrated a championship with the guy. Love like that doesn’t just go away even if the player does. Leonard’s return to Toronto could rival the volume of the ring ceremony.
March 30, Memphis Grizzlies @ Toronto:
The Grizzlies will always be connected to Canada, having originally hailed from Vancouver. But Memphis’ new goal seems to be to capture the hearts and minds of all Canadians. Not only did the Grizzlies collect a variety of former Raptors in Valanciunas, CJ Miles, Delon Wright, and Bruno Caboclo, but they’ve even added a pair of unforgettable Canadians in Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke. Sure, the Grizzlies won’t have all of those names on the roster come March 30 – Wright and Miles are already on other rosters – but they’ve done a great job pulling the interest of Canada towards Memphis. The Grizzlies’ only visit to Toronto this season will be a contest between Canada’s two NBA teams.