After a dramatic finish to the Eastern Conference Playoff race, the Orlando Magic bumped their Florida counterparts, the Miami Heat, out of the Playoff picture and landed in the 7th seed where they will take on the Toronto Raptors. This series will be revolving around two teams that are in very different places with their respective rosters. At the start of the season, no one would have guessed the Orlando Magic would be fighting for a playoff spot, let alone be 7th in the East. On the other hand, the Toronto Raptors and their new-found superstar Kawhi Leonard were picked as a sure-fire bet to make some noise in the East with the ultimate goal to complete something that’s never happened in the franchise history — a finals appearance.
Nonetheless, the season series between the Magic and the Raptors have been a back and forth affair with each team winning a pair of games. For a team like the Toronto Raptors, a squad that has gone 36-16 against Eastern Conference teams this season, splitting a series is surprising, so facing the Magic will be no cake-walk.
With that being said, here are some key factors in the series between the Raptors and the Magic.
Pascal Siakam’s evolution has been no secret in the NBA. The 3rd year player who led the ‘bench mob’ last year for the Raptors has become one of the most entertaining players to watch, becoming a favorite to win the Most Improved Player of the Year Award. Most importantly he’s been an integral piece in the Toronto Raptors puzzle. In a lot of ways, he’s become the 2nd option in Toronto’s offense averaging 16.5 points a game, but his impact on the defensive end has been apparent as well. While Siakam is on the court, the Raptors have a defensive rating of 103 versus 107.5 with Spicy P off.
The ultimate test for Siakam will be this post-season, where scouting reports from opposing teams will pay much more attention to the intricacies in his game. He will see multiple different defensive schemes and against a hard-nosed Orlando Magic team that ranks 8th in defense, Siakam will want to get the ball rolling. For the Raptors to be as dominant as they’ve been all season, Siakam will have to be his normal Most-Improved-Player-Candidate self and not falter in the bright lights of the NBA Playoffs.
Gusta La Gasol-Ina
No Daddy Yankee won’t be making any appearances to Scotiabank Arena this post-season, I’m talking about Marc Gasol. While his acquisition has been under-the-radar, to say the least, Gasol has had a tremendous impact on the Raptors offense in two major ways. He’s helped improve the Raptors to 1st in 3-point percentage after being 23rd before the trade. They are 4th in both passes per game and assist percentage after being 20th and 22nd respectively before the Spaniard landed in Toronto. In a short time, he’s become a vital part of the Raptors offense, all while not even having the most glamorous numbers averaging just 13.6 points per game.
The Raptors made the mid-season trade for Marc Gasol for the post-season. There’s no question about it. They wanted the Playoff experience he provides and the savvy-veteran mentality he brings game in and game out. In the Raptors 4 games against the Magic, Nikola Vucevic has been dominant averaging 20 points and 15 rebounds. But in the final meeting between the two teams (the only one Gasol played in), Vucevic has held to 13 points and 35% from the field thanks to Gasol-Ina. If the former Defensive Player of the Year can control and contain the All-star forward, the scoring options on an already lackluster offensive team will be limited.
The Wrath of Ross
Listen, I’m not saying Terrence Ross will be dropping 50 on the Raptors in the Playoffs, making them regret trading him away for Serge Ibaka, but he can be a real factor. He’s definitely been a strong proponent for the Magic’s offense this year averaging a career-high 15.5 points a game. If the Magic want to stand a chance in this series, they will have to find offense from everywhere including T-Ross, who scored 28 points against Toronto in their blowout win in February.
Ross may not have the ability to have a ‘revenge series’ against the Raptors but he may be able to have a revenge game. Assuming he can stay consistent throughout the series, which has been a struggle for him in the past (Raptors fans will know), Ross can steal a game for the Magic.
Especially with OG Anunoby being forced into emergency surgery for his appendix, Ross will have one less defender he’ll have to worry about.
Raptors guard @OAnunoby had an emergency appendectomy, team says.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 12, 2019
OG was just working his way back into the Playoff rotation after dealing with concussion symptoms for the last few games of the season. His loss won’t completely swing the series but his defense was something the Raptors utilized heavily last year in their Playoff run. With the 1st round potentially ruled out for OG, the Raptors will hope to get him back in the later rounds.
When it boils down to it, the Toronto Raptors are undoubtedly the favorites to win this series. With more Playoff experience and talent, this series shouldn’t last more than 5 games. The Raptors have NEVER been able to finish a series in under 6 games so doing so would be momentous and provide some time off to prepare for a tougher task ahead in the 2nd round, most likely, against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Assuming that Terrence Ross can rob the Raptors of a sweep, I think the Raptors will easily handle the Magic in 5 games in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. To follow the series, check out the schedule for all 7 games below.
Prediction: Raptors in 5.
2019 NBA Playoffs series schedule
GAME DATE TIME HOME AWAY NETWORK
1 . April 11th 5pm EST Toronto Orlando ESPN
2. April 16th 8pm EST Toronto Orlando TNT
3. April 19th 7pm EST Orlando Toronto ESPN
4. April 21st 7pm EST Orlando Toronto TNT
5. April 23rd TBD Toronto Orlando TBD
6. April 25th TBD Orlando Toronto TBD
7. April 27th TBD Toronto Orlando TBD