The Toronto Raptors have reached the Eastern Conference semifinals in each of the past three seasons and begin pursuit of another appearance on Saturday when they open the first-round series against the visiting Orlando Magic. Toronto harbors hopes of reaching the NBA Finals this time around behind All-Star small forward Kawhi Leonard.
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The second-seeded Raptors no longer have LeBron James - and the Cleveland Cavaliers - halting their NBA Finals' bids and this could be a one-and-only chance with Leonard, who could be one of the most coveted free agents this July. "What we've been talking about all year -- being able to get to the Finals and win," Leonard told teammate Serge Ibaka in a YouTube appearance on Thursday of the focus. "That's always my mindset coming into the season, that's always a goal of mine." While Toronto reached 50 wins for the fourth consecutive season, Orlando halted a six-season playoff drought by putting together an 11-2 finishing kick to earn the No. 7 seed. "I think we can win, too, and we all do," Magic coach Steve Clifford told reporters, well aware the Raptors are huge favorites. "Look, no matter what, our guys have done a good job, but the NBA is about winning in the playoffs. We have size, we have intelligence and we're playing good basketball right now."
TV: 5 p.m. ET, ESPN, FS Florida (Orlando), Sportsnet One (Toronto)
When: 5:00 PM ET, Saturday, April 13, 2019
Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, Ontario
ABOUT THE MAGIC (42-40): Reserve swingman Terrence Ross averaged 27.3 points over the past four games - including a season-high 35 in the regular-season finale against the Charlotte Hornets - and drained 22 3-pointers during the stretch. Ross made 217 3-pointers to become the first player to top 200 in a season without starting a game in NBA history and is thriving in Orlando after spending the first 4 1/2 seasons of his seven-year career with the Raptors. "My role is night and day different than when I was in Toronto," Ross, who averaged a career-best 15.1 points, told reporters. "I've stepped into a new role here and I'm embracing it."
ABOUT THE RAPTORS (58-24): Leonard averaged 26.6 points while playing in 60 games, fewer than he was anticipating after playing in just nine for the San Antonio Spurs last season before being dealt to Toronto. "We did a great job of just attacking the problem in the beginning, during training camp, laying out the schedule, and I feel good," Leonard told reporters. "I wasn't as healthy as I wanted to be this year, but I couldn't say I would have this type of season in the beginning of the year, you know, the way things have started and how I felt." The Raptors finished the season strong by winning seven of their last eight games, including a 121-109 home win over Orlando on April 1.
1. The Magic split four regular-season meetings with the Raptors after losing 17 of the previous 21 matchups.
2. Toronto is just 2-13 in Game 1s in its playoff history.
3. Orlando All-Star C Nikola Vucevic (stomach illness) is expected to be fine after missing the regular-season finale on Wednesday.
PREDICTION: Raptors 108, Magic 102
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