After low expectations earlier in the season, the Toronto Raptors have eclipsed the Boston Celtics and are now favourites to take out the NBA’s Atlantic Division. With just a few games remaining, the Raptors now have their eyes firmly focused on taking it to LeBron and the Cavs and making a run for the Eastern Conference title.
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Raptors look to tighten up its rotation for the play-offs
At the start of the season, the Celtics were massive favourites to win the Atlantic Division and Toronto have overperformed expectations in hunting down the Celts winning record and finally passing them. Its all on the back of a more focused defensive effort and the home crowd which has been one of the loudest in the NBA down this final stretch leading towards the end of the regular season.
How exactly have the Raptors stayed in the hunt for the division title? Led by the dynamic backcourt duo of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors have the firepower to mix it with any guard tandem in the NBA at the moment night in and night out in the regular season.
Questions still persist if Toronto can up the ante and play a more defensive style of game in the playoffs to mix it with the very best. However, the Raptors are in possession of one of the best and deepest bench combinations in the NBA, with the likes of Norman Powell, C.J. Miles, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Jakob Poetl and Pascal Siakam all able to come in and make substantial contributions without the side missing a single beat at either end of the floor.
The race for the Atlantic Division has heated up
As recently as just a week or two ago, winning the Eastern Conference’s top seed seemed all but a certainty for the Toronto Raptors.
Not now, not anymore.
The Raptors have maintained the occupation first place in the East since Boxing Day, when they overtook the Celtics and didn’t look back. As the months wore on and mid-winter has softly turned to early spring, Toronto has preserved and extended a healthy lead in fine fettle over the rest of the conference.
All of that changed last week. Suddenly, after posting a losing record over seven games, the Raptors’ grasp on first began to slip. With Toronto’s must-win victory over the Celts on Wednesday, some balance has been restored to the Raptors title charge but it’s clearly apparent that the race for the Atlantic Division will go down to the wire.
Why is First Place in the East so important?
First place in the East would be a notable outcome for a Raptors unit that has never accomplished the feat before as a franchise, and a crowning glory for what has been by far the most successful season in the team’s history. Fans and players alike are getting excited for what they are hoping will be a successful and deep run in the playoffs. There’s a lot more at stake here than purely bragging rights alone.
A successful capture of the Eastern Conference’s regular season crown would ensure that the Raptors have home court advantage throughout the first three rounds of the playoffs. With such an imposing home record at the Air Canada Centre — by some margin the best home court record in the East — securing home court advantage would go a very long way to supplying Toronto an added advantage over Eastern Conference opponents in any potential seven-game series.
Boston’s bad run with injury helps the Raptors chances
It is getting seriously crowded in the Celtics injury ward these days and their horror run with injuries will help out the Raptors no end. Whilst no-one wishes bad on their opponents, all the injuries have severely depleted the point guard depth at the Celtics much to the Raptors benefit. Boston have even forced a start new recruit Kadeem Allen in recent games, a player who until then had played only 39 minutes in total in the NBA, because of the long list of injuries in the Celtics guard position.
All Star Kyrie Irving is out injured as is Marcus Smart, who can also play in the point guard role if required. Other Boston back-up guards Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin have also missed large chunks of game time due to injury. The Raptors can’t believe their good fortune.
Looking forward to the Playoffs
The Raptors have the type of deep bench that a team can use to rest its stars in a deep playoff run. They also have a coach, that all those in the know, are anticipating will be named Coach of the Year. When asked if his Toronto Raptors team are the best team in the East, Coach Dwane Casey, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan all answered;
“Well,” said coach Dwane Casey, “the record says we are,” before playing down the Raptors chances.
Kyle Lowry said; “We’re just going to keep doing what we do and not worry about anybody else.”
DeMar DeRozan; “We’ll see.”
If they sound a little evasive, much of that is down to LeBron James. After all, the Raptors most likely must overcome the superstar who has the East on ownership with his Cleveland Cavaliers having won the last seven straight Eastern Conference titles. Significantly, LeBron ended the Raptors playoff runs in each of the last two seasons.
However, this is a very different Raptors team that have the ability to take Toronto all the way to a place they have never been before, a NBA Finals Series.
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Good luck, great gaming and Go Raptors!