How will the Toronto Raptors' temporary move to Tampa, Florida impact their odds of making yet another deep run in the NBA playoffs, presumably to be played seven months from now during the summer of 2021?
The Raptors' previous season ended 71 days ago. But they return with a retooled lineup that will make them every bit as dangerous as the team that won the NBA title in 2019 and then made an appearance in the Eastern Conference semifinals, losing to Boston 4 games to 3, back in September. In fact, these feisty Raptors have made the semifinals – the mark of a top-eight NBA team – in each of the last five seasons.
However, when the upcoming season tips off a week from now on December 22nd, this Raptors team will face circumstances like no other team. Canada's only NBA franchise will play their "home" games in Tampa. The team must play (and stay) inside the United States given the Canada-USA border restrictions, which are in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, unlike other NBA teams, the Raptors will be away from their homes, families, and familiar surroundings. Most Raptors players have residences in the Toronto area. Now, they'll be on a long working vacation in Florida.
The Raptors will relocate to Amalie Arena, which is a sports venue very familiar to NHL fans. The arena is home to the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Perhaps that same winning atmosphere will carry over from the ice to the basketball court, and infuse the Raptors with a winning attitude.
An interesting announcement came today that Amalie Arena will allow up to 3,800 fans per game. So, unlike the "bubble" isolation of games played at Disneyworld in Orlando during the last season, players will hear the cheers and jeers.
However, one must wonder how many Raptors fans, if any, will show up in Tampa. Certainly, when the East rivals, Miami Heat or Orlando Magic come to town, the Raptors' home court is likely to be swamped with fans supporting the visitors. We'll see this in evidence just a few days from now. Fans will be able to cheer on the Raptors in person on Dec. 18 during a pre-season game against the Miami Heat, who are the visitors.
So, it's tough to predict what kind of an impact this will have on "Toronto."