The Toronto Raptors have clinched a spot in the NBA playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, continuing their best stretch their best stretch in franchise history.
Since 2013-14, they have captured four division titles, won four playoff series and made the Eastern Conference Finals once. Compare that to when the franchise debuted in 1995 to 2012-13 season – five playoff appearances, one division title and one playoff series victory.
What was once reason to celebrate – making the playoffs – has now become a given for the Raptors and their fans. This season, the goal is to make their first-ever NBA Finals and capture their first-ever NBA championship.
This is the Raptors’ best team. They have two of the NBA’s top defenders in all-star Marc Gasol and Kawhi Leonard. He along with Danny Green, an excellent 3-point shooter, have played on NBA championship teams while in San Antonio. All-star Kyle Lowry is the heart and soul, his Philly-tough mentality and providing energy. The Raptors have a good balance of veterans and younger players – Gasol, Kawhi, Lowry, Green, and Serge Ibaka have plenty of experience while O.G. Anunoby, Fred Van Vleet, and future all-star Pascal Siakam illustrate how Toronto has added young talent.
This will be the Raptors’ best opportunity to at least represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals as they don’t have to worry about LeBron James, who is likely to miss the playoffs after leaving Cleveland and joining the Los Angeles Lakers.
The East is still tough with the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and Philadelphia 76ers. But the Raptors have beaten those teams. And there is a scenario, depending on where each team is seeded, Toronto could make their first Finals in franchise history and only face one of those three teams.
If the Raptors reach the Finals they will have a better-than-even chance to win their first championship. Golden State, the two-time defending champions, have shown this season that they’re beatable, especially at home; Toronto swept them this season. The Raptors match up with whatever team comes out of the West.
Leonard’s looming free agency creates uncertainty, but that’s an off-season concern. A perfect scenario this season is, at a minimum, involves reaching the NBA Finals and resigning Leonard. Enticing him to stay with a championship team is the brightest hope.