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Standings Watch: The Raptors enter the final run of the season

With 23 games to go, the Raptors being the stretch drive of the regular season, and we begin sizing up the playoffs.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Chicago Bulls Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

There are 23 regular season games left for the 42-17 first place Raptors. That’s really good. So good in fact, we’ve got an ongoing prediction series on whether or not the team will get to 60 wins.

But we’ve also got to turn our mind to something else: the playoff picture. As we tumble into March, that’s all that really matters — for the Raps, for the rest of the NBA, and most importantly (of course), for us.

So, let’s get to it: here’s a (literal) snapshot of the Eastern Conference right now, with our beloved Raptors up on top. It’s time for Standings Watch 2018.

The Standings

Hoo boy, that is a pretty picture.

The Takeaways

The main thing here is, again, the Raptors are in first dang place. I do not (and will not) get tired of announcing that bit of information. Now we can get to the next, more troublesome point: their hold on first is modestly tenuous.

Yes, as I’m sure you noted, the Boston Celtics are but a mere 0.5 games behind Toronto — though it’s worth noting here the Raptors have three games in hand on Boston. Also, I used the word “modestly” up there for a reason; I have absolutely zero belief that the Celtics will finish first. Sorry not sorry, Boston!

After that we get to a great miasma of teams, headlined by the new-look Cavaliers, who sit a full seven games back of the Raptors in third, but only a half-game up on the fourth place Wizards, who are somehow inexplicably still a threat in the East. (Speaking of inexplicable: the Pacers in fifth? The hell?) And bringing up the rear: the Bucks, Sixers, and Heat all jockeying for position. (The Pistons will not be included in this discussion since it is clear Blake Griffin wants to go on vacation for some soul searching.)

So yes, the Raptors are in first place, and a bunch of other teams are still trying to figure out what the hell they’re doing. That’s really good for Toronto. And it’s got to buy us some relief, right?

The Hopes

Ah, but it is not right. In fact, it is quite wrong. Because now, as Raptors fans, we are obligated to get anxious about post-season match-ups and decide which path to the Conference Finals (and beyond?) is best, or easiest. We are a nervous people.

As of right now, the 1-8 seeding has the Raptors playing the Heat in the first round. It would be a tough series for sure, since Miami is the Bizarro version of the Raptors, but ultimately Toronto would win (in 6 or 7; book it).

The second round would 100 percent bring the Wizards to Toronto in what would either be a revenge series for the 2014-15 Raptors (Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas) or a serious bout of post-traumatic stress. I’m already sweating this one.

Finally, safely assuming LeBron James gets there (because of course he will), the Raptors would take on the King in the ECF. We dare to dream.

We’ll see how things change by next week — after the Raptors have played four more of their final 23 games.