Raptors put to test early

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:59 PM ET

The Toronto Raptors will get an early-bird start to their 2009-10 schedule, but it's going to be a tough worm.

Toronto tips off its 15th NBA season on Wednesday, Oct. 28 against 2009 MVP LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Air Canada Centre, marking the earliest beginning in franchise history. The club heads on the road two days later to Memphis.

The Raptors, recovering from a season of setbacks that saw them miss the post-season tournament, begin with nine of their first 12 games versus '09 playoff teams -- Cleveland, Orlando, Detroit, New Orleans, Dallas, San Antonio, Chicago, Denver and Utah.

A busy November will see the team make two Western road trips separated by a single home game, with the longest swing of four games occurring twice, between Nov. 13-18 and March 9-14. The longest homestand is four games from February 3-17, covering the NBA all-star break.

Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic are at the ACC for two afternoon games, Nov. 1 and 22; Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns make their only regular season trip to Canada on Nov. 29, with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics playing here Jan. 10 and Apr. 7. Kobe Bryant and the champion Los Angeles Lakers appear Jan. 24.

Hedo Turkoglu makes his first trip back to Orlando on Dec. 16.

The Raptors will have 21 back-to-back games this season (up from four last season). Their pre-season schedule is still being finalized.

The 2009-10 NBA season begins with a doubleheader on Oct. 27, when Eastern Conference powers Boston and Cleveland tip off, marking Shaquille O'Neal's debut with James and the Cavaliers. In the second game, the Lakers open defence of their title against No. 1 draft pick Blake Griffin and the inter-city rival Clippers.

Both games involving last year's finalists, the Lakers and Magic will be televised nationally; Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 18 and March 7.


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