The Atlantic Division race has started to heat up recently. With the Toronto Raptors holding a three game cushion on the Brooklyn Nets. However, if they want to keep the lead, they have got to step it up.
With a 10-7 record in their last 17 games, and the fact the games are running out, with just over 30 remaining, Toronto has to keep the losing down to a minimum, because the Brooklyn Nets are starting to find their groove, having gone 13-5 over their last 18 games.
A real test is coming up for Brooklyn. After a home game against the Charlotte Bobcats, the Nets’ schedule has them out on a seven game road trip, with stops at Chicago, Utah, Golden State, L.A. Lakers, Portland, Denver and Milwaukee.
Luckily for the Nets, this road trip will likely be viewed as a great time for the team to bond and become even better. And with quality wins over San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Atlanta twice, and Miami, the Brooklyn Nets are starting to put together quite an impressive run of wins in the last month and a week. If they can stay on the path, the Nets just might run away with the Atlantic Division crown.
For the Toronto Raptors, though, things are simpler. In their eight next games, they play Atlanta, at Washington, Chicago, Cleveland, Orlando, at Cleveland, Washington and Golden State. There are two away games in the entire eight game slate. Four of those games will come against playoff-bound teams.
The Brooklyn Nets needed some time to re-adjust after Brook Lopez went down, but now their back-up bids are starting to step up. Mason Plumlee, for example, had a great game off the bench on Sunday night when he had 22 points, 13 rebounds, three steals and two blocks in only 28 minutes of action.
The Toronto Raptors stand a good chance of taking the Atlantic Division title right now, but anything can happen in these last 30 games. Currently, they rank third in the East, behind Indiana and Miami, and they hold a one game lead on the fourth seed Atlanta.
The Boston Celtics have put together an impressive 4-1 record in their last five games, and seem to have finally gotten all of their pieces back together again. The reemergence of Rajon Rondo, who is averaging 14 points, 11 assists, and 7.7 rebounds a game in just a little over 30 minutes a night has done wonders. Avery Bradley is still dealing with ankle issues and is only being used sparingly.
All told, even though the Celtics are getting things going a bit, they are nine games out from first in the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors. The Celtics could surprise everybody and use these last 30 games of the season to put together a couple of strong winning streaks. They might be able to sneak into the playoffs, where Rajon Rondo steps up his game to a whole other level.
All the same, right now it is a race between Toronto and Brooklyn for the Atlantic Division title. This race is more about bragging rights and home court advantage through the first round of the playoffs, than it really is about anything else this year.
Commentary By: Justin Watts