Toronto Raptors lead the NBA East pack

NBA Championship odds (As of Nov. 27):

Golden State Warriors (1.62)
Toronto Raptors (8.50)
Boston Celtics (8.50)
Houston Rockets (11.00)
Philadelphia 76ers (17.00)
Milwaukee Bucks (24.00)
Los Angeles Lakes (24.00)


By now, you should know the history.

The Toronto Raptors have been, over the course of the last five seasons, a tremendous regular season team. They’ve been entertaining. And they’ve wracked up three consecutive 50-plus win seasons that have culminated in exactly zero trips to the NBA Finals and only one appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Now, being in the same conference as LeBron James is part of the reason for the Raptors’ lack of playoff success over the last half decade. LeBron carried the Cleveland Cavaliers to the championship series last season – sweeping the Raptors in the second round – before losing to the Golden State Warriors, the perennial powers of the West.

LeBron James is no longer in the Eastern Conference. Going into the 2018-19 regular season, that development should’ve left the door open for two or three teams not named the Cavaliers to take a serious run at emerging out of the East.

Enter the Raptors.

Another underwhelming performance in the playoffs ushered in significant change. Dwane Casey lost his job as head coach. DeMar DeRozan was traded to San Antonio for seven-year star forward Kawhi Leonard. It’s the end of November, and Toronto’s NBA franchise is certainly the class of the East – at the very least – at the 22-game mark of the season. They lead the conference with an 18-4 record and have won six straight games heading into a highly anticipated showdown with the Warriors on Thursday.

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The Raptors entered the game as nine-point favourites due to the absence of Warriors’ star Stephen Curry from the lineup. There were reports that the Warriors could get Curry back in the lineup against Toronto, however that was not the case in the end. The face of the Warriors franchise has not played since Nov. 8.

Because of that injury, Curry’s odds to win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player have shifted from 4.40 on Nov. 7 to 6.75 on Wednesday at PlayNow.com. Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are all now ahead of Curry in the MVP odds, while Leonard of the Raptors is fifth amongst the favourites with odds of 8.00 to win the award.

Big picture: Would Thursday’s game between the Raptors and Warriors be considered a potential NBA Finals Preview?
Despite some recent hiccups that dropped the Warriors down to (*gasp*) second in the Western Conference standings, Golden State had come back to win three in a row prior to Thursday and were the clear NBA Championship favourites with odds of 1.62 to win it all at PlayNow.com, as of Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Raptors are tied with the Boston Celtics (sixth in the East with an 11-10 record and only four wins in their last 10 games) for the second best NBA Championship outright odds at 8.50, according to PlayNow.com.

The Raptors’ odds have experienced a significant shift over the last few months. At one point on July 1, Toronto’s championship odds stood at 50.00, but that moved to 15.00 at the beginning of the season, and finally to where it currently stands at 8.50. The movement over the last couple of weeks comes with Toronto enjoying another winning stretch, while the Celtics have endured their share of difficulties during this first quarter of the season.

As of Wednesday, about 7.1 per cent of money on the NBA Championship market was on Toronto to win what would be its first NBA title. Meanwhile, more than 57 per cent of the money is on the Warriors to win another title. No surprise there. After all, Golden State has built its franchise into a dynasty with four consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals and three titles to show for it.

With LeBron taking his talents to Hollywood, there were certainly going to be opportunities for other Eastern Conference teams to take up the mantle. To this point in the season, the Raptors are taking advantage of it.

Is this the year the Raptors put it all together – a great regular season team that steps up their game and becomes a great playoff team? There is no question that We The North faithful would like this group to chart a new course in franchise history – one that includes a first-ever appearance in the NBA Finals and ends with a parade through the streets of Toronto.

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