Less than four years ago, the Toronto Raptors shocked the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals to become the first team north of the U.S. border to win an NBA championship.
Since then, Kawhi Leonard has taken his talents to Los Angeles, Canada has decriminalized single-event sports betting, and top North American sports leagues have adapted to COVID-19 border restrictions. At the height of the pandemic, the defending champion Raptors still remained in the top echelon of NBA teams despite falling to the Celtics in an intense seven-game Eastern Conference semifinals series.
But after a first-round playoff departure in 2022, the Raptors’ regression from a perpetual contender has accelerated. The Raptors enter Friday at 22-27, on pace to finish with fewer than 37 wins in the 82-game regular season. Mired in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors have odds of +225 at FanDuel to make the playoffs.
Last season, the Knicks finished 11th in the East at 37-45, six games out of the play-in round. In order to qualify for the postseason, Toronto will need to leapfrog at least two teams to qualify for the play-in tournament.
Raptors 5.5 games back of a playOFF spot
2.5 games back of top 5 lottery odds. https://t.co/5cs44Ovfoc
— Esfandiar Baraheni (@JustEsBaraheni) January 25, 2023
Even then, the Raptors will likely have to win multiple play-in games for a spot in the playoffs. In short, Toronto needs to go on a lengthy hot streak soon, or the 2019 champs will miss the postseason for the second time in three years.
Before missing the playoffs in 2020-21, a season when the Raptors played their entire home schedule in Tampa, the franchise had made the postseason in seven straight seasons.
When Ontario launched its private iGaming and online sports betting marketplace last April, conventional wisdom dictated that Ontarians would bet on the Raptors at an abnormally high clip. The trend followed other patterns in new markets where fans pledged loyalty to the local team through betting apps. Rhode Island books, for instance, took a bath in Super Bowl LIII four years ago, when the Patriots defeated the Rams 13-3.
As it relates to the NBA futures market, similar trends prevail on Raptors’ championship tickets in Ontario. In all North American markets, bettors at BetMGM took the Raptors to win the title on only 2.4% of all wagers, comprising about 1% of the overall handle. But in Ontario alone, the figures rise to 12.5% of futures tickets, along with 2.9% of the handle.
“In general, we do see more support for the Raptors from Ontario bettors than in other states,” BetMGM trader John Ewing told Sports Handle.
The Raptors have hit the over on their projected win total in FIVE out of the last SIX seasons!
With this year's total set at 46.5 on @FanDuelCanada, will Toronto manage to hit the over yet again? @chengwesley breaks it all down: https://t.co/vQdgaelDkA pic.twitter.com/NKQYw1wa5e
— TSN EDGE (@TSN_Edge) October 18, 2022
PointsBet, another leading Ontario sportsbook, echoed these sentiments of hometown betting bias. Despite the Raptors’ somewhat underwhelming season, Ontario bettors continue to favorably back the Raptors on a game-by-game basis, a company spokesman told Sports Handle.
PointsBet’s trading team has a firm grasp on the pulse of the city. Last month, PointsBet opened its new Canadian headquarters in the heart of Toronto’s entertainment district, down the street from Scotiabank Arena.
Meanwhile, betting interest on the Raptors at theScore, one of the most downloaded sports media apps in Canada, has not waned. The Raptors continue to generate strong betting activity as one of the most wagered-on NBA teams on theScore Bet, a company spokesman noted. One of the most popular Raptors-related futures is on OG Anunoby, who currently leads the league in steals, to win Defensive Player of the Year (priced at 25/1 at theScore Bet).
Raptors’ season-long trends
The Raptors opened the season with an encouraging 5-3 start, notching wins over the Cavs, Sixers, and Heat, three Eastern Conference foes that would all make the playoffs if they started today. Toronto improved to 11-9 on Nov. 28 by defeating the Cavs 100-88 in one of its top defensive efforts of the season. With the win, the Raptors moved to 8-2 at home and 12-8 against the spread.
From there, things went south. Two nights later, the Raptors gave up 126 points in an 18-point loss to the Pelicans, opening a stretch when Toronto dropped eight of 11 games. During the skid, Toronto lost consecutive games to the lowly Magic as heavy moneyline favorites of -335 and -262, respectively.
The Raptors’ season hit a nadir on Dec. 19, when Toronto fell to the Sixers in overtime for its sixth straight defeat.
The Raptors are in Blow It Up territory
-13-17 record, losers of 5 straight
-The team looks broken
-No realistic path to contention
-Only 3.5 back from the bottom 4
-Veterans they could get a haul for
-Young talent to build with, making it more of a retool and not a long rebuild pic.twitter.com/QEmfLKHZjz
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) December 19, 2022
Oddly enough, bettors are backing the Raptors at slightly higher rates at Caesars Sportsbook in 2023 than they did at the start of the season. Over the first three months of the season, Raptors selections accounted for 45% of bets and money wagered on all of the team’s games. Since the calendar turned to 2023, the splits have increased to 48% and 51%, respectively, a Caesars spokesman told Sports Handle.
The Canadian splits align with overall North American trends at Caesars, making the book somewhat of an anomaly in this regard. Nevertheless, it is clear that some Ontario whales are still betting heavily on the league’s only Canadian team. Caesars took its largest pre-game bet on the Raptors on Oct. 26, a $20,000 (CAD) wager on Toronto (+2.5) to defeat the Sixers. Since the new year, Caesars booked its largest in-game wager on Toronto, a $20,000 bet on the Raptors (-4.5) against the Bucks on Jan. 17.
The Raptors enter Friday’s game at Golden State with a 25-24 record this season against the spread, according to The Action Network. Despite a 113-95 win over Sacramento on Wednesday, the Raptors’ playoffs odds at FanDuel have lengthened this week. The Kings, the league’s top offense, scored fewer than 100 points for only the second time this season. The Raptors, who rank seventh in the NBA in defense, face the Warriors on Friday in the second of a seven-game trip out West.
The outcome of the road swing could go a long way toward determining how the Raptors approach the NBA trade deadline, ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski said Friday on the network’s NBA Today program. A poor road trip could convince management to tear the team apart, as the Raptors gauge whether trading Anunoby will yield multiple first-round picks, he explained. Fred VanVleet, another Raptor that could be on the trading block, has excelled of late. Over his last five games, VanVleet has averaged 28.4 points, 6.6 assists, and only 1.4 turnovers per contest.
Conversely, Wojnarowski emphasized that if the Raptors are able to develop chemistry with a successful trip, the team may opt to hold onto its young stars.
Will Fred VanVleet's recent hot streak prompt Toronto Raptors to trade him? https://t.co/MJveH5FxSn
— Register Star Sports (@rrstar_sports) January 26, 2023
At this time last season, Toronto’s playoff hopes looked dim with a 23-23 record in late January. But the Raptors proceeded to reel off eight straight wins before the All-Star break, then finished the regular season with 13 wins in their final 17 games to earn the sixth seed. A similar run will be needed this year to avoid an early summer vacation.
Sportsbooks are not counting on it. Of the six Eastern Conference teams available on FanDuel’s playoff props market (Heat, Hawks, Knicks, Bulls, Raptors, and Wizards), Toronto has the fifth-longest odds. And if the Raptors can’t turn it around, head coach Nick Nurse may look to go elsewhere as he enters next season in the final year of his contract.