Pacers, Raptors both jockeying for East playoff seeding
TORONTO — The clinching number for the Toronto Raptors is one.
They need to win one of their remaining four games to clinch first place in the Eastern Conference. In the unlikely event of that not happening, one loss by the second-place Boston Celtics, who also have four games left, would also wrap up the East.
Toronto could get the job done by defeating the Indiana Pacers on Friday night at the Air Canada Centre.
The Raptors (56-22) defeated the undermanned Celtics 96-78 on Wednesday night at the ACC to move three games ahead of Boston in the conference.
Meanwhile, the Pacers (47-32) defeated the Golden State Warriors 126-106 at home Thursday night, led by 28 points from Bojan Bogdanovic. They have won six of seven — including two wins over the Warriors without Steph Curry — and are fifth in the Eastern Conference, two games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers and 1 1/2 games behind the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I thought it was a big test tonight,” Indiana coach Nate McMillan said. “I really was looking forward to playing them with their roster tonight, just to see where we were. That’s a really good team. I thought our guys responded well to the challenge.”
Despite being on the verge of clinching home-court advantage in the playoffs, Raptors coach Dwane Casey was trying to keep it in perspective. The victory over Boston followed a loss in Cleveland on Tuesday night.
“We’re not excited, we know we got some other games to go, some other things to get better at; we’re looking at big picture,” Casey said after the game Wednesday. “One game, we still have some things to get better at. I liked our defense, I thought our defensive focus was there, our attention to detail, guys were where they were supposed to be, a few hiccups but a big improvement over (Tuesday) night.
“Again, it’s about competition, it’s about competing at a high level. With a big picture in mind, not just trying to win that one game, we’re trying to do something special.”
Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan, who scored 16 points Wednesday, said the games leading into the playoffs are important.
“What do we have, four games left? Every single one is extremely important because once next weekend starts, you know, it’s literally win or go home,” DeRozan said. “It’s no ‘my bads’ or ‘I get the next one,’ so these four games are critical and us playing extremely hard and having a rhythm and understanding, our confidence has to be at an all-time high going into next week.”
With the victory over the Celtics, the Raptors matched their franchise best for overall wins in a season (56) and wins at home (32).
Toronto holds a 2-1 advantage over the Pacers this season, including a 106-99 victory at Indianapolis on March 15 in the most recent meeting.
DeRozan scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half against Indiana in that game.
The Pacers hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the 76ers (2-1 this year) and Cavaliers (3-1). Both teams have relatively easy schedules remaining, however, so that might not become a factor. The Cavaliers and 76ers do play each other before the season ends.
The Pacers will be facing the Raptors on the second half of back-to-back games.
“It’s going to get us bull-tough and battle tested,” Indiana forward Thaddeus Young said. “It’s definitely prepping us for the task at hand, which is going to the playoffs. We’ve been doing a good job of handing it, going out there and staying focused and locked in. This road trip has been tough. … I don’t know who made the schedule, but this is crazy.”
The Pacers have lost eight games in a row at Toronto.