2023 In-Season Tournament

In-Season Tournament: East Group C preview

The Celtics, Magic, Bulls, Nets and Raptors are set to compete in East Group C during the In-Season Tournament.

Jayson Tatum and the Celtics may be the favorites to watch in East Group C.

We continue our breakdowns of the inaugural In-Season Tournament groups with East Group C.

East Group A | East Group B | East Group C | West Group A | West Group B | West Group C

This group is headlined by two playoff teams from 2023: the No. 2-seeded Boston Celtics (eliminated by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals) and the No. 6-seeded Brooklyn Nets (swept by the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round). The group also includes two teams that participated in the AT&T Play-In Tournament, but didn’t reach the playoffs in the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls.

Toronto was eliminated by Chicago in the No. 9 vs. No. 10 game, while Chicago was eliminated by Miami in the final play-in game for the No. 8 seed. Rounding out the group are the Orlando Magic, who which finished 13th in the conference (34-48).

East Group C is one of two groups in the In-Season Tournament (along with West Group B) that features only two playoff teams, while the other four groups each feature three. However, when looking at combined win percentage of the teams across all groups, East Group C has the highest season-long win percentage from last season at 52.9% (217-193).

Group W L Win pct.
East Group C 217 193 52.9%
East Group B 211 199 51.5%
West Group A 209 201 51.0%
West Group B 199 211 48.5%
East Group A 198 212 48.3%
West Group C 196 214 47.8%

In head-to-head competition between the teams within East Group C, the Celtics posted the best record in the group — 10-6 — as they swept the season series with Toronto (4-0), beat Brooklyn (3-1), split with Chicago (2-2) and lost only to Orlando (1-3). While the Magic finished with the worst season-long record among the five teams in East Group C, they were second only to the Celtics in head-to-head games within Group C (8-6).

East Group C

Team vs. BOS vs. BKN vs. CHI vs. ORL vs. TOR Total Win pct. 
Boston Celtics x 3-1 2-2 1-3 4-0 10-6 0.625
Orlando Magic 3-1 1-2 2-1 x 2-2 8-6 0.571
Brooklyn Nets 1-3 x 1-3 2-1 4-0 8-7 0.533
Chicago Bulls 2-2 3-1 x 1-2 1-2 7-7 0.500
Toronto Raptors 0-4 0-4 2-1 2-2 x 4-11 0.267

Boston Celtics

Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens discusses why the Kristaps Porzingis trade was made.

In May, the Celtics were one win away from a return trip to the NBA Finals and some NBA history as the first team to ever overcome a 3-0 series deficit. The Heat prevailed in Game 7, extending the streak to a 151-0 series record when a team goes up 3-0 in a seven-game series.

Not satisfied with just running it back once again, the Celtics made some major moves in the offseason, acquiring Kristaps Porzingis for Marcus Smart in a multi-team trade and sending Grant Williams to Dallas in a sign-and-trade deal for Draft assets. The Celtics also secured a long-term extension with All-Star wing Jaylen Brown, keeping the Jayson Tatum and Brown duo — both still just 25 and 26 years old, respectively, together.

After taking over as interim coach just days before training camp, Joe Mazzulla is set to enter his second season with a new-look squad. The Celtics lost some defense and toughness with the losses of Smart and Williams, but the addition of Porzingis gives the Celtics another elite offensive weapon to complement Brown and Tatum. How quickly things come together on the court will go a long way to determining how well this team does during the Group Play stage of the In-Season Tournament

Offseason Summary (as of Aug. 7)

  • Players re-signed: Jaylen Brown (extension), JD Davison (two-way)
  • Players added (via free agency): Dalano Banton, Oshae Brissett
  • Players added (via trade): Kristaps Porzingis (from Wizards)
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Jordan Walsh (38th overall)
  • Players lost: Danilo Gallinari (traded to Wizards), Mike Muscala (traded to Wizards), Marcus Smart (traded to Grizzlies), Grant Williams (traded to Mavs)
  • Remaining free agents: Blake Griffin (UFA), Mfiondu Kabengele (UFA, two-way)

Orlando Magic

Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero breaks down highlight plays from his career.

The Magic entered last season with the league’s fourth-youngest roster, led by No. 1 overall Draft pick and eventual Kia Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero. He quickly established himself as a franchise player to build around as the Magic finished with six players averaging double figures — with all five being in their fifth season or earlier in their careers.

As our John Schuhmann notes in his Eastern Conference offseason power rankings, the Magic rebounded from a 5-20 start to go 29-28 and had the league’s sixth-ranked defense during that 57-game stretch. The Magic will look to build off that strong finish and end a three-year playoff drought and make some noise in the In-Season Tournament.

In the offseason, the Magic added two more lottery picks with the selections of Anthony Black (6th overall) and Jett Howard (11th overall), giving coach Jamahl Mosley (entering his third season) more young talent to work with. The Magic also added free agent Joe Ingles, who joins Gary Harris as the most veteran players on the roster.

