The race for the Atlantic Division title will be a nail-biter, as two teams desperately want to finish on top. We expected to see a three-team battle, but the Philadelphia 76ers completely disappointed. However, the reigning champs Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics will fight to the bitter end, and there’s a damn good reason. We want to take a closer look at this battle, as there will be some nice picks to take when Boston and Toronto take the floor in March.
1. Nobody wants to meet the Bucks until the conference finals
While the Bucks are cruising through the Eastern Conference, torturing their rivals along the way, the Raptors and Celtics desperately want to avoid them in the conference semifinals. Milwaukee hasn’t dropped two straight games this season and is 28-3 straight up on the home court. The Bucks easily defeated Toronto in both meetings so far, while Boston managed to win one of its two encounters with the league leaders, but it was way back in October.
Still, the Celtics have lost seven of their previous nine games against the Bucks and eight of their last nine road contests against Milwaukee. They certainly remember the last season’s semifinal defeat in five games. On the other side, the Raptors beat the Bucks in the conference finals, but they don’t have Kawhi Leonard anymore to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo and make crucial baskets. The reigning MVP is even better this term, while the Bucks’ D is the best in the NBA by far.
2. Atlantic Division title will almost certainly guarantee No. 2 seed in the East
At the moment, the Raptors hold the second seed in the Eastern Conference, two games ahead of the third-seeded Celtics and four and a half games ahead of the fourth-seeded Miami Heat. It seems like the Atlantic Division will guarantee No. 2 seed, so the Raptors and Celtics will try their best to clinch it. Also, both teams desperately want to stay ahead of the Heat and avoid the clash with the Bucks in the semis.
Of course, finishing atop of the Atlantic Division will earn the champ a home-court advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Raptors are 23-9 at home at the moment, while the Celtics are 23-8 at TD Garden. Toronto is 8-1 SU and ATS in its last nine home games against the Celtics, but the Raptors are only 1-6 SU and 2-5 ATS in their previous seven visits to Boston. It’s easy to see why the home-court advantage is so important in this matchup.
Furthermore, the Raptors have won nine of their last 12 home games in the postseason, while the Celtics have won 12 of their 15 postseason contests on the home court. Therefore, winning the division title will be the main goal for both Toronto and Boston. The Raptors are -125 favorites to retain the division crown, while the Celtics are listed at +100 odds to win the Atlantic Division.
3. Strength of schedule
The Raptors will play 11 more games in March and five will come on the road. They will visit Salt Lake City and Philadelphia, and those places are not hospitable at all. Also, the Raptors will host Boston, Denver, and LA Lakers, but you should focus on their home contests against Detroit, Golden State, and Memphis along with road tilts versus Sacramento and New York. Interestingly, the Raptors will play their first two games in April against the Bucks, so they are under pressure to earn as many wins as they can in March.
On the other side, the Celtics will play 12 more games in March and seven will come away from home. They have a four-game road trip that starts in Toronto, while the Celtics will also visit Milwaukee on March 12. Still, the Celtics should earn wins in Chicago, Brooklyn, Washington, and Memphis, while they will welcome Oklahoma City, Washington, New York, Portland, and Minnesota. The Celtics have dropped three straight contests at TD Garden, so look after them when playing in front of the home fans.