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Raptors schedule highlights: Toronto debuts, emotional reunions

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It was an eventful week for the Toronto Raptors. They wrapped up Summer League (if you watched the final game against Brooklyn, please contact MLSE for free season tickets), Masai Ujiri held a press conference to discuss his return (the vice chairman says the terms of his new contract last forever, which I believe is legally binding), and the 2021-22 NBA schedule was released in full on Friday.

The biggest question aside from when the Raptors play Kyle Lowry's Miami Heat and how many U.S. nationally televised games they have on the schedule (two) is whether the team will be back in Toronto for opening night on Oct. 20.

There isn’t an official announcement yet, but all signs point to the Tampa Bay detour being a one-season experience, including a very well-done Toronto-heavy video from the team to coincide with the schedule announcement:

So, here are a few thoughts on the team’s 2021-22 schedule:

The Raptors open at home against the Washington Wizards

The Raptors' expected return to Scotiabank Arena will be an emotional one regardless of the opposition, but I was personally holding out hope for Lowry and the Heat to be the opening night game. It probably would have been a lot for the (socially distanced and probably half-full) home crowd. Instead, the Raptors will open against Bradley Beal and the revamped Washington Wizards.

Unless we want to drum up memories of Paul Pierce posting a Game of Thrones meme on Instagram or getting swept by Randy Wittman in the first round, there isn’t exactly a rivalry here. But just the fact the Raptors are back in Toronto for the first time in almost two years will be enough from an entertainment standpoint.

Throw in this being Scottie Barnes’ first NBA game and the Toronto debut of many players, including Khem Birch and Gary Trent Jr., and it should be a fun night.

Gary Trent Jr. #33 of the Toronto Raptors celebrates with teammates after hitting a game-winning shot. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Gary Trent Jr. #33 of the Toronto Raptors celebrates with teammates after hitting a game-winning shot. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

This will be a season of reunions and proper goodbyes

Given the roster turnover since the team last played in Toronto, it should come as no surprise there will be plenty of reunion videos at Scotiabank Arena this season.

We start on Oct. 25 when DeMar DeRozan and the Chicago Bulls visit. DeRozan’s previous two games against Toronto at Scotiabank Arena were classics, so the bar is high.

Danny Green, who has won another championship and played on two different teams since he left the Raptors after the 2018-19 season, looks like he will finally get to collect his championship ring from MLSE when the Philadelphia 76ers play here on Dec. 28.

A few days later, Serge Ibaka will make his first return to Toronto when the Clippers come in on Dec. 31. Kawhi Leonard is expected to miss most of this upcoming season, so I’m going out on a limb and saying he won’t be here on New Year’s Eve.

Jonas Valanciunas will finally play his first game as an opponent at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 9 when the New Orleans Pelicans come to town.

Two weeks later, Norman Powell and the Portland Trail Blazers will be here for a game on Jan. 23. Marc Gasol and the Los Angeles Lakers roll in on March 18.

I think those are all the significant reunions, which brings us to the main event:

Kyle Lowry's return set for Feb. 3

This will be a Thursday night game on TNT and will be a very emotional night. Lowry has already told reporters he will be crying in his return, and lots of fans at the arena and watching at home will be, too.

I will be interested to see the crowd’s reaction when Lowry inevitably draws a charge on Barnes in the second quarter.

Another subplot to watch is if any current Raptor pays tribute to Lowry by wearing a throwback jersey of his to the arena. I’ve got four candidates: Fred VanVleet, Barnes, Trent Jr., and Dalano Banton.

A few other things of note about the schedule:

  • We’ll get our first Barnes vs. Jalen Suggs matchup on Oct. 29 in Toronto. I’m sure none of us will draw long-term conclusions from a single regular season box score.

  • The Raptors and Knicks will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the league’s first regular-season contest between Toronto (Huskies) and New York on Nov. 1. Bring back the Huskies jerseys, a.k.a. the most underrated throwback look for this franchise

  • Toronto will play the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks for the first time on Dec. 2. I just wanted to see what it was like to type out the words defending champion Milwaukee Bucks and it doesn’t feel great!

The Raptors will want to avoid another 2-8 start to the season. They have five of the first six games at home this season and are, well, actually playing games at home. The team has a six-game road trip in November (Portland, Utah, Sacramento, Golden State, Memphis, Indiana) and in March (Cleveland, San Antonio, Phoenix, Denver, and the two Los Angeles teams). They will also close the season with eight of the final 10 games at home, which is information that might be useful if they are jockeying for playoff position or trying to make the play-in tournament (cue Masai asking me: play-in for what?)

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