The Toronto Raptors need to be mindful of the familiar expression, “Watch what you wish for — you just might get it.”
It’s perfectly reasonable to say that the Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers should go after the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, if only because it’s important to have Game 7 on your home floor. There’s a very strong case to make that it’s in the best interests of each team — especially Toronto — to get the top seed and lock up home-court advantage for three playoff rounds.
The case is less convincing with Cleveland, which is why coach Tyronn Lue smartly said he would focus on resting players down the stretch. LeBron James — who has won five straight Eastern Conference championships and six overall — has won five of his six East crowns as a 2 seed. He doesn’t need the top seed, so neither do the Cavs. Toronto — given its history of playoff struggles — has more of a need for the 1 seed.
Yet, it could still be a poison pill for the Raptors.
If you check out our playoff push primer here at Crossover Chronicles, you’ll see a few things. One point which sticks out is that Indiana, four over .500 on Tuesday morning and the 7 seed at this point, owns a cushy schedule. The Pacers will be extremely hard to dislodge from that 7 spot. What we’re seeing in the East is really a three-team race for the No. 8 seed: Chicago, Detroit, and Washington. Chicago and Detroit are both 1.5 games ahead of the Wizards, but Chicago and Detroit face rougher schedules once March ends. The Wizards are still very much in the hunt, and more to the point, they’ll get relevant head-to-head opportunities to make their run at the 8 spot.
That’s the worry for the Raptors.
It’s true that Andre Drummond’s game-winning tip-in on Monday night enabled the Pistons to escape the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s true that the Bulls held off the Sacramento Kings. However, if Washington comes on like a freight train — the Wizards have won their last five games — Randy Wittman’s team would not be an easy playoff foe.
Yes, Paul Pierce would no longer be around to antagonize the Raptors and their fans, but seeing Washington — the team which swept away Toronto last spring — would probably create the most uncertain 1-8 first-round series among all other possibilities.
It is not a secret that Chicago has won nine in a row over Toronto, but that has occurred solely within the context of regular season competition. The playoffs are a different beast, and the comprehensive nature of Washington’s sweep last year would certainly get the Raptors’ attention. Oh, it might not mean much. Brooklyn, a few years ago, had the Miami Heat’s number in the regular season, but LeBron and D-Wade and Bosh won in five games in the second round of the playoffs. One should ultimately expect Toronto to pull through in a similar manner.
The point remains, however: Washington-Toronto would probably not be a cakewalk if the Raptors are the 1 seed in the East.
Toronto might want that 2 seed and slide into a meeting with the Pacers.
All of this will become a moot point if Chicago or Detroit fend off Washington in the coming weeks.
If they don’t, however, and the Toronto-Cleveland race is still up in the air on April 13… the Raptors will face a very fascinating choice indeed.