NBA Preview: Celtics at Raptors

Celtics at Raptors preview

The race for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference intensifies Wednesday when the first-place Toronto Raptors host the Boston Celtics. Both teams lost games Tuesday night, leaving them separated by two games with five to play, including this final encounter of the season series that will also determine the tiebreaker between the two teams.

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The Raptors have lost two in a row for the first time since mid-January and five of eight overall as they navigate a run of difficult opponents. “It’s good for us,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said Tuesday. “Last year we were playing against some teams that were so-called rebuilding and we were winning by 15-20 points. It did not get us ready for the playoffs. These games, playing against a good team like Cleveland, a good team like Boston will help us get ready, harden us, showing some things we need to be better in.” The Celtics saw their six-game winning streak snapped with a 106-102 loss at Milwaukee while operating with a limited roster as physical issues continue to pile up. Already without guards Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart, Boston chose to sit Terry Rozier (ankle) and Shane Larkin (illness) against the Bucks, giving G League player Kadeem Allen an unexpected start.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN, NBCS Boston, TSN 4/5 (Toronto)

ABOUT THE CELTICS (53-24): Irving is recovering from knee surgery and coach Brad Stevens said postgame that Tuesday’s team – plus Rozier and Larkin – would constitute the team’s active roster when the playoffs begin, eliminating any chance that Irving returns to begin the postseason. Jaylen Brown scored 24 points on Tuesday and the second-year pro has produced at least 19 in three of five games since returning from a concussion. Rookie Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points in the 110-99 win over Toronto at home on Saturday, added 20 versus the Bucks and is averaging 20.8 over his last four contests.

ABOUT THE RAPTORS (55-22): Kyle Lowry was limited to five points on 2-of-11 shooting in Tuesday’s loss and the All-Star is 6-for-24 over the last two games. “I played terrible,” Lowry – who traveled to San Antonio on Monday to watch his alma mater Villanova claim the NCAA championship – told reporters. “Just a bad game overall for me. I’ll take the ‘L’ on me.” DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors with 19 points after scoring 32 to go along with seven assists and seven rebounds in the loss at Boston.

BUZZER BEATERS

1. DeRozan averages 5.2 assists but has at least seven in four straight games.

2. Toronto PG Fred VanVleet is 20-of-36 from 3-point range over a six-game stretch.

3. The Celtics have a 2-1 season series lead but the Raptors rolled to a 20-point win in the one meeting in Toronto.

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