Where to Watch: TSN (Toronto) / NESN (Boston)
Where to Listen: TSN 1050 (Toronto) / 98.5 FM The Sports Hub (Boston)
Thirty-one games was all it took for the Toronto Raptors to secure 24 wins. On the back of Kyle Lowry's other-worldly play, a magnificent bench and, let's face it, a schedule loaded with mediocre Eastern Conference opponents, the Raptors held the third-best record in the league three days before the calendar turned to 2015.
Scraping together the next 24 wins wasn't quite so easy. The opposition stiffened, the defense went from not-good to Knicks-bad and DeMar DeRozan's return to the line-up was anything but seamless. All told, it took 49 games for the Raptors to grab another 24 wins and tie their franchise record of 48. Somehow, Toronto sits on on the verge of history.
When we look back on this season years down the road, the separate streaks of seven losses in nine games and nine losses in 10 won't come to mind. Neither will the 24th-ranked defense, the mind-numbingly predictable offense or malaise that has dogged Raptors fans since the downward slide began. That shiny win total will stand out above all else.
That is, of course, if the Raptors can win one of their final two games. In the way of win number 49 tonight is a surprising Boston Celtics team that is getting set to make an unexpected playoff appearance.
Boston comes into the clash having won eight of its last 11 games. The only teams since that run started on March 23 to have a better NET Rating than the Celtics' +7.5: The Spurs, Clippers, Warriors and Hawks. Keep in mind - Evan Turner routinely mans the point for this team while Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger "protect the rim."
Boston's suspect rim defense should be the key target for Dwane Casey's squad tonight. With a dearth of defensive stoppers in the middle this year, the Celts have surrendered a hefty 62.9 percent opposing field-goal percentage on shots inside five feet - fourth-worst in the league. Common sense dictates that Jonas Valanciunas should be getting the ball early and often (if he avoids foul trouble).
Common sense, as we've come to learn, doesn't always prevail in the Raptors' game plan. But Toronto would be wise to focus on foregoing contested mid-range jumpers and threes. Thanks to the tenacious defense of Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart, Boston is holding opponents to a stingy 29.7 percent from beyond the arc - nearly three percent better than the next best three-point stopping team (that team is not the Raptors, obviously).
Still, though Boston comes equipped with a defense that makes fools out of poor shot-takers and the wounds of April 4th's last-second overtime loss are still fresh, Toronto is 5-2 against their division rivals in the last two seasons. With that track record of success and the added motivation of trying to achieve history, Toronto - even if Amir Johnson's absence continues - stands a solid chance of snatching win number 49 tonight.
And even if they don't, Charlotte is next on the schedule. The Raptors own them now, right?