Re: Playoffs Round 1: Raptors (2) vs Magic (7) Series Thread
While the rebuilding Magic could satisfiably end their season in a sweep after their long-awaited return to the playoffs, the Raptors have much more to prove. So much more to prove that Orlando's season should end exactly in that fashion if their opponent answers the bells.
The Raptors had another great season so far, but the masses aren't amnesiac enough to accept the regular season as any dependable barometer for their postseason quest; last year's letdown is the last reminder anyone needed. LeBron won't scotch their playoffs run this year, but any other playoffs team can if the Raptors are liable to buckle as usual—as literally every playoffs opponent they've encountered so far threatened to do at some point in those series.
It's a new culture—not any new adversary—that the Raptors need to thrive in this realm. New leadership is needed to redevelop a team's identity, and the Raptors have found that coach Nurse and a new franchise cornerstone, Kawhi Leonard; now it's time to see how it changes their postseason fate.
Kawhi has his own shaky track record in the playoffs, but even his own subpar performances outstrip an average day at work for DeMar DeRozan. Kawhi's top-end two-way impact simply provides instrumental leadership that DeMar never could—as long as the former is suited up, of course, which seldom feels guaranteed after last year (and even much of this regular season).
Then there's new expressive leadership with Nick Nurse, who's won too much in other leagues to feel complacent about half-realized playoffs success as Dwane Casey, who literally exulted over the team's token wins against the Cavaliers in 2016, did.
This is perhaps the deepest, most versatile Raptors roster we have seen, and it'll need to be even more distinctly the most leaderful team they've had if they'll make their first real noise in the playoffs. They don't need to make it to the Finals—nor do I want them to if it comes at the Bucks' expense—but they should compete respectably against whoever else is in that hunt.
And they must take care of their business against first-round fodder much more expeditiously, starting with this Magic team. The Raptors' talent, playoffs experience (even as woeful as it's been), and depth is simply too insuperable to lose this series; the only realistic challenge is whether or not it can be the first series they'll have won in under six games, to which I find no tenable excuses not to do here.