It’s official: the 2019-2020 NBA season is set to resume July 31st in Orlando. Following an eight-game wrap-up to the regular season, plus a potential play-in tournament for the No. 8 seed, the playoffs will begin, finally giving the Toronto Raptors the opportunity to defend their crown. Only, according to most pundits and Vegas sportsbooks, the defending champs aren’t exactly favourites when it comes to their chances to repeat.
According to new odds from OddsShark.com, the Raptors are considered +2000 underdogs to win the championship this year, putting them well behind the Los Angeles Lakers (+200), the Milwaukee Bucks (+300), and the Clippers (+325). But also the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets, landing them firmly in the consensus second tier of contenders.
It’s not just bettors that are down on the Raptors chances, either. The most recent NBA.com Power Rankings have Toronto at a mind-boggling No. 8 (!!) out of the 22 teams that will be heading to Walt Disney World when basketball resumes.
Here’s their math: “I can't shake the feeling that they just don't have enough horsepower to keep up with the truly stacked teams. Is Pascal Siakam going to trade buckets down the stretch of a tight game? Is Kyle Lowry going to clear out and deliver timely daggers with their backs against a wall? Is Norman Powell really Toronto's best answer to go one-on-one in the half court?”
ESPN experts, meanwhile, gave the defending champs only a 5.9 percent chance to make the Finals (tied with the Celtics), compared to the Bucks’ 88.2 percent chance to win the Eastern Conference crown.
Add it all up and it’s some serious disrespect for a team that went into the layoff with the third-best record in the league on the heels of a 21-4 run. Just as a quick reminder, this was a team that was the consensus No. 4 in the NBA.com power rankings back in early March.
So what exactly has changed in the past three months (besides, you know, the entire world)? It’s hard to say.
Yes, Kawhi Leonard is still on the Clippers. And sure, playing in a neutral site in Orlando means Toronto won’t be able to lean on their significant home court advantage. A socially-distanced version of Jurassic Park just doesn’t have quite the same vibe.
But this level of disregard feels especially crazy when you remember how much the extended COVID-19 downtime has helped the previously-shorthanded Raptors rest up and get healthy. Not to mention, that Marc Gasol apparently looks like this now:
Really, though, it’s no different from where the defending champs sat at the beginning of the 2019-2020 season. Or the disrespect this Raptors squad experienced during last year’s playoffs, for that matter, all the way through their eventual victory over Golden State.
Either way, being written off doesn’t seem to be keeping the team up at night. “To be simple and truthful, I just don’t care what people think of the Raptors,” said Pascal Siakam, in a recent interview with The Toronto Star. “We are the champions and if you don’t see it, that’s your problem.”
Sounds like we’re not the only ones who’ve been binging The Last Dance recently…