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Raptors vs. Celtics: Don't say this game doesn't matter

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Sure, both teams are playing in the conference of LeBron James, but don't tell the Raptors and Celtics that.

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the year there's been this idea that while the East has generally improved -- all the team's in the playoff picture are above .500 this time! -- the conference's fate is already decided. Who dares to even bother to compete in the Land of LeBron? The answer, of course, is obvious: the Raptors and Celtics, sitting in second and fourth respectively, that's who.

For the Celtics, the story has been the versatility of their lineups, the emergence of Isaiah Thomas as an All-Star guard, and the coaching wizardry of Brad Stevens. Up until they cut David Lee, Boston was playing 11 guys over 10 minutes a game -- with now young Terry Rozier averaging 10+ minutes as of late. The aforementioned Thomas has a usage rate of almost 30 percent, and averages 22 points a game and will battle to his last breath (despite being the smallest guy on the court most -- all? -- nights). And Stevens has a young (no one over 30) and undersized (Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk figure prominently) team battling for a home court advantage in the playoffs. (They're also battling to avoid the Cavaliers as a potential second round matchup; the King never stays far from anyone's mind in the East.)

The Raptors, meanwhile, are in recovery mode. Jonas Valanciunas, the big man who could make life difficult for the Celtics, is again questionable tonight due to a left hand contusion. DeMarre Carroll (praise be upon him) is still -- still -- out. Toronto is also on its fourth game in five nights which, as I'm sure you know, can tucker guys out. The Raptors didn't rest anyone last night (unless James Johnson counts). But since DeMar DeRozan got Tuesday night off, maybe tonight Kyle Lowry is due for a break?

I don't know. But I do know that both teams are still out there winning games as best they can.

(Oh yeah, and just to stop with the waxing poetic: The Celtics are missing Jae Crowder (a.k.a DeMarre Carroll Lite) with an ankle sprain and possibly Jonas Jerebko (a.k.a the other Jonas brother) with a sore left ankle sprain. Don't say I never keep you informed.)

Now read this preview from Michael Hoad and then get in the comments.