In a division with some high-profile teams, the Toronto Raptors are in position to win it.
One of those rivals is a New York Knicks club in desperate need of a victory, but with Carmelo Anthony at less than full strength.
The Raptors can clinch the second Atlantic Division crown in team history Friday night by handing the visiting Knicks a third straight defeat.
Article continues below ...
Toronto’s first division title came in 2006-07 when it won a franchise-best 47 games. The Raptors (46-32) cut their magic number to one Wednesday with a fourth straight win, 125-114 over Philadelphia, along with second-place Brooklyn’s loss in Orlando.
Coach Dwane Casey said he’s not concerned about winning the division or tying the club record for victories.
"My thing is us. We’ve got to take care of our business, we’ve got to continue to work and improve in different areas to get better," Casey said. "Those things are good but it’s not a have-to goal."
The teams favored to win the Atlantic before the season figured to be the Nets and the Knicks (33-45), who captured the division in 2012-13.
New York is two games behind Atlanta for the final playoff spot in the East. The Knicks will have had four days off, which should be good news for Anthony.
The star forward has totaled 23 points on 29.0 percent shooting while playing with a sore right shoulder in back-to-back defeats, during which his woes were evident.
Anthony had a season-high nine turnovers in a 90-89 loss to Washington last Friday. He didn’t attempt a shot in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 102-91 defeat in Miami.
Coach Mike Woodson expects Anthony to start Friday.
"Only ‘Melo knows the severity of his pain," Woodson said. "All I can do is try to put him in the best position possible and if he tells me he’s hurt and he can’t play then it’s my job to sit him. But I don’t know if he will ever tell me that."
J.R. Smith helped pick up the slack against the Heat by making 10 of an NBA-record 22 attempts from 3-point range. Smith has made 24 of 50 3s over his last three games.
Jonas Valanciunas had a career-high 26 points and 12 rebounds for Toronto on Wednesday in his first game since being arrested early Monday morning for drunk driving.
"It has been a rough couple of days, but I had to find energy to come out and fight," he said. "I felt really good fan support – thank you to them. I felt great, because everybody supported me."
The Raptors also welcomed back point guard Kyle Lowry, who had 29 points and eight assists after missing three games with a bruised kneecap.
Starting forward Amir Johnson has missed four straight games with an ankle injury.
Toronto defeated New York twice by a total of 27 points Dec. 28 and 29 in the two meetings so far this season. Anthony missed both with a sprained right ankle.
These teams close the season Wednesday in New York. The Knicks are hoping that contest will have meaning.
"I gotta get this team into the playoffs, that’s what my focus is," Woodson said.