Raptors open NBA season against Pelicans, will also play early Christmas game


TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors will begin their 2019-20 season with a championship banner raising, and the festive atmosphere will continue with home games on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.

The team announced its schedule for the upcoming NBA season on Monday, making official previously leaked highlights such as the Christmas game and the Dec. 11 return of former Raptor superstar Kawhi Leonard, now with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Toronto will open its 25th campaign on Oct. 22 against the visiting New Orleans Pelicans, and the Raptors will celebrate their 2019 championship with a ring ceremony and banner raising before the game.

The game will feature the NBA regular-season debut of No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson, who began his NCAA career in nearby Mississauga, Ont., last year when his Duke Blue Devils faced the Ryerson Rams in an exhibition game.

The Raptors will play their first ever Christmas home game when they host the division-rival Boston Celtics at noon ET. Toronto’s only other appearance in the NBA’s prestigious Christmas lineup was against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in 2001.

Prior to that game, the Raptors will host Leonard and the Clippers on Dec. 11. Leonard helped Toronto to its lone NBA title last season, winning Finals MVP honours in the process, before leaving for his hometown Clippers in free agency.

Toronto will play its first road game Oct. 25 at Boston.

The sixth annual Giants of Africa Game, which honours the life of Nelson Mandela, is on Dec. 5 versus the Houston Rockets. Giannis Antetokounmpo, last season’s MVP, will lead the Milwaukee Bucks north of the border twice — Feb. 25 and April 3.

The Golden State Warriors, who lost to Toronto in last season’s final, visit on March 16. LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers make a late-season appearance on March 24.

The longest homestand of the season is four games from Feb. 21-28. The longest road swing is five games, which occurs twice: Nov. 8-16 and March 1-9.

The Raptors will have 13 back-to-back games this season, one more than last year. Seven of those back-to-backs will be entirely on the road.

Toronto is scheduled to make 11 U.S. national television appearances — six on ESPN and five on TNT.