There seemed to be little doubt that the Raptors would repeat as Atlantic Division champions. They won 49 games last season and finished nine games ahead of their closest competitor.
Despite a disappointing opening-round loss to the Wizards during the postseason, the Raptors headed into this season looking like an even stronger contender. They won the free agent sweepstakes for small forward DeMarre Carroll, adding not only outside shooting and creativity on offense but also a much-needed wing defender to the lineup. Toronto also brought in veteran power forward Luis Scola and backup point guard Cory Joseph, and both have contributed in the early going.
The backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan remains highly productive, yet the Raptors have not looked like a dominant team. Then came the news over the weekend that top post threat Jonas Valanciunas would miss approximately six weeks because of a fractured hand. Shot-blocking specialist Bismack Biyombo, another offseason pickup, seems likely to inherit most of Valanciunas’ minutes while he mends.
Meanwhile, two other Atlantic teams have stuck close to the Raptors in the standings. The Celtics don’t have a star but they have plenty of depth and coach Brad Stevens has expertly juggled his 10-man rotation. They’re getting steady offensive contributions from guards Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, while Jared Sullinger has emerged as their top frontcourt player despite the additions of veterans David Lee and Amir Johnson.
The Knicks have been an early surprise, thanks to the swift development of rookie power forward Kristaps Porzingis. New Yorkers are no longer booing the pick of Porzingis, as many did on draft night, but rather singing the praises of team president Phil Jackson for choosing him over Emmanuel Mudiay and Mario Hezonja. Porzingis leads the team in rebounds and blocked shots while providing a complementary scorer to Carmelo Anthony.
The Knicks theoretically figure to get even better once free agent signee Arron Afflalo, who missed some action with a hamstring injury, rounds to form.
Thus, our question of the day is: Will the favored Raptors live up to their billing and capture the division title or will the Celtics or even the Knicks overtake them?
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