Game Preview: Raptors at Celtics

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BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (10-10) will tip off a five-game homestand at 7:30 p.m. tonight when they host the visiting Toronto Raptors (7-15). Both teams were also in action Tuesday night and will be playing in the second night of a back-to-back.

While the Celtics were putting away the Cavaliers Tuesday night in Cleveland, the Raptors were getting demolished at home by the Atlanta Hawks. Toronto was embarrassed on its home floor in a 23-point loss to the Hawks, a game in which none of Atlanta’s starters needed to play more than 30 minutes.

Dwane Casey, Toronto’s first-year head coach, was apparently pleased with the mindset that his team came out with to begin Tuesday’s game, but it wasn’t enough to compete with the visiting Hawks.

"We came out with a competitive spirit, but I didn't think we sustained it long enough," Casey said after the game. "I was disappointed in not sustaining the competitive spirit, especially in the second quarter when the game got out of hand."

Casey has to dig deep to find any positives about his team right now. Toronto’s offense ranks 29th in the league in scoring and has been without its top scorer, Andrea Bargnani, for nine of the past 11 games. Bargnani is dealing with a left calf injury and did not travel with the team to Boston.

In addition to the below-average play by the Raptors, their team is also dealing with one of the most difficult schedules in the league. Toronto has already played a league-high 14 road games this season and it will add to that total tonight.

The Celtics couldn’t have chosen a better team to host in the second night of a back-to-back. Boston’s starters were forced to play big minutes last night when the team’s 22-point second-half lead was sliced all the way down to two late in the fourth quarter. Kevin Garnett’s clutch jumper in the paint sealed the victory, but it wasn’t exactly the way the C’s would have liked to have closed out the front end of a back-to-back.

Luckily for the Celtics, they will wrap up their consecutive games against a team that they’ve already beaten three times this season (two of those victories were in the preseason) and is not exactly prepared to compete at the highest of levels. Toronto already possesses an underwhelming roster, but it drops another notch without the presence of Bargnani.

There’s no doubt that the Celtics should win tonight’s game and hop over the .500 mark for the first time in nearly a month. It won’t be easy considering the minutes Boston’s top players logged last night in Cleveland, but that shouldn’t prevent the C’s from tipping off their homestand on a high note and winning for the seventh time in nine games.

Who Will Score for Toronto?

We highlighted this question prior to these teams’ first meeting of the regular season, when Bargnani was also not available. He is by far the team’s leading scorer at 23.5 PPG, which is 9.1 PPG more than the next-highest average by any of Toronto’s players.

Without Bargnani, an already-limited Raptors offense will struggle mightily to put the ball through the basket. DeMar DeRozan is their go-to scorer when Bargnani is unavailable, but DeRozan has scored in single-digits three times in his past five games.

When these teams met on Jan. 18 in a similar situation, Toronto scored just 73 points and shot just 37.7 percent from the field. Gary Forbes, who scored 18 points, was the only Raptor to tally more than 11 points.

To put it nicely, Toronto’s offense might struggle tonight while playing against a Boston team that ranks third in the league in opponent scoring.

Put It Away, And Keep It Away

Boston is coming off of two straight games against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that is much less talented than its own. The Celtics did what they were supposed to do by building double-digit leads in both of those contests. However, they allowed the Cavs to crawl back into both games and let one of the wins slip away.

Tonight’s game against Toronto is another in which the Celtics should jump ahead by a wide margin. Building a comfortable lead is a great thing, but Boston must learn to maintain that lead and keep its collective foot on the proverbial pedal. The Celtics need to put this Raptors team away early, keep it away late, and begin this five-game homestand on a great note.

Toronto’s Revolving Door

In his first season as head coach of the Raptors, Casey is trying to establish a certain level of accountability for his players. All he wants is for his players to give great effort while they’re on the floor, particularly at the defensive end.

Prior to the first meeting between these two teams, Casey noted that he would be willing to change his lineup and rotation to make sure that he rewards his players who play the right way. He also said that his lineup changes are geared toward changing the “rhythm, spark and disposition” of his team.

The revolving door of players entering and leaving the lineup began that night and it has continued since then. As recently Tuesday night at home, two of the players who started for Toronto, Jerryd Bayless and Amir Johnson, did not start the second half. Rasual Butler and Aaron Gray were tabbed to replace them. That’s not the way to build continuity with a team, and if it continues tonight it could hinder the Raptors’ chance of beating the Celtics.