The real test for the Toronto Raptors begins with a first-round series against the Orlando Magic who made a strong push to make the playoffs.
There is a lot on the line for this Raptors team as they made it clear they are in a win now mode with Leonard’s uncertain about re-signing at the end of the season.
The team did everything it could to keep Kawhi healthy and that should be the key factor because it means he can play without any restrictions in his game. He is a proven playoff performer which is why Masai Ujiri pushed hard to trade for him.
"“You really have to buy in and win games,” Leonard told Michael Grange of Sportsnet. “That’s what I value the most, just being closer [to your goal] and every game means something to a certain point.”"
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The last time the 27-year-old was in the post-season he played in 12 games with the San Antonio Spurs averaging 27.7 points 7.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists. Looking at those number you have to hope the rest of the team follows Leonard’s lead because the past couple of seasons have been embarrassing, to say the least.
The Magic come into this series ending a six-year playoff drought and splitting the four games with the Raptors in the regular season. While Orlando probably feels confident they can go toe-to-toe with the Raptors, they have not played Toronto with their best lineup and that’s because not many teams have.
Trading for Gasol adds another element to this roster and expect him to draw the big matchup with Nikola Vucevic. If there is one player who will look to be a pain to play against it is the big man as he showed on Dec. 28 scoring 30 points while adding 19 rebounds, eight assists and two steals.
Steven Loung of Sportsnet wrote a great breakdown of what makes Vucevic a tough player to go up against especially for Gasol and Serge Ibaka. This where Nick Nurse is going to have to draw up a game plan where the 28-year-old is the focus defensively and force him to play a bigger role defensively.
The Raptors know exactly what is at stake and unlike past seasons, this team knows how to get down to business and they should be more than capable of getting past Orlando and it would be a bonus to do it in fewer than five games.