Whether anyone is willing to admit it or not, with just five games remaining, the Eastern Conference third place Atlantic Division leading Toronto Raptors and their fans are scoreboard watching as the overtly tanking Philadelphia 76ers visit the Air Canada Centre.
It’s not that the 76ers can’t win a game, Philadelphia has won a couple of times since the end of January, rather the Raptors are 3-0 over the visitors and would be beyond embarrassed if this was the team that let the Bulls steal third place from them. Toronto has a chance to set a franchise record for wins in a season, win the Atlantic Division for just the second time in team history and, if everything goes right, win 50 games and claim third place in the Eastern Conference for just the second time ever. Tonight is not about beating the 76ers – although the Raptors can’t afford to screw this up by losing either.
Also starting at 7 pm this evening are the Atlantic Division’s second place Brooklyn Nets and perhaps a much more important tilt between Charlotte and Washington. Assuming the Raptors can hold onto third place, when the playoffs start they will be hosting either the Bobcats or the Wizards and that battle could be decided tonight.
If the Wizards win, Washington’s lead over Charlotte will grow to two games plus the tie-breaker with four games remaining and the Raptors are hoping for this outcome. Toronto was 3-1 versus the Wizards this year and their only loss came in a triple overtime game in which three Toronto players fouled out.
If Charlotte wins, the Bobcats will be tied with Washington and hold the tie-breaker due to a 3-1 series lead. Both teams have similar enough schedules over the remaining four games that tonight’s decision probably determines how these two teams finish. Toronto hasn’t been so lucky against the Bobcats – cursed would be more like it. The Raptors are 0-3 versus the Bobcats this season and have a history of losing in Charlotte no matter how bad the Bobcats have been in the past.
Given a choice, Charlotte is the one team Toronto doesn’t want to face in the postseason. There could be some strange cheering going on at the Air Canada Centre if the Wizards are leading when the out-of-town scores are updated.