LeBron James’ decision to head West and join the Los Angeles Lakers this past offseason was music to the Toronto Raptors’ ears. James and the Cavaliers had knocked the Raptors out of the playoffs in each of the last three seasons – all as underdogs – as Toronto watched 56-, 51- and 59-win seasons end without a sniff of their first Eastern Conference title.
But with James in Hollywood and the East essentially up for grabs, Toronto saw its opening. They fired Dwane Casey and brought in Nick Nurse, they traded for Kawhi Leonard and went ultra-aggressive at last month’s trade deadline, acquiring Marc Gasol.
It was all looking great for the Raptors, who entered the All-Star break on a six-game win streak and a single game back of the East-leading Bucks.
It’s been quite the struggle for the Raptors since then – and for NBA betting fans trying to figure out this team. And it comes with less than a month before the playoffs begin. Here’s a look at some of their trends and whether it should affect their futures odds.
Raptors On A Cold Streak
Since Feb. 24 the Raptors have really struggled. They’re just 5-5 – after a stretch in which they went 16-5 in January and February – and have some eye-opening losses in that span.
It began with a home loss to the Magic and twice they’ve gone to Detroit and lost to a Pistons team that has played well in the last month but is still a clear tier or two below the Raptors. Sandwiched in between those losses? A road loss to the tanking Cleveland Cavaliers by 25 points.
The result has been a net rating of +2.1 in those last 10 games, a respectable 14th in the NBA but a far cry from where they were - +5.2, 5th – before this ugly stretch. Making matters worse, Kyle Lowry is dealing with an ankle injury at a time in which his production usually begins to dip.
The good news is they’re going to get back on track. The team is far too talented not to, and they’ve also got the second easiest schedule remaining in the NBA. They play the Thunder on Wednesday and Friday, and those are the final games on their schedule against teams with winning records.
They should have plenty of time to get back on track against inferior opponents.
Raptors’ NBA Finals Odds Haven’t Shifted
It’s not as if the Raptors have entirely imploded. Their five wins during this stretch have included victories over Boston, Portland and LeBron James and the Lakers – the last of which is relevant only because of James’ history against Toronto.
Because of that, oddsmakers haven’t felt the need to adjust their title odds. They’ve remained steady at +900 on 888Sport, just ahead of Milwaukee despite trailing them in the East.
This is still a team with Lowry, Leonard, a Most Improved Player frontrunner in Pascal Siakam and playoff veterans in Gasol, Danny Green and Serge Ibaka. Their rotation should shorten up once the playoffs begin which will help make up for depth lost in the Gasol deal, and Leonard has the potential to own a series.
Also helping their title cause is the fact that they’ve defeated Golden State twice this season, earning a rare series sweep of the Kerr-led Warriors. That’s the sort of mental edge that could give the Raptors a fighting chance should the two teams meet up in June.
Raptors Still Behind Bucks in East
The Raptors have the second-best title odds behind Golden State, but they’re not even the favorites in the East. Granted, they’re not far behind but that honor still belongs to the Milwaukee Bucks at +200, slightly better than Toronto’s +210 odds.
It makes sense, too, as the Bucks have been consistent all year long and have the NBA’s best record at 52-18. They’ve got the likely MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, have the league’s best defense and third best offense. That combination allows them to win in different fashions, which should come in handy in the postseason.
The Bucks are 3-1 against the Raptors this season, though Leonard sat out one of those losses for rest purposes. Should the two teams meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, Toronto would have the experience advantage – having been there two seasons ago – and a player in Leonard who could match Antetokounmpo in a seven-game series.
Toronto should enter the postseason with plenty of momentum and might luck out and if Leonard takes his game to another level like we’ve seen him do in the postseason it could be the difference for the Raptors in late May against the Bucks.