Celtics Can ‘Help’ Raptors Toward Second-Ever Division Title This Week

Kyle LowryNot much was expected of the 2013-14 Toronto Raptors after the team went 34-48 last season and overhauled its front office in the offseason. Most projections had Toronto finishing third in the Atlantic Division only because the Celtics and 76ers were going through rebuilding seasons.

Yet here we are with a few weeks remaining in the regular season and Toronto is in the driver’s seat for its second-ever division title, joining the 2006-07 club that was led by Chris Bosh. That was the last season Toronto finished with a winning record, although it did reach the playoffs the next year as well. The Raptors haven’t won a playoff series since reaching the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals.

Toronto is aiming to finish as high as third in the East and leads surging Brooklyn by 1 1/2 games atop the Atlantic. It’s possible those two would face off in the first round of the playoffs, but the No. 3 seed is likely to face Washington. Oddsmakers don’t give Toronto much of a shot to win the Eastern Conference as it is 40-1 on Bovada’s NBA futures and 75-1 to win the NBA championship. By comparison, the Nets are 18-1 and 40-1, respectively.

The Raptors are an excellent 25-15 in 2014 but have slipped a bit of late. They have lost three of five entering Tuesday’s game at Cleveland. Kyle Lowry has turned into one of the Eastern Conference’s top point guards, averaging 17.5 points and 7.7 assists per game. He has scored at least 22 in his past six games. The team is trying to keep his minutes low so Lowry is fresh for the playoffs, but it can’t afford to sit him for full games as it chases the division title.

The Raptors visit Boston on Wednesday in the second of a back-to-back, a game that will have Live Betting at Bovada, and then they will host the Celtics on Friday. Toronto and Boston have split two meetings and haven’t played in more than two months. Lowry is averaging just 14.5 points on 32 percent shooting in the two games. Leading scorer DeMar DeRozan is averaging 18.0 points against the C’s.

After the two Boston games, Toronto’s remaining schedule is fairly easy. They do travel to Miami before hosting Houston next Wednesday and Indiana next Friday. After that, there are no teams currently with a winning record on the Toronto schedule, including two games against the Bucks and one against the 76ers, the league’s two worst teams. The Nets’ schedule is slightly tougher.

Also available for Live Betting Wednesday is a big one between the Heat and Pacers in Indianapolis. It’s all but a must-win for Miami if the Heat have any hopes of catching the Pacers and earning the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Indiana has made no secret of wanting home-court advantage in a potential series against Miami. The Pacers’ season ended on the Heat’s home floor last season.

This year’s Pacers have the NBA’s best home record by far at 32-4. Indiana and Miami have split two meetings, each winning a close game at home in mid-December. They play again April 11 in Miami. The Heat are 5-7 to win the Eastern Conference again with Indiana at 6-5.

Yardbarker

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