Tues. Could Hold Keys to All-Star Weekend for C's

WALTHAM, Mass. – There will be a lot on the line Tuesday night in Toronto – more than many understand.

Jae Crowder called the impending matchup between the Celtics and the Raptors, who are separated by only one game in the Eastern Conference standings, “a big one.” Amir Johnson concurred, saying it’s “a big game in the East.”

With a win, Boston will pull even with Toronto not only in the win-loss column for the second seed in the East, but also in the head-to-head series between the two teams. Should the Celtics accomplish that goal, a domino effect could be set into motion.

The dominoes that may fall next could change the complexion of next month’s All-Star game in New Orleans.

Boston’s Isaiah Thomas and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan are caught in a tight race for a spot in the East’s starting backcourt. One of those two spots will almost certainly be earned by Kyrie Irving, who leads all East guards in fan voting and is having a fantastic season for the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. The second spot, however, is up for grabs.

DeRozan (253,340) and Thomas (193,297) were third and fourth in the East’s fan voting for guards after the first returns. They trail Irving (543,030) and Dwyane Wade (278,052).

In the past, Thomas and DeRozan would have a difficult time overcoming Wade for the second starting spot. However, the NBA’s new All-Star voting rules give player votes 25 percent of the weight and media votes 25 percent of the weight. Fan votes account for the other 50 percent of the weight, compared to 100 percent in past seasons.

The new system should eliminate the possibility of fans voting in a player as a starter who is undeserving. In this case, that player is Wade, who is having a good-but-not-great season for a Bulls team that has hovered around the .500 mark all season. If players and media members have any conscience, fan voting is the only area where Wade will gain any traction.

In other words, if everything is now right in the world of All-Star voting, it should come down to DeRozan and Thomas, who square off tomorrow night, for that second spot.

Thomas has the edge on DeRozan from a pure statistical standpoint, and it really isn’t close. The 5-foot-9 point guard leads the East in scoring with an average of 28.0 points per game, while DeRozan narrowly trails him with an average of 27.8 PPG. But Thomas also leads DeRozan in player efficiency rating (26.87 to 24.79), true shooting percentage (61.4 percent to 55.4 percent), fourth-quarter scoring (9.5 points per fourth quarter to 5.9 PP4Q), and assists per game (6.1 to 3.9).

If players and media members are voting based upon statistics, Thomas is unquestionably their guy, and he can strengthen his argument Tuesday night by outperforming DeRozan.

Some players and media members, however, will vote based on other criteria. Take Jae Crowder, for example.

“How does that guy impact his team,” Crowder told Celtics.com of how he’ll determine his votes for non-teammates, “and is the team a winning team or a losing team?”

DeRozan may currently have the edge in those departments. DeRozan’s Raptors do, after all, have a one-game lead over the Celtics in the standings, and they could double that lead Tuesday night.

But the opposite could also happen.

Say, for instance, Thomas matches or surpasses his Eastern Conference-leading average of 9.5 PP4Q while leading the Celtics to a crunch-time win in Toronto. Such a scenario would make a statement to players and media members around the league. Not only would he eliminate DeRozan’s claim to a better record under such circumstances, but he would also take a massive step in front of DeRozan in the “impact” category.

Think about it: How could any player or media member in their right mind, save for those who call Toronto home, vote for DeRozan instead of Thomas if Thomas is clearly having a better statistical season, if the two players’ teams have an equal record, and if Thomas has made more of an impact on his team during crunch time, highlighted by a win in Toronto?

Obviously, the above scenario is mostly hypothetical, and the conversation could indeed trail in the opposite direction, but such a scenario is also highly conceivable. Thomas can make a big statement to his peers and the media Tuesday night, well before votes are due Jan. 16.

Here’s what’s even more interesting – if Thomas does so, he may wind up with a ton of familiar company in New Orleans.

Should the Cavaliers, who currently lead the East by 4.5 games, hold the top seed in the conference on Feb. 5, the coaching staff of the team with the second-best record in the East at that time will coach the All-Star team. (The NBA does not allow the same coaching staff to coach the All-Star team in consecutive years.) At this point, the Raptors and the Celtics have the best chance at earning such an honor.

And Tuesday’s game could very well be the deciding factor.

A win by Boston would even the two teams up. A win by Toronto would double its lead over the Celtics to two games.

The Celtics have 14 games remaining before the end of Feb. 5, with 10 being played at home. The Raptors, meanwhile, have 15 games remaining before the end of Feb. 5, with eight being played at home.

Tuesday’s game is undoubtedly a big one, as Crowder called it. There is so much on the line.

These two teams are fighting for playoff positioning, and depending on how things play out inside Air Canada Centre, they may be playing for some very important All-Star honors as well.

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