Raptors-Celtics, Cavs-76ers are big East games this week
Philadelphia wants to open the playoffs at home. Toronto wants home-court advantage all the way to the NBA Finals.
How they get through some marquee games this week will go a long way in determining if they reach those goals.
For the Raptors, it’s a game Wednesday against the team right behind them. For the red-hot 76ers, it’s the one just in front of them: LeBron James and the reigning East champs from Cleveland on Friday.
Toronto hosts Boston, with both teams playing for the second straight night. The Raptors lost Tuesday in Cleveland and Boston later fell in Milwaukee, keeping the Raptors two games ahead with five to play.
A win Wednesday and the Raptors will be on the verge of locking up the No. 1 seed. Lose their third consecutive game, and the door stays open for Boston to grab it for the second straight season. The Celtics trimmed three games off their deficit during a six-game winning streak that was snapped Tuesday, and would clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker with a win Wednesday.
”It’s a challenge that we’re all looking forward to,” Raptors All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan said, ”what’s at stake when it comes to first, and secondly, just to be able to bounce back and play and get this feeling off us. And go back to our home court, understand that we’ve been playing great there all year.”
Philadelphia takes an 11-game winning streak into Detroit on Wednesday. With a victory there, the 76ers would have a shot at third place with a victory over James and the Cavaliers, who are a half-game ahead of them.
”We don’t hide from our goal,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. ”We want home court.”
Detroit made it to Week 25 still with playoff hopes, despite all the changes the Pistons had to make during the season.
They might end up looking like they did at the start, with center Andre Drummond and point guard Reggie Jackson as the 1-2 tandem. Blake Griffin is out with a right ankle injury and scheduled to be re-evaluated this week.
Without him, the Pistons have put together a five-game win streak to stay in the race, but would be eliminated with their next loss or Milwaukee’s win.
Still, Jackson said over the weekend he was proud of the Pistons for hanging in the way they have. He missed nearly half the season with his own ankle injury, and not long after he returned the Pistons lost Griffin, whom they acquired in a midseason trade with the Clippers.
”It’s been tough on our guys,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. ”I mean, we’ve done a lot over the course of the year, a lot of changing just in the way we play. We played early in the year with Reggie, we incorporated the movement and the pick-and-rolls. Reggie went out, we became more of just a movement team. We get Blake, we became a totally different team. Now we got Reggie back and Blake’s out, we’re back to it. Our guys had to make some shifts throughout the year and it hasn’t been really easy for them.”
AHEAD THIS WEEK
Washington at Cleveland, Thursday. A possible playoff preview, though only if the Wizards start playing better to get the No. 6 seed.
Minnesota at Denver, Thursday. Possibly a must-win for the ninth-place Nuggets, who are a game back of No. 7 Minnesota.
Milwaukee at New York, Saturday. Last time he played at Madison Square Garden, Giannis Antetokounmpo jumped over Tim Hardaway Jr. for a dunk in one of his highlight plays of the season.
The NBA G League is down to its final four teams, with a chance for a repeat champion.
Austin hosts South Bay on Thursday in the Western Conference finals, while Raptors 905 visits Erie on Friday to determine the East winner.
Raptors 905 edged Grand Rapids in its opening-round game, and then rallied to knock off regular-season East champ Westchester in the East semifinals. Toronto’s minor league affiliate can become the first repeat champion since Asheville won in 2004-05.
South Bay has scored 125 and 126 in its playoff games. The best-of-three G League finals begin Sunday.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK