With the Cavaliers in utter turmoil the two best teams in the Eastern Conference are the Boston Celtics (39-15) and the Toronto Raptors (36-16) and they headline a week in the NBA that could establish who will claim the top spot in the East this season when they face off in Toronto on Tuesday.
An ESPN panel ranks Boston 3rd overall in the NBA and the Raptors in 4th while the Cavs have slipped to 11th. In ESPN’s math based NBA Basketball Power Index those rankings are reversed with Toronto in 3rd (BPI 6.0) and the Celtics in 4th (BPI 4.5). The Cavs have slipped to an irrelevant 15th (BPI 0.4).
John Schuhmann’s NBA Power Rankings provide more detail and have the Raptors (3rd) ranked just ahead of the Celtics (4th). He has the Cavs in 13th.
3. Toronto RaptorsRecord: 36-16Pace: 100.5 (11) OffRtg: 110.1 (4) DefRtg: 103.1 (3) NetRtg: +7.0 (3)Though the Raptors have been a little inconsistent themselves over the last few weeks, the Warriors’ defensive slippage has left Toronto as the only team that ranks in the top five on both ends of the floor. The offense (118 points scored per 100 possessions) has been better than the defense as they’ve won four of their last five games. The only game in that stretch that they lost in the one (at Washington on Thursday) that they played without Fred VanVleet, who has averaged 16 points off the bench in the other four. With the Cavs continuing to flounder, the two best teams in the East will meet (for the first time since early November) in Toronto on Tuesday, though it’s not clear if Kyrie Irving (bruised quad) will be available for the Celtics.Week 17: vs. BOS, vs. NYK, @ CHA
4. Boston CelticsRecord: 39-15Pace: 98.2 (22) OffRtg: 104.8 (17) DefRtg: 99.9 (1) NetRtg: +5.0 (4)Al Horford assisted on Jaylen Brown’s game winner in Denver on Monday and hit the game-winner himself as the Celtics pulled off another comeback from a double-digit deficit on Sunday. But the middle of the week belonged to Terry Rozier. In his first two career starts, Rozier recorded a triple-double against New York on Wednesday and dropped a career-high 31 points on the Hawks on Friday, helping the Celtics enjoy some rare offensive success without Kyrie Irving. Daniel Theis has given them some good minutes as they’ve won five of their last six games (with the only loss coming by four points at Golden State), but may be replaced in the rotation by Greg Monroe.Week 17: @ TOR, @ WAS, vs. IND, vs. CLE
Both teams rely on top-ranked defenses and guard the three-point line better than anyone else. The Raptors are ranked first for the fewest opponent three-point shots made per game (8.8). The Celtics ranked first for opponent’s three-point field goal percentage (33.3%).
The differences come with the Celtics slow pace (22nd) and league average scoring (13th) versus much faster than previous seasons Raptors pace (11th ranked) and an ability to put up an Eastern Conference best 111.4 points per game.
In their first meeting Boston did what they’ve been doing all season, steal a game at the end as their opponent missed shots that normally would have dropped and the Celtics won in Boston 95-94 over the Raptors.
Those wins look like luck, but Boston has the most wins in the NBA (9) in games decided by three points or less this year and grinding out low scoring affairs is how they do it. The Raptors on the other hand regularly put up 120 points plus and are an Eastern Conference best 20-3 in games decided by 10 or more points.
It’s to Boston’s advantage to hold Toronto under a 100 points while the Raptors will be trying to ramp up the pace. The contrast in styles should make for a great game.
For some unknown reason TNT has chosen not to show the battle for first in the East on Tuesday night and have opted for the fourth place Wizards (30-22) versus the eighth place 76ers (25-25).