The real season begins on Saturday.
After finishing the regular season 59-32, the Toronto Raptors were able to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time in franchise history, including the most wins in a single season ever in 23 years of existence.
The Raptors will meet the Washington Wizards in Round 1, with Game 1 taking place on Saturday at 5:30 pm ET (2:30 pm PT) at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
The road to redemption for the Raptors occurred after they were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers during last year’s playoffs, prompting the president of basketball operations, Masai Ujiri, to call for a culture change.
Personnel changes were made, and the Raptors went young, changing their entire style of play.
Moving away from being an isolation, pick-and-roll heavy basketball team, the lone Canadian NBA franchise finished top-five in offence and defence this season, relying on ball movement, and a quick pace of play.
In the East, the surest first round matchup where I know the highest seed will advance is the Cavs over the Pacers. I can see the Raptors, Celtics and Sixers all lose in the first round.
— Jason Smith (@howaboutafresca) April 12, 2018
The Raptors carry a stigma going into these playoffs, however. Many still question whether this team is truly different than in years past.
This is their chance to prove the doubters wrong.
Here are five reasons why Raptors fans should look forward to this year’s playoffs.
The Raptors hit some amazing milestones this season: 34 wins at home (most in franchise history), first seed in the Eastern Conference (first time in franchise history), and 59 wins overall (most in franchise history).
A lot of that is because of the current roster construction from top to bottom.
The All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have led the way, both playing the most efficient seasons of their careers while being impactful on fewer minutes played than any of their seasons in Toronto.
Unlike years previous, Lowry and DeRozan will have some legitimate help.
The Raptors have arguably the best bench in the league.
What’s most impressive is the fact that they are the second youngest squad out of all 16 teams in this year’s playoffs.
This team is 11-12 deep, versatile, energetic, quick, confident, and very skilled—the most important thing to note is the ability to match up with any style, whether the opposition plays big or small.
What’s also important to note, is the inexperience of the young core guys on teams like Boston, Philadelphia, and Cleveland.
For Toronto, their young core between Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl, have all experienced the playoff environment or have had postseason action since joining the league.
— NBA (@NBA) April 12, 2018
This is the Raptors’ best chance to reach the NBA Finals.
While the potential journey can seem scary—having to play Washington, potentially Cleveland in the second-round, and Boston/Philadelphia in the Conference Finals—the Raptors still have the upper hand.
They will have home-court advantage throughout the entire Eastern Conference playoffs, giving them Game 1 – where they have historically struggled – at home, and Game 7 in their building, too.
Playing in the playoffs means coverage on a number of big TV networks and platforms.
Despite being one of the best teams in the league, especially in the last few years, the coverage from the American media is a rarity.
Playing on bigger networks like ESPN, or NBA on TNT, or even TSN’s main channel, brings awareness to average fans around the league on just how good the Raptors are, also putting the spotlight on the wild fans, the market of Toronto, and the support of an entire nation.
"Toronto's the greatest city in the world" – @Drake
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 10, 2018
It’s fun to see Drake on the sideline, but it’s also fun when former NBA stars, superstars from other sports, famous actors, and actresses show up in Toronto to watch the Raptors.
In the team’s recent history, various celebrities have taken notice and have attended games, as if a Raptors’ game is a tourist destination.
With two All-Stars, a big market, and a beautiful city, it’s hard to argue against sitting in on a Raptors game.
One of the greatest sights and sounds in the history of the league is Jurassic Park – a loud and proud crowd full of Raptors fans that watch the playoff games on a large screen, rain or shine.
During live playoff broadcasts, after a big play or moment in the game, one of the coolest things is seeing the fans outside the building jumping up and down, showing their excitement for what’s going on inside.
During the 2016 playoffs, the Raptors fans were so loud, LeBron James had to give respect, after a six-game series during the Eastern Conference Finals.
Make no mistake, Jurassic Park will be in full form for the first game on Saturday, and the Raptors will come in with some serious momentum, as they look to potentially make history during this year’s playoffs.