With just over a week remaining in the 2021-22 season, the Raptors have positioned themselves to control their own destiny with respect to avoiding the Play-In Tournament and earning one of the Eastern Conference’s top-six seeds.
On Wednesday, the Raptors notched their fourth-straight win with a crucial 23-point victory over the Timberwolves to move to 44-32 on the season. In doing so, Toronto strengthened its hold on the East’s sixth seed and created more distance from the seventh-place Cavaliers, who are now two games behind in the standings at 42-34.
MORE: Raptors’ playoff scenarios, seeding, tiebreakers, standings in Eastern Conference race
As TSN’s Kyle Irving outlined in Toronto’s potential playoff scenarios, it will have to finish at least one game ahead of Cleveland in order to earn a higher seed in the standings due to tiebreakers. That said, the Raptors have been afforded some breathing room with their current two-game cushion.
But they can’t let up just yet.
The Raptors have a lot to play for over the final six games of the season and can’t afford to be complacent — just as soon as Toronto could slip in the standings, it could also leap into the top four and secure home court in the opening round.
Here’s how the Raptors can control their own destiny over the last 10 days of the season.
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How Raptors can clinch a playoff spot
As of Thursday, March 31, the Raptors’ magic number is five, meaning they can clinch a playoff spot and avoid the Play-In Tournament by winning five of their last six games.
Cleveland, which could overtake Toronto in the standings by tying its record by the season’s end, is dealing with injuries to both Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley.
The Raptors’ magic number also shrinks with every Cavaliers’ loss.
Here’s how their remaining schedules stack up:
|April 1 at Magic||77||March 31 at Hawks|
|April 3 vs. Heat||78||April 2 at Knicks|
|April 5 vs. Hawks||79||April 3 vs. 76ers|
|April 7 vs. 76ers||80||April 5 at Magic|
|April 8 vs. Rockets||81||April 8 at Nets|
|April 10 at Knicks||82||April 10 vs. bucks|
Can the Raptors earn home court advantage in the 2022 NBA Playoffs?
They’ll need some help from other teams, but the Raptors are still within striking distance of earning one of the East’s top-four seeds.
After defeating Minnesota on Wednesday, Toronto kept up its pace with the fifth-seeded Bulls and moved to 2.5 games back of the 76ers and Celtics, who sit in third and fourth place, respectively. Because the Bulls won the season series, the Raptors would have to finish a full game ahead in the standings to earn a higher seed. That condition does not apply to the Celtics and 76ers.
In defeating Boston on Monday, Toronto earned a 2-2 season series split. If the Raptors, who are currently two games back in the loss column, catch the Celtics in the standings, the next tiebreaker would be their records against Atlantic Division opponents.
The Celtics finished the season 9-7 against divisional opponents while the Raptors are currently 9-5 against divisional opponents with games remaining against the 76ers and Knicks — a win in either game secures a better divisional record.
With respect to the 76ers, the Raptors are two games back in the win column and three games back in the loss column. Toronto can gain a game in the standings when the two teams meet on April 7. A win over the Sixers would also give the Raptors a 3-1 win in the regular-season series, giving Toronto a higher seed should the teams finish with the same record.
According to Tankathon, the 76ers have the league’s easiest remaining schedule, while the Raptors’ schedule ranks fifth easiest. Chicago’s schedule ranks second-toughest and its “easiest” opponent is a Clippers team that recently welcomed Paul George back into the lineup. Boston, which is now navigating the extended absence of Robert Williams, has the seventh-toughest remaining schedule.
All things considered, the Raptors making a leap in the standings is not far-fetched.
NBA standings 2022: Eastern Conference
(Current through March 30 games)
*Indicates Play-In Tournament teams.