Are Raptors beasts of the East?

NBA Championship odds (As of April 12):

Toronto Raptors (10.00)


The Toronto Raptors finished the regular season as the top team in the NBA's Eastern Conference. Terrific. But it's during the playoffs when they will be judged.

The Raptors finished nine games ahead of the Cavaliers in the standings, but Cleveland is still the favourite to emerge as the Eastern Conference winner during the post-season - a sign that no matter what struggles they endured this regular season, the East truly belongs to the King, LeBron James, until a worthy adversary can knock him and his team off the throne.

The Cavaliers finished fourth in the conference. Even after going 7-3 over their last 10 games. That's mainly because the Philadelphia 76ers came flying up through the ranks with a 16-game winning streak that should have them brimming with confidence entering the post-season.

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Despite their position in the standings and a roster overhaul at the trade deadline, the Cavs' odds to win the NBA Championship are 9.50 at PlayNow.com. Only the Golden State Warriors (2.30) and Houston Rockets (2.55) in the West are ahead of them.

The Raptors' odds to win the championship have naturally fluctuated throughout the last 10 months, the price dipping to 60.00 on June 12. But they've been among the NBA Championship favourites since the middle of January, and the Raptors now sit right behind the Cavaliers when it comes to the odds, at 10.00 as of Thursday.

Yet, two days before the start of the playoffs, only 5.4 per cent of the total money to win the NBA Championship was on Toronto.
That's behind the injury-plagued Warriors (69 per cent); Rockets (11.7 per cent); and Cavaliers (7.9 per cent).

There is no question the Raptors have an entertaining team. They were among the highest scoring teams in the NBA, and they piled up the wins to finish well ahead of Boston, Philadelphia and Cleveland in the East. They have a bench that logs heavy minutes and averages almost 42 points per game - again, that is among the best in the league.

They're a competitive team. An elite team? Yeah, during the regular season. They have, however, yet to go beyond the Eastern Conference final in their history.

And perhaps, given their recent history, there is a sense of trepidation in the minds of bettors when it comes to the Raptors at this time of year.

The Raptors certainly experienced their highs and lows toward the end of the season. On March 9, they defeated MVP favourite James Harden and the red-hot Rockets. That's a huge win, against a team that could very well represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals later this spring. DeMar DeRozan was solid in that game and Kyle Lowry even better. That should've signaled that the Raptors were for real, capable of not only competing but beating the best in the league.

They've also lost twice to the Cavaliers in the last month. In one case, in a meeting that captured the attention of Fox Sports One host Skip Bayless, LeBron James and teammates were booed off the court at halftime by the hometown fans, then came back in the second half and erased a 15-point deficit to defeat the Raptors by three points.

A couple weeks later, the Cavaliers defeated the Raptors - again - on an off night for Lowry, who was criticized for his performance afterward.

One could point to those results and argue that the Raptors, as entertaining as they are, perhaps cannot get it done against the reigning

Eastern champions and the face of that franchise when it matters the most.
Of course, the Raptors have to get past the Washington Wizards in the first round. Game One goes Saturday.

The Raptors are favoured to win the series, but if you'll remember back to 2015, it didn't go so well for Toronto the last time these teams met in the playoffs.

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