With a playoff berth now secured, the Toronto Raptors will use the remainder of the regular season to focus on getting healthier.
The Toronto Raptors took care of business on Tuesday night, beating the Atlanta Hawks 118-108 and clinching a playoff spot. Securing a postseason berth also means avoiding the (unnecessary) obstacle which comes with having to compete in a play-in game.
If you go with the argument that the Raptors are treated as an afterthought south of the border, making the playoffs will theoretically be a surprise to some. Others will counter that they are respected by those who count.
Regardless, Toronto is in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons under head coach Nick Nurse and expected to cause trouble for whoever they face. In this respect, it would seem they are not particularly concerned about which team represents their opponent in the first round.
As far as the Raptors are concerned, their focus for the remainder of the regular season will be to get as healthy as possible. The chief beneficiary as this philosophy will be Fred VanVleet.
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VanVleet has been the most important player in Toronto this season. He was voted to his first ever All-Star Game and is about to set career-bests for average points, assists and rebounds per contest.
However, the 28-year-old has also set career-highs for starts and average minutes played per game. The concern with this is that he has been dealing with a right knee injury for the last few months.
As a result, as per Sportsnet‘s Michael Grange, Nurse said he will rest VanVleet for the last three games of the regular season. Any concern about the point guard losing momentum by not playing, is more than balanced out by the reality he is not 100 percent at the moment.
As mentioned earlier, the Raptors have avoided a play-in game, which means at least an extra six days between the end of the regular season and their first playoff contest. This extra time will be invaluable for VanVleet.
Another player who will benefit from the extra time to rest/recover is OG Anunoby, who is currently out with a thigh injury. He has similarly been enjoying a career year.
His current injury aside, Anunoby has struggled to remain healthy all season and been limited to 47 games. He is an invaluable player on the roster and the Raptors will need him come playoff time.
There are those who would argue the Raptors need to be more concerned about playoff positioning. It won’t matter though, if key players are missing through injury.
In terms of potential first round opponents, Toronto is currently set to face the Philadelphia 76ers. They have a 2-1 record versus the 76ers this season, including 1-0 when facing James Harden and holding him to just 17 points in the process.
Another possible opponent will be the Milwaukee Bucks, who should theoretically be the last team the Raptors — or anyone — would want to face. For what it’s worth though they are 3-0 this season versus the Bucks, albeit they only had to contend with Giannis Antetokounmpo on one occasion. (A win in Milwaukee to be fair.)
The last possible opponent for Toronto in the first round is their divisional rival, the Boston Celtics. The Celtics always seem to cause problems for the Raptors, as evidenced by knocking them out of the playoffs two seasons ago, but they’ve held their own against them in 2021-22 by going 2-2 in the four contests.
As such, taking everything into account, it makes perfect sense for Nurse and the Toronto Raptors to use the remainder of the regular season to rest up. While acknowledging there are no guarantees come playoff time, a healthy starting five of VanVleet, Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Scott Barnes and Gary Trent Jr. will be a tough out for anyone.
Do you agree with the approach the Toronto Raptors will now take for the remainder of the regular season? Or do you have any concerns in respect of playoff seeding, or losing momentum? Let us know in the comments section below.