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The Reeling Raptors Host the Surging Celtics: Preview, Start Time and More

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Don’t look now, but the Boston Celtics are only a game behind the Toronto Raptors in the standings and can leapfrog them tonight.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors collide with the Boston Celtics tonight at the Air Canada Centre in what’s shaping up to be more than just one of 82 regular season games.

The Raptors are in the midst of a rough patch, losing five of their last seven, while the Celtics are on fire, winning 10 of their last 12. What was once a comfortable cushion for the Raptors between the two in the standings has been reduced to one measly game, and tonight’s game could lead to Boston leapfrogging Toronto for second in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.

When it comes to who wins the Atlantic Division this year, we’re almost certainly going to look back at this one as having meant something.

This is the second of four meetings between the two squads this season (the Raptors won the first matchup by a score of 101-94 on December 9th). Here are a few things to keep an eye on in this one:

Lots of Offense, Not a Lot of Defense

The Raptors currently rank second in the NBA in offensive efficiency, with an offensive rating of 113.1 (points scored per 100 possessions), while the Celtics come in seventh at 108.3.

And while both teams excel on that side of the ball, they also both kind of stink on the defensive end. The Raptors rank 19th in the NBA in defensive rating at 105.8 (points allowed per 100 possessions), and the Celtics are right there with them in 18th at 105.6.

This one has the potential to be a bit of a barnburner, despite the modest 101-94 final score the last time they met.

It’s Raining Threes

The Boston Celtics attempt 31.9 triples per game (fourth in the Association) and hit them at a 36.9% clip (seventh). In the December 9th tilt between these two teams, the Celts attempted a season-high 42 triples, hitting 17 of them (40.5%).

The Raptors, meanwhile, shot 9-for-20 (45.0%) from long range in that one. With both teams shooting the lights out from deep in the last meeting between these two teams, the three-point line was basically a draw. If one of the two teams goes cold from beyond the arc tonight, however, it could be a difference maker.

All-Star Point Guard Battle

Kyle Lowry had one of his biggest scoring games of the season the last time these two teams faced off, scoring 34 points on 9-for-18 shooting from the field, 4-for-8 from three-point range, and 12-for-13 from the free throw line. He tossed in seven rebounds, two assists, and three steals for good measure, but did it all while his All-Star counterpart, Isaiah Thomas, was on the sidelines nursing a groin injury.

This time around, both guards will be in uniform for what promises to be an exciting back-and-forth matchup. Thomas has followed up his first All-Star campaign in 2015-16 with an even better one this year, averaging 28.0 points (fifth in the NBA), 2.6 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game, while shooting 45.6% from the floor, 37.5% from deep, and 90.8% from the line.

Circle this matchup on your score card, it should be a spicy one.

Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 7:30 p.m. EST