Last night’s Raptors-Bucks game was far more important than the relatively low-stakes it had on the standings given that Milwaukee is likely to run away with the first seed in the East. What the game truly acted as was a glimpse of things to come in the postseason and perhaps an indicator for where the two teams really stand. With the Bucks on a back-to-back following an overtime win and the Raptors missing two key members in Norman Powell and Marc Gasol, it’s hard to take too much from the game but it certainly reaffirmed the idea that the Eastern Conference Playoffs will once again be very interesting.
Milwaukee Bucks: Though we’ve seen many times that regular-season records don’t mean everything, the Bucks are an incredible 50-8, the first team since Kevin Durant and Steph Curry’s 2016-17 Warriors to win 50 games before losing 10. Last night showed us that this team’s defense is for real. It’s nearly impossible to score on them in the paint so, as shown by the Rapt0rs high-volume jump-sh00ting last night, you have to hope that the three-ball is falling. Giannis Antetokounmpo has taken a step up from his MVP season last year and has ended MVP debates this season before they really even began. The Bucks are still the class of the East and the team to beat.
Toronto Raptors: You all know the story. These guys have the heart of a champion. If healthy, there’s no reason to believe that the Raptors couldn’t make another trip to the Finals. There isn’t much to be said that hasn’t already but it’s just incredible to think that the over/under for wins before the season for the Raptors was 46.5. There may not be a franchise in sports that constantly overachieves and rises above preseason expectations quite like the Raptors have since 2014.
Boston Celtics: Tatum, Tatum and Tatum. If it weren’t for Jason Tatum’s magical run of late, the Celtics very well may not be in this spot but it’s been impossible to ignore what the 21-year old has done of late. Leading a team that has been winners of 10 of their last 12, from Tatum we’ve seen 39 against Kawhi Leonard’s Clippers, 41 against their LA counterparts and 38 points with 8 threes last night in Portland. Though Kemba Walker has been in-and-out of the lineup, Boston is miles ahead of last year’s roster and trail the Raptors by one in the loss column. A playoff showdown between the Raptors and Celtics seems inevitable and would be the first time the teams have ever played in the postseason.
THE QUESTION MARKS
Philadelphia 76ers: Though they are in the unique position of having a championship ceiling even while struggling mightily, the 76ers have been perhaps the biggest disappointment in the entire league with just a 36-23 record and a recent Ben Simmons injury looking to make that total drop off even more. With such a talented team playing with so much inconsistency, seeding is certainly interesting when it comes to the Sixers. Will teams want to avoid playing them? If they do drop to 6th and the Celtics remain in 3rd, you can bet that Brad Stevens and co. would be far more nervous than most 3-seeds are in Round 1.
Miami Heat: The Heat, after coming out of the gates strong, have cooled off of late, losing 4 of their last 5. Even worse, those four include the Cavs, Hawks, and Timberwolves. With a 13-18 record on the road, Miami will need to get hot and secure homecourt in Round 1. Jae Crowder and Andre Igoudala have not been the spark the team may have liked to have seen after acquiring them, but there’s certainly some time to figure it out before the home stretch.