We just had to see how Toronto’s back-to-back against the Cavaliers and Celtics would turn out before one final edition of the Standings Watch. By this time next week we’ll know for certain the identity of the Raptors’ first round playoff opponent. What we know today, right now, as per the last two games, is the following:
- LeBron James and the Cavaliers appear to still be very much in the Raptors’ heads; and
- The Raptors can beat the dang Celtics, and have virtually locked up the first number one seed in franchise history by doing so.
For a team many thought would take a step or two backwards this year, the Raptors have been a revelation. The “culture reset” offense has taken, various players have made a leap of sorts (individually or as a collective), and barring a four-game losing streak to end the season, Toronto will likely set a new record in wins for the franchise. They sit at 56-22 right now.
But don’t take my word for it, look at the beautiful picture below.
The takeaway is a big one. In case you missed it up there: the Raptors are in first place, will likely remain in first place, and in all honesty, deserve to be in first place. They’ve earned it.
Any combination now of a Raptors win (vs. IND, vs. ORL, @ DET, @ MIA) or a Boston loss (vs. CHI, vs. ATL, @ WAS, vs. BKN) means Toronto has locked up its first ever number one seed in franchise history. Did I say that already? Let me repeat: the Raptors are in first place, and will likely remain there. It’s over. We did it.
The rest of the Eastern Conference however still feels oddly up for grabs. The Cavaliers and Sixers are now tied, thanks to Philly’s 12-game win streak, with the 3- and 4-seeds in the mix. The Pacers are likely locked into fifth. While the Heat and Bucks have been joined by the Wizards in the dance for sixth, seventh, and eighth. Only one half game separates those three teams and all of them could end up in any of those spots.
A look at each team’s schedule reveals:
MIA: @ NYK, vs. OKC, vs. TOR
WAS: @ CLE, vs. ATL, vs. BOS, @ ORL
MIL: vs. BKN, @NYK, vs. ORL, @PHI
So, now let’s try to make a prediction.
The Heat can absolutely go 2-1, beating the Knicks and splitting the games between the Thunder and Raptors. That puts them at 45-37.
The Wizards, god love’em (or not), will go 2-2. They aren’t beating the Cavs, and I suspect they’ll falter against the Celtics. (Though they’ll be glad to have two games against obviously tanking teams.) That puts them at 44-38, a game behind the Heat.
And finally, the Bucks will go 3-1! Yes, there we go, they’ll get to 45-37 too. But since the Heat hold the tiebreaker (having beaten Milwaukee all three times this season), the Bucks will go to seventh. Which means the Wizards are to finish in eighth. Which puts Toronto in a wild world.
The hope is always the same: that the Raptors play like a number one seed in the playoffs. Whoever is in eighth should be an easy out, that’s just how it is supposed to work more often than not. Case closed.
And if Toronto ends up taking on the Cavaliers in the second round, do not despair. LeBron is but one man, the Raptors has waited all year for another shot. Do not shrink from the moment. Believe it can be done.
OK, that’s it. Let’s just make it to the end of the regular season healthy.