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Rick Zamperin: Toronto Raptors will take a big step back this season

Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka (9) attempts a basket during the second quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, in New York.
Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka (9) attempts a basket during the second quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, in New York. AP Photo/Sarah Stier

The Toronto Raptors open defence of their first NBA championship Tuesday night when they host the New Orleans Pelicans.

Watching that banner get hoisted to the rafters at Scotiabank Arena will be a real treat for the thousands of fans in attendance and the millions more who will be viewing on TV and listening on radio.

It will be one more time for fans, the players, coaches and front office staff to celebrate last year’s magical season when the Raptors reached the summit of the basketball world.

But once the ball is tipped off, it’s a new season that will be filled with a fresh set of highlight reel plays and new memories.

Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam talks new role, upcoming season
Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam talks new role, upcoming season

It is hard to imagine Toronto duplicating its historic run to the Larry O’Brien Trophy this year for the simple fact that all-world talent Kawhi Leonard is no longer in a Raptors uniform.

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Leonard, who carried the Raptors on his back during the postseason, took his talents to Los Angeles during the offseason where he will team up with Paul George to star for the Clippers.

The Raps continue to be anchored by all-star guard Kyle Lowry, new mega-millionaire Pascal Siakam and veterans Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell.

On paper, the dinos are good enough to get to the Eastern Conference semifinals or maybe even the conference final if things go their way.

Is Toronto capable to getting back to the NBA Finals? I don’t think so, not unless they get a little luck come playoff time or bring in another offensive threat.

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As for which team I think will win the NBA title in 2019-20, I’ll pick the Philadelphia 76’ers to make the Finals for the first time since 2001 and win their first championship since 1983 by beating the L.A. Clippers.