When glancing at the mess that is the Eastern Conference standings, nearly every playoff-contending team has at least one or two standout players on the roster except for one squad: the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics boast a deep roster of complementary pieces without a star in the lineup. Instead of relying too heavily on a few specific players to get the job done night in and night out (as the Raptors can be guilty of doing with their backcourt), head coach Brad Stevens has been tasked with keeping everyone happy in a system where consistent playing time is at a premium.
So far this season, Boston (22-20) has shown flashes of brilliance as well as some severe growing pains. The Celts aren't ready to be a serious threat in the East just yet, but they're a team on the rise that's only a piece or two away from being a problem for the rest of the conference as their young core grows together.
The Raptors (26-15), who host Boston tonight in the second leg of a seven-game home stand, appear to be hitting their stride at the midway point of the season. Toronto has won five in a row despite being forced to adjust to life without prized free agent signing DeMarre Carroll.
Unlike the Celts, however, the Dinos don't have the luxury of patience at their disposal. We all know how the second half of last season unfolded and the subsequent flameout that followed in the postseason, which makes their pre All-Star break performance all the more important as they fight to remain in second place in the conference.
Hey look, fan favourite Amir Johnson is making his grand return north of the border! We miss you, Amir. Sorry for the (multiple) down years.
Let's get to it. Here are three things to watch out for in tonight's matchup:
Isaiah Thomas, the difference maker
Since coming over from Phoenix last year, diminutive point guard Isaiah Thomas has finally found his home in Beantown. Thomas is averaging a career-high 21.8 points and 6.6 assists per game en route to throwing his name into the All-Star conversation. The 26-year-old is one of only three Celtics who's averaging over 30 minutes per game in Boston's logjam of a roster.
As good as Thomas has been this season, the C's have suffered mightily when he's on the bench. Boston is scoring 105 points per 100 possessions compared to just 94.5 when he's sitting - one of the biggest gaps in the Association. Backup point guard Marcus Smart is a beast on defense, but his offensive woes (34 percent from the field and 21 from deep) have given opposing teams plenty of reason to let him keep firing away at will.
Charity stripe efficiency
Led mainly by DeMar DeRozan, Toronto is one of the best teams in the NBA at getting to the foul line. The Celtics are not. The Raptors are third in the NBA in percentage of points coming from free throws (20.4 percent), while the C's are closer to the bottom at 17.1 percent. Besides Thomas, no one else is a real threat to get to the line for Boston - an issue the Raps could easily exploit once again.
We're going streaking
For better or for worse, Boston has established itself as one of the streakiest teams in the NBA as of late. Since Dec. 15 (a stretch of 18 games), the Celtics have garnered a win and a loss in consecutive contests just once. During that span, Boston has gone on separate three and four-game winning streaks while also suffering three and four-game losing skids. The good news for Toronto is the Celts are coming off a 118-113 overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Monday.
Where to watch: TSN, 7:30 p.m. ET.