Offseason Summary (as of Aug. 7)

  • Players re-signed: Admiral Schofield, Moritz Wagner, Goga Bitadze (team picks up option)
  • Players added (via free agency): Joe Ingles
  • Players added (via trade): None
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Anthony Black (6th overall), Jett Howard (No. 11)
  • Players lost: Bol Bol (waived)
  • Remaining free agents: Michael Carter-Williams (UFA)

Brooklyn Nets

Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson are the core pieces that the Nets are building around.

The Nets are the second playoff team from East Group C, but most of their playoff resume (32-22) was built prior to the trade deadline, when Brooklyn executed trades that sent Kyrie Irving to Dallas and Kevin Durant to Phoenix. The Nets went 13-15 the rest of the way, holding onto the sixth seed and a first-round series with the 76ers, which Philadelphia swept.

Miles Bridges, who shined offensively in Brooklyn, is a centerpiece player for the Nets. As is Cam Johnson, who also came over from the Suns in the Durant deal and signed a new four-year contract to remain in Brooklyn long-term.

Jacque Vaughn, who took over as coach following the firing of Steve Nash early last season, will have a full training camp to prepare his team for the upcoming season. Vaughn has some carryover pieces from last season (such as Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, Nic Claxton, Royce O’Neale), some new pieces added via free agency (Darius Bazley, Dennis Smith Jr., Lonnie Walker IV, Trendon Watford) and the Draft (first-round picks Noah Clowney and Dariq Whitehead) to work into the mix. Then, there is former All-Star Ben Simmons, who appeared in 42 games last season, but has not played since Feb. 15. All of these pieces will have to come together quickly in order for the Nets to have a shot at making it out of the Group Stage.

Offseason Summary (as of Aug. 7)

  • Players re-signed: Cameron Johnson
  • Players added (via free agency): Darius Bazley, Dennis Smith Jr., Lonnie Walker IV, Trendon Watford
  • Players added (via trade): None
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Noah Clowney (21st overall), Dariq Whitehead (No. 22), Jalen Wilson (No. 51)
  • Players lost: Seth Curry (signed with Mavericks), Joe Harris (traded to Pistons), Edmond Sumner (waived), Yuta Watanabe (signed with Suns), Dru Smith (signed with Heat, two-way)
  • Remaining free agents: David Duke Jr. (UFA)

Chicago Bulls

Bulls VP of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas talks about the state of the team as 2023-24 nears.

Heading into the 2023 All-Star break, the Bulls were 26-33 and 10-20 in games featuring clutch time. However, after the break, the Bulls put things together as their offense improved by four points per 100 possessions (111.7 to 115.7) and their defense improved by two points per 100 possessions (112.0 to 110.1). That led to a 14-9 record down the stretch, including a 3-2 mark in clutch games, and a spot in the AT&T Play-In Tournament.

After defeating the Raptors, the Bulls took on the Heat with the East’s No. 8 seed on the line. The Bulls led by as many as six points in the fourth quarter, but the Heat rallied, closing the game on a 15-1 run and ending the Bulls’ season. The offseason saw the Bulls keep nearly all of last year’s roster together — re-signing Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu, extending Nikola Vucevic and having Andre Drummond opt-in — while still featuring the All-Star duo of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.

The Bulls made a few key additions in point guard Jevon Carter — who will help offset the loss of Lonzo Ball as he is expected to miss his second-straight full season due to injury — and Torrey Craig. Entering his fourth season at the helm, coach Billy Donovan will look to get more of last season’s post All-Star play right out of the gate this upcoming season. Chicago will have to get off to a much better start than they did last season if they hope to make some noise in Group Play.

Offseason Summary (as of Aug. 7)

  • Players re-signed: Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu, Nikola Vucevic (extension), Andre Drummond (opts in)
  • Players added (via free agency): Jevon Carter, Torrey Craig
  • Players added (via trade): None
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Julian Phillips (35th overall)
  • Players lost: Patrick Beverley (signed with Sixers), Marko Simonovic (waived)
  • Remaining free agents: Javonte Green (UFA), Derrick Jones Jr. (UFA), Terry Taylor (RFA, two-way)

Toronto Raptors

On Feb. 1, the Raptors fell to 23-30 after their loss to the Jazz. With the following week’s trade deadline looming, many believed the Raptors could be sellers at the deadline and look to rebuild. Instead, the Raptors traded for former Toronto center Jakob Poeltl as they looked to make another playoff run.

The Raptors went 18-11 after the Feb. 1 loss and finished 10th in the Eastern Conference at 41-41, avoiding just their second losing season over the past decade. Toronto qualified for the AT&T Play-In Tournament, but was bounced in the opening game by Chicago, 109-105. The offseason saw Fred VanVleet leave Toronto in free agency as he signed with the Houston Rockets, leaving just Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby — two players that have been in a lot of trade rumors — as the final key contributors from Toronto’s 2019 title team. Scottie Barnes, the 2022 Kia Rookie of the Year, should also take some of the playmaking load from the departing VanVleet as Barnes averaged nearly five assists in his second season.

