The Raptors embark on their last extended road trip of the season, a three game set that starts in Boston Wednesday night against the division rival Celtics and includes stops in Houston and New Orleans.
As per usual, defense is the key goal for Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “Boston is a tough team for us just because of their speed and quickness,” he said after Tuesday’s practice in Toronto. “Houston is a one on one team that’s very difficult for us—a high powered scoring team—so this will be a road trip that will test our defensive growth.”
In Boston tonight, not only can the Raptors clinch a four game season series sweep over Boston, but they can also clinch a playoff birth.
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Casey doesn’t think much will change for Boston without Jae Crowder, who will miss the contest with an ankle injury “We all are different without our top players,” he said, “but it doesn’t change their offensive or defensive personality.” The Celtics come into the game winning two straight over Philadelphia and Orlando. The Celtics are one of the more efficient offensive teams averaging 106 points per game.
On Friday the Raptors square off against the Rockets, who the Raps lost to after blowing multiple leads in their only previous matchup this season. Like Boston, the Rockets are similarly potent offensively, also averaging 106 a night.
The stakes on the trip are pretty clear: With one win they’ll clinch a third straight trip to the playoffs. Two wins and they reach a franchise-best 50 wins. To Kyle Lowry, that number matters.
However when asked if first place matters—the Raptors are edging closer to Cleveland for the best record in the East— Lowry was much more political in his response. “I don’t think so,” he said, “I think just getting better as a team.”
Which brings up the debate of rest versus rust. Should the Raptors be pushing for a higher seed, possible home court and continuing to stay in rhythm? Or is the priority to put your best foot forward in the post season by being healthy?
Casey is of two minds on the issue. “In Dallas Dirk and Jason Kidd would take two weeks off,” he said. “I'm not a proponent of that. If you're not healthy going into the playoffs you can have all the seeds you want to [but] you're not going to be successful if your guys are worn down and fatigued. It’s a double-edged sword. The good teams accomplish both.”
Which is why Jonas Valanciunas, Luis Scola, Cory Joseph, Kyle Lowry, and DeMar DeRozan have all missed some time to preserve their bodies but still logged big minutes when in the lineup. Casey isn’t stressing over the delicate balance “it’s a good situation to be in. It’s a tough situation because you're trying to win and stay healthy at the same time. For me, I'm a competitor. I want to win. I know all of our guys are competitors but big picture health is very important.”