As the Boston Celtics continue shipping key players out during their rebuilding effort, the Toronto Raptors patiently are awaiting the return of one of their stars as they fight through their toughest stretch of the season.
The Celtics bring their further-depleted roster to Toronto on Saturday night looking to deal the Raptors a fifth consecutive defeat.
Boston (12-22) is attempting to stockpile draft picks and shed salary with an eye on the future, with the biggest move coming Dec. 18 when it traded Rajon Rondo – its last holdover from the 2007-08 championship team – to Dallas for a package that included forwards Jae Crowder and Brandan Wright.
The Celtics were dealing again Friday, sending Wright to Phoenix for a protected first-round pick before reportedly agreeing to send leading scorer Jeff Green to Memphis.
Green was pulled from the starting lineup minutes before tipoff of Friday’s 107-103 overtime loss to Indiana. Boston reportedly will acquire the expiring $7.7 million contract of Tayshaun Prince and a future first-round pick.
Avery Bradley scored 23 points and hit a 3-pointer with 4.3 seconds left to force OT, but Boston fell for the eighth time in 10 games.
"It’s part of the business. We are all professionals and we knew we needed to stay focused on the game," Bradley said. "Our focus was on Indiana and now it’s on Toronto. We are a family. We hope for the best for one another. But we’re still focused on getting the W."
Toronto (24-11) went through its own rebuilding process to build a team that currently leads the Atlantic Division with its sights set on a deep playoff run. However, second-leading scorer DeMar DeRozan has missed the last 19 games with a groin injury and his recovery is taking longer than expected.
DeRozan has been cleared by doctors to play and was slated to return Thursday against Charlotte, but he decided to keep himself out of the lineup and said he would like more time for conditioning.
The Raptors fell 103-95 for their fourth straight defeat, and coach Dwane Casey on Friday was coy about DeRozan’s return.
"There’s no date set. How we’re playing is not going to dictate how fast he comes back," Casey said. "His body will tell him when he comes back."
Toronto sure could use DeRozan’s help, as Casey said some of his players are beginning to get tired legs. Kyle Lowry scored 24 points against the Hornets, but he finished 7 of 22 from the floor as the Raptors shot just 39.8 percent.
Lowry is averaging 22.5 points – nearly two above his season average – but shooting 37.8 percent from the field during the skid.
"It’s the NBA grind and some guys are at a wall," Casey said. "Physically this time of year, the body can only do so much, especially for guys who play big minutes. We had individual meetings (Friday) with players just to kind of mentally get more prepared."
Toronto hadn’t lost more than two straight this season before this slump, and Casey is hoping a day off of practice will have his team prepared for the Celtics.
"Adversity brings out the best or the worst in you," Casey said. "We’re going through it now. It’s going to make us better. It’s us against everyone else. We have to earn our respect."
Rondo and Green started for Boston on Nov. 5 when Lowry scored 35 points to lead the Raptors to a 110-107 road win.