The second half of the Toronto Raptors' schedule is no joke.
It may start with a few easier games against the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons of the world, but after that things get a whole lot tougher. The problem for Toronto is those first few games might not be particularly easy, especially if Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet all remained sidelined due to COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocols. And if they struggle to beat the easy teams because of COVID issues and then lose their fair share of games against the league's top teams, the Raptors might start to find themselves in a pretty precarious situation.
"It’s unfortunate because I think you’re right, we were playing about as good as anybody for those 21, 20 games," Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said Wednesday. "It’s gonna be a setback. I mean, I’m hoping we can raise our level of confidence up going into these games, these next three, and figure out a way to pick off one or two until we get our guys back."
Sportsbooks aren't banking on the Raptors in the second half opener Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. against the Hawks. Vegas has set the line at Atlanta -1.5 or -2 with a -130 moneyline implying a 56.5% chance the Hawks steal one on the road in Tampa, according to Covers.
If the Raptors are going to pull off the upset, it's going to come thanks to Norman Powell and Kyle Lowry. Powell has scored 36 points and 25 points, respectively, in his last two outings as Toronto's primary offensive threat while averaging 18.5 shot attempts in the games. For Lowry, it's been a little bit more about facilitating. He set a career-high for assists in Toronto's first-half finale with 19 while averaging 17.5 points over the last two games.
Betway is expecting another big showing from Powell with a points total set at 25.5, two points off his 23.1 points per game average he's had since becoming a permanent starter on January 22. With Lowry, Betway has set his points total at 22.5, a total he has only reached seven times this season. As for his assists, Betway has Lowry at 9.5, a rather high number considering he's only reached it seven times this year, but one that's manageable if he continues to play faciltator.
It's way too early to consider Thursday's game a truly crucial one for the Raptors, but the Hawks are looking to regroup after firing head coach Lloyd Pierce earlier this month and a win over Toronto would have the two teams tied just outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture.