Weekly Preview: Big test in Toronto headlines busy week

Who: Toronto Raptors
When: Tuesday
Where: Air Canada Centre
TV: CSN New England, NBATV
Radio: 100.7 WZLX

Breakdown: This is a huge game for the Celtics and you could argue that it’s the biggest game of the regular season for them so far. Boston is currently one game behind the Raptors for second place in the Eastern Conference as one of the hottest teams in the NBA, having won ten of their last 12. We’ll learn a lot about the Celtics in this one, because they’ve still struggled to beat some of the better teams in the league this year. They’re just 8-11 against teams that currently have a winning record and this current stretch has seen them lose to the Thunder and Cavaliers while the team’s they’ve beaten clearly don’t stack up with the likes of those clubs. In the last meeting between these two teams, Boston wound up individually winning three of the four quarters but it was a disastrous third quarter that guided the guided Toronto to a 101-94 victory. Things like this have been problematic for the team so far this year and we saw them almost lose to the Philadelphia 76ers last week despite winning three of the four frames in the game, and the Raptors are honestly more likely to kill you with a hot stretch like that with all the offensive firepower they have. This could be a game that Boston winds up stealing because they’re coming in red hot and Toronto has lost four of their last six, but you also can’t forget that the Raptors are one of two teams in the East right now that both scores more and allows fewer points per game then the Celtics do, so you’ll still need more than one win in the middle of a hot streak to show that you’ve taken over the throne of the second best team in the conference. It appears that Avery Bradley will miss his second straight game with an Achilles injury though and that will make it hard on Boston with both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry going for the Raptors. They have gotten by without him twice over the last two weeks, but that was against the 14-24 New Orleans Pelicans and the 11-28 Miami Heat; this is a different level.

Prediction: Celtics lose 109-105


Who: Washington Wizards
When: Wednesday
Where: TD Garden
TV: CSN New England
Radio: 98.5 The Sports Hub

Breakdown: Washington is heating up a little bit and they’ve moved into a playoff position because of it, which actually means something in the Eastern Conference right now because their eighth place record has them a few games ahead of the eighth place Portland Trail Blazers; although the top of each conference still heavily favors the West. They’re 10-5 over their last 15 games and John Wall has been a big part of this run, averaging 20.2 PPG, 10.9 APG, 2.5 SPG over that stretch with a shooting percentage just below 50% from the field. Bradley Beal is also playing his best basketball of the season, averaging 23.2 PPG over the last 15 games to go along with 4.1 APG. Avery Bradley would once again be a big loss in this one as the Celtics will be facing an offensively powerful backcourt, but it is unclear if he will be ready to go and that makes this game hard to predict right now. It’s still hard to see the Celtics dropping a second straight game when they’re returning home to face a clearly inferior opponent and the fact that the Wizards are 22nd in points allowed per game should allow for a big offensive output no matter who is active for the Celtics.

Prediction: Celtics win 112-106


Who: Atlanta Hawks
When: Friday
Where: Phillips Arena
Radio: 98.5 The Sports Hub

Breakdown: Al Horford returning home is a big story in this game and thank God that Atlanta isn’t coming to Boston or else fans might wind up cheering for Paul Millsap, who has been in trade rumors for a lot of the past two weeks; we all know where that road goes. Selling their pieces aside, Atlanta is currently riding a six game winning streak and they’re just two games behind Boston for third place in the Eastern Conference. Because the Hawks got home court advantage when the two teams met in the postseason last year thanks to a tiebreaker, any meeting between these two teams is important because they could very well be around each other towards the end of the season as well. But make no mistake, the Celtics are the better team in this one. Atlanta’s current win streak has seen them play Dallas, New Orleans, Orlando, San Antonio, Detroit and New York; there are a few half decent wins in there mixed in with a solid victory over the Spurs, but that’s not an impressive list in the end. The Hawks will also play the Nets before Friday’s nationally televised showdown, so there’s a really good shot that they ride into this one on a seven game winning streak. It would be great if Al Horford showed up, got showered with thank you cheers and then dropped ten points and three assists on his former team in the first quarter, allowing Boston to get out to a comfortable lead and then coast to a victory.

Prediction: Celtics win 101-97


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