After years of the Raptors playing struggleball, we're used to having mostly meaningless games in late March. The Raptors find themselves in a precarious position - they're virtually locked into the second seed, with a variety of minor ailments to key players to be careful with. With a 7.5 game lead over the third seeded Miami Heat, but 1.5 games back of the Cavaliers (who have a much easier schedule), the Raptors are probably better served continuing to prioritize health and rest as we near the playoffs. Two big milestones are on the horizon though - one being reaching the 50-win plateau for the first time in franchise history, and the second being clinching a playoff berth. With a win over the Celtics, the Raptors would achieve the latter and be one win from the former.
The Celtics find themselves in a 4-way tango for the third seed, along with the aforementioned Heat, the Hornets and Hawks. Boston's been sliding in the wrong direction, going 3-5 in their last 8 games. It's no coincidence that their struggles have coincided with the absence of Jae Crowder, who's expected to miss another week due to injury. The Celtics are still in a good position for the future though, with their war chest of assets and high-level coaching in the form of Brad Stevens. Sitting at 41-30, there's a very real chance that the Celtics end up being the Raptors' opponent in the second round, should the teams get that far.
Things to Watch For:
The running joke is that the Celtics keep collecting undersized guards, who get by on effort and energy. However, Isaiah Thomas has turned himself into an All Star, and is more unguardable at times than a 5'9 player has any right to be. Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart are among the premier defensive players at the 1-2 guard spots. This promises to be another test for DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, though they've passed most of them this year.
Raptors in Hibernation
Over the past two to three weeks, we've seen Lowry, DeRozan, Joseph, Valanciunas, Patterson, James Johnson all miss games due to rest and/or injury. It's been a breath of fresh air to see Dwane Casey finally start managing minutes a little bit better. It makes previews a little bit more difficult to write since it's a crapshoot as to who will be playing or missing the game.
Bismack Biyombo is in the middle of his best stretch as a Raptor. Over his past five games, he's averaging 10 points, 13 rebounds on 69% (nice) shooting. The Raptors defence has been much improved with his insertion into the starting lineup. I'm curious to see how he deals with Boston's mobility and this could be another game where he has the chance to stake his claim for more playoff minutes.
Where to Watch: 7:30 PM EST, TSN4