Toronto added guard Dennis Schroder to help fill the void left by VanVleet, brought back most of their own free agents, added Gradey Dick with the 13th overall pick in the Draft and hired a new coach as Darko Rajakovic, a longtime assistant with the Thunder, Suns and most recently, the Grizzlies. Getting off to a quick start this season will not only help the Raptors chances in the In-Season Tournament, but will keep trade chatter quiet.

Offseason Summary (as of Aug. 7)

  • Players re-signed: Otto Porter Jr. (opts in), Gary Trent Jr. (opts in), Jakob Poeltl, Ron Harper Jr., Jeff Dowtin Jr. (two-way)
  • Players added (via free agency): Jalen McDaniels, Dennis Schroder
  • Players added (via trade): None
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Gradey Dick (13th overall)
  • Players lost: Fred VanVleet (signed with Rockets), Dalano Banton (signed with Celtics)
  • Remaining free agents: Will Barton (UFA)

Key matchups to watch

Below are a handful of intriguing matchups to be played out in East Group C.

Bulls vs. Raptors, Nov. 24
(7:30 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass)

The Raptors led by as many as 19 points in the second half in their 2023 Play-In Tournament game, but were unable to withstand a furious Bulls rally led by LaVine, who finished with 39 points in a 109-105 win. Toronto had won the season series with the Bulls, 2-1, but it was Chicago that got the win that mattered most.

In addition to this Play-In rematch, eight of the 37 total games played between teams in this group were decided by five points or less last season. No team was involved in more of these close matches than Toronto with five, followed by Boston (four), Orlando, (three) and finally Brooklyn and Chicago (two each).

Celtics vs. Raptors, Nov. 17
(7:30 ET, NBA League Pass)

While the Celtics swept the four-game season series with the Raptors, three of the four games were close, including two decided by four points or less. In each of the two close games — Jan. 21 in Toronto and April 5 in Boston — the Celtics were able to win without Tatum as Boston went 5-3 overall in 2022-23 when Tatum was out.

These two teams have represented the Eastern Conference in two of the past five NBA Finals and met in the Eastern Conference semifinals back in 2020, with Boston prevailing in seven games.

Nets vs. Raptors, Nov. 28
(7:30 ET, NBA League Pass)

The Celtics weren’t the only team to sweep the Raptors last season as the Nets did so, too, including a pair of the four games decided by four points or less. It must be noted that most of the key playmakers in these games are no longer with the Nets or Raptors because the series was done by mid-December.

The first meeting — Oct. 21 in Brooklyn — saw Durant and Irving take over in the fourth quarter to lead the Nets to a 109-105 win. Durant and Irving combined to score 57 points to offset the 37-12-11 triple-double Siakam compiled. In their final meeting on Dec. 16 in Toronto, Durant and Irving combined to score 60 points, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Irving to win the game. VanVleet led the Raptors with 39 points in the loss.

Celtics vs. Magic, Nov. 24
(2:30 ET, NBA TV)

It’s not often that we see a lottery team win the season series against a team that finishes with the second-best record in the NBA. Yet, that’s precisely what happened last season.

Boston won the first matchup back on Oct. 22 by six points before Orlando would sweep the rest of the series with wins by eight, three and 15 points. The three-point game on Dec. 18 in Boston saw Banchero splash six 3-pointers in seven attempts while leading the Magic to their sixth-straight win.

Magic vs. Bulls, Nov. 17
(8 ET, NBA League Pass)

After blowing a 19-point lead on the road, the Magic found themselves down by two points in the final 10 seconds and without a timeout to set up a play. The ball went to Jalen Suggs and the second-year guard went the length of the floor, drove inside the 3-point line to get the defender to retreat, then nailed a beautiful step-back 3-pointer with four seconds left to clinch a 108-107 road win.


Boston wins the group, while the Nets and Raptors try to make the wild card.

All-NBA players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown give Boston an edge in star power in East Group C play.

Last season, Boston finished with 12 more wins than any other team within this group (Brooklyn was No. 2 a 45-37), followed by Toronto (41-41), Chicago (40-42) and Orlando. So when it comes to predicting which team will make it out of Group Play, the choice has to be the Celtics, who also finished with a group-best 10-6 record in head-to-head matchups within this group last season.

The choice for which team wins the group has proven to be easier than choosing which team will have the best chance to either challenge Boston for the group, or lead East Group C for one of the wild card entries. The Nets and Raptors are the most likely contenders, if they stay healthy and can get all of their new players clicking early.

That leaves Orlando and Toronto in the group. The Magic are young and talented, but there’s another key descriptor that tends to go with those traits — inconsistent. With only four games to work with, teams have to be prepared for Group Play and ready once Tuesdays and Fridays roll around. The Raptors will look to ride the play they put together on the back end of last season and get off to a fast start this season.