- Brad Stevens’ team is lurking just 1.5 games behind the Raptors atop the division
- The Raptors’ 19-8 record away from home won’t hold up down the stretch
Why we’re backing Boston:
For the record, we don’t have a single thing against what Toronto has accomplished this season. What Nick Nurse has done after losing Kawhi Leonard in free agency is nothing short of amazing. Nurse deserves to be this year’s Coach of the Year in a pretty easy race.
With that being said, the Raptors are clearly punching above their weight. That’s why you should put your money on the Celtics to overcome them in the race for the Atlantic Division crown. Somehow, Boston is still managing to fly under the radar. It’s time for you to cash in on that strange phenomenon.
When you don’t know who to bet on in the NBA, it’s best to go with the most talented team. The Celtics clearly have more natural ability than the Raptors this year. In particular, the young players on Boston’s roster make them a terrific bet to maximize their win total down the stretch.
The acquisition of 29-year-old point guard Kemba Walker made all the headlines this offseason, but he’s supported by a host of teammates that are just entering their respective primes. Jaylen Brown is playing great basketball lately and he’s just 23. Jayson Tatum is even younger at 21 years of age. The fact that both players are already performing as above average starters is a testament to their work ethic and Stevens’ coaching ability.
Lately, the emergence of Romeo Langford has also been a key for Boston. If he can continue to operate as their defensive stopper it’s going to make the Celtics even more difficult to handle in clutch situations. Langford won’t get a ton of minutes, but don’t be surprised if he swings a game or two in Boston’s favor before the season ends.
As for the Raptors, many of their important players are all closer to retirement than their rookie seasons. Kyle Lowry is arguably the best player in franchise history but he’s a 33-year-old point guard with a lot of miles on his tires. Marc Gasol is an effective center but he’s the oldest player on the team. The takeaway here is that Toronto will need to give both players plenty of rest before the playoffs arrive. That’s going to cost the Raptors several wins before the regular season is said and done.
Both Lowry and Gasol also carry a healthy (pun intended) amount of injury risk. Both have suffered significant injuries during their respective careers. Even if they don’t get hit with anything significant, it’s likely they’ll need to work through some nagging ailments in the coming weeks. Even if those ailments don’t equal missed games, they will result in decreased performance levels from Toronto’s aging stars.
The one wild card for Toronto is the continued progression of Pascal Siakam. He’s only 25 and his ascendancy to stardom has been terrific for Nurse and his coaching staff. If he can somehow take another leap, it could allow the Raptors to keep hold of their division lead. The odds are stacked against that though. His shooting is more likely to regress than progress in the coming weeks.
Remember, it’s very possible the Raptors won’t see any meaningful difference between the No. 2 and No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Those are the two spots that Toronto and Boston currently occupy in the standings. Both franchises will be chiefly concerned with avoiding the No. 4 spot. Playing Milwaukee in Round 2 is not a match-up that either team will want to encounter.
The combination of youth, talent and ambition make the Celtics the right bet here. We’re not sure we’d take them straight up to overtake the Raptors (although we might), but the fact that you have the odds in your favor here makes them the right value play in the Atlantic Division. This is worth a sizable wager from your account before the NBA season is through. The Raptors only have a slender lead at the moment. Boston has the ability to overtake them in the standings within the week.