The Toronto Raptors currently own a 3.5 game lead over the Boston Celtics for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Raptors are coming off of a West Coast road trip in which they went 4-1, while the Celtics have lost four-consecutive home games to hurt their chances of taking the two seed.
Toronto has 18 games remaining in their season, while Boston has 19 games remaining. The Raptors only have one more game on the schedule this week - at home against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday. The Celtics, however, have a big four-game week begins on Tuesday when they travel to take on the Indiana Pacers.
This week can either cement the Raptors as the two seed or put a little pressure on them as we head toward the end of the season. Let's take a look at how the Celtic's week impacts the idle Raptors.
The Celtics' schedule this week
|Date||Matchup||FiveThirtyEight odds to win|
|Tuesday, Mar. 10||at Pacers||55%|
|Thursday, Mar. 12||at Bucks||41%|
|Friday, Mar. 13||vs. Wizards||81%|
|Sunday, Mar. 15||at Bulls||75%|
The C's start off with a potential first-round playoff matchup against the Pacers who are starting to heat up, winning eight of their last 10 games. Indiana won its first matchup against Boston this season back in December, fighting off a 44-point outburst from All-Star guard Kemba Walker.
The Pacers currently sit in the No. 5 spot in the East but are only one game ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers, leaving either team eligible to finish in sixth place for a possible matchup of whichever team finishes in third between the Celtics and Raptors.
According to Inpredictable, Indiana currently owns a 54% chance to land in sixth-place while Philly is given a 44% chance to finish in sixth.
Next, Boston travels to take on the first-place Bucks, but perhaps, without MVP candidate and star player Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak suffered a "minor joint capsule sprain of the left knee" against the Los Angeles Lakers last week and his status against the Celtics is still up in the air.
In their first two meetings this season, the home team has come away with the victory in each contest. Without Antetokounmpo, the Celtics have a much better chance of upsetting the Eastern Conference juggernaut at home, especially when you consider Milwaukee is amidst the coldest stretch of their season losing three in a row and four of their last five.
A win for Boston would be a step in the right direction of taking over the No. 2 seed, but it wasn't typically an expected "W" on the calendar in terms of making up ground on the Raptors.
They close their week with two games against sub-.500 teams in the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls. The Celtics own a solid record of 28-8 against teams under .500 this season, so they should be expected to take care of business.
In relation to the Raptors
The Raptors set themselves up nicely with a strong finish to their West Coast road trip. Their 3.5-game lead over Boston gives them a clear edge to remain in the No. 2 spot and take home-court advantage in a possible second-round matchup against their Atlantic Division rival.
MORE: Takeaways from the Raptors West Coast road trip
Since Toronto only has one more game remaining this week, if the Celtics were to go a perfect 4-0 and the Raptors were to handle their home game against the Pistons, the Celtics would gain back 1.5 games in the deficit and enter next week - where these two teams face off - just two games back. At most, Boston could cut it to 1.5-games back if Toronto were to lose at home to Detroit, but that would be the absolute best-case scenario for the Celtics.
The Raptors currently have a stronghold on the two-seed and it would take somewhat of a meltdown to sacrifice that. According to Inpredictable, Toronto owns an 83% chance of holding the No. 2 spot while Boston's chances are down to just 14%.
However, it is worth noting that the Raptors have the 12th-hardest schedule remaining in the NBA, where the Celtics are 17th, according to Tankathon.
Claiming that No. 2 spot is extremely important for either of these teams in gaining home-court advantage in a potential second-round playoff matchup, as the home team has won 16 of the last 20 meetings between Boston and Toronto.
It also could mean avoiding the 76ers in the first round, who were considered preseason favourites to compete with the Bucks to come out of the East. If the season were to end today, Philly would finish in the No. 6 spot, meaning the team that takes the three seed would have to deal with a gruelling battle to kick off the playoffs.
The Celtics are up 2-1 in the season series so far, but it's been as back-and-forth as it always is between these two teams. Boston took care of the Raptors the second game of the season back in October when Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 50 points. They then snapped their eight-game losing streak in Toronto when they took down a shorthanded Raptors squad - without Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol or Norman Powell - on Christmas Day behind a 30-point showcase from Brown.
With that same shorthanded roster, the Raptors turned around two days later and snapped their six-game losing streak in Boston behind 30 points from Kyle Lowry and a big double-double from Serge Ibaka.
After this tough week for the Celtics, there's a chance the Raptors could see a clear path to the two-seed. If Boston performs to the best of their ability, that meeting between these two teams next Friday (March 20) in Toronto becomes all that much more important.
The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.