The Toronto Raptors have clinched a spot in the playoffs despite losing 91-79 to the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on Wednesday night.
Their place in the postseason was made official after the Chicago Bulls surprisingly fell at home to the New York Knicks.
The Raptors’ loss saw them drop two and a half games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers in their pursuit of the top spot in Eastern Conference. Cleveland dispatched the Milwaukee Bucks at home last night to stretch their lead.
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But it appears this isn’t the biggest priority for Toronto as they rested All-Star Kyle Lowry for the match with a sore elbow, clearly placing health above seeding going into the final stretch of the season.
“Right now, health for me is probably as important as continuing to try and climb up and catch Cleveland (for first in the East),” Raptors head coach Dwayne Casey said on Tuesday, via thestar.com.
DeMar DeRozan, who led the Raptors with 21 points against the Celtics, says confirmation of their playoff status means it’s now time for the team to gear up for the real thing in April.
“I know that feeling of going home and having to sit and watch everybody play,” DeMar DeRozan said after the game. “When you have something to look forward to, these games in the next couple of weeks, that’s when we’ve got to realize we’ve got to tighten this up for the real thing.”
In the last two seasons, Toronto has fallen at the first hurdle of the playoffs and the team are fully aware of the task at hand. Even though they are on course for a franchise-best season, sceptics are reluctant to predict how far the team can go until they successfully negotiate their way past the opening round for the first time.
The Canadian outfit became the only other team in the east, after the Cavaliers, to seal a playoff berth and a clash between the top two teams in the conference finals remains a mouth-watering prospect.
As things stand, the Raptors would meet the Indiana Pacers in round one, which will not be an easy series to get through against Paul George and co.
Toronto has 12 games left in the campaign, with seven on the road and five at home. With DeMarre Carroll close to returning from injury, the team could be going into the playoffs with a healthy roster that will make them dangerous opponents.Making sure they have a full rotation to call upon should be the main priority for Dwayne Casey.
With a record of 48-22, the Raptors are just two wins away from beating their best record of 49 wins, achieved last year. But the goal for the team is to finally make headlines in the playoffs and not allow their regular season efforts to go to waste.