Source: John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports
The Toronto Raptors will battle against the Orlando Magic in the quarterfinal round. It's just the second time that these two Eastern Conference teams will meet in the playoffs. Their only matchup was back in 2008 were Chris Bosh and the Raptors got ousted against than Dwight Howard and the up and coming Orlando Magic. At the time Orlando got homecourt in that series. Now over a decade later, Toronto this time has homecourt coming in as the 2nd seed while Orlando comes in 7th.
The Magic came in low with expectations this season. Last season Orlando only won 25 games last season and finished second last in the Eastern Conference. Orlando hadn't made the playoffs since the lockout-shortened season in 2012. During that span, Orlando only had one season where they reached 30 or more wins. Orlando fired Frank Vogel and replaced him with Steve Clifford who formerly coached the Charlotte Hornets for five seasons, making the playoffs twice but failed to past the first round. Orlando has a young team that has played above expectations this season and since the all-star break, they are 15-8 and improved in almost every stat. The Magic also had winning records in the month of February, March, and April. They also clinched the Southeast division and they were the only team in that division to make the playoffs.
The emergence of Nikola Vucevic this season has been huge for them, becoming the first Magic player since Dwight Howard in 2011-12 to be named to the all-star game. Former most improved player Evan Fournier, can shoot the ball and be a good option for the Magic on the court. He's been one of the more consistent players for Orlando. The Magic has been one of the most surprising teams this season and could be on the uprising in the Eastern Conference.
The Orlando Magic surprisingly had evened their regular season series at 2 games apiece against the Dinos. The Raptors defeated Orlando thanks to a Danny Green game-winning shot in their first meeting. The Raptors only allowed 91 points, which was the lowest they given up to Orlando this season. In both wins, the Orlando Magic held Toronto under 100 points. The Magic defence allowed a 5th best 106.6 points per game. Toronto struggled shooting against the Magic in those two losses including a terrible a 29 perfect shooting performance in their second meeting of the season.
The Raptors also were outmuscled in the paint being outscored 52-26 in the paint and we're also being dominated on the boards. Toronto was shooting better in the third meeting but still not impressive, with just over 40 percent and this time Toronto didn't have Kawhi Leonard in the lineup, The Magic were 28-33 at the time of that victory while Toronto was 44-17. Though in their final meeting of the season, Toronto was playing with their whole roster. Kawhi and Kyle Lowry both were playing against Orlando and scored 121 points and had six players scoring in double figures. Toronto was shooting at 50 percent on the court and we're making splashes at the three-point line, shooting over 50 percent and made 19 threes in total in that game. Toronto only made 20 threes in their previous two head to head matchups against Orlando. The Raptors are 2-0 against the Magic when both Kawhi and Lowry are in the lineup.
The Raptors shouldn't have a problem with Orlando despite early hiccups against them this season. With Toronto being mostly healthy coming into this series against Orlando, though they would be without their sophomore player OG Anunoby, who got an emergency appendectomy and will likely miss the first round.
Toronto should be able to take out the Magic with ease. Kawhi Leonard might not have put up insane stats against the Magic this season but playoff Kawhi Leonard is a different animal. Kawhi's last postseason appearance he averaged close to 28 points and almost 8 boards. Lifetime in the playoffs, Kawhi has shot over 50 perfect. With Kawhi taking much-needed games off this season, the former finals MVP should be able to wreak havoc against the Magic. Marc Gasol, who was acquired at the trade deadline, has been good in his own right in the playoffs. He's been a big contributor in past playoffs and defensively will be a factor alongside Kawhi. Gasol won't be playing starting minutes but will still play enough minutes to help the Raptors to knock off the Magic and hopefully make a deep run. Toronto respectively ranked 8th in points and 5th in offensive ratings. With Toronto having home court in this series they been averaging more points and have a better plus and minus at Scotiabank Arena than on the road.
The Raptors will have to pay attention to the Magic's all-star player Nikola Vucevic who leads the team in scoring and rebounds this season. Vucevic was instrumental in both of the Magic's win against the Dinos, posting up a double-double and had 19 boards alongside 30 points in their second matchup. The Magic will need more than Vucevic to beat Toronto in the best of seven series. The Magic will have to lean on Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Aaron Gordon, and veteran guard DJ Augustin. Even if they all step up, it might not be enough to beat Toronto especially if the Raptors have a healthy starting lineup.
The Magic don't have enough experience in the playoffs and despite being underestimated this whole season, Orlando just doesn't have the depth it needs to beat Toronto. The Raptors are a strong unit and having a healthy Kyle Lowry with a healthy Kawhi Leonard on the court will give the Magic nightmares. Orlando will also have to watch out for rising star Pascal Siakam, who is another scoring threat that the Magic will need to focus if Kawhi and company struggle. Orlando has shut him down as Siakam has failed to at least score 20 points in their four meetings. Siakam has the ability though to let loose and be an x-factor if he takes over the game. Siakam could potentially have a big series.
Toronto will make quick work of the Magic. Orlando won't match up well against Toronto. This series, Toronto should treat it like a small test and play the strong basketball they know they're capable of. It will give Nick Nurse some opportunities to change up his rotations and minute distributions to his lineup to see what works. The Raptors need to come out of the gate as best as they could and not give Orlando any life. Toronto will sweep the Magic and move on the semifinals.