Like the Rockets in the Western Conference, the Raptors entered the All-Star break on a hot streak that allowed them to claim the No. 1 seed in the East. With Toronto on a seven-game winning streak and Boston having lost three in a row, the 41-16 Raps now have a two-game cushion on the 40-19 Celtics.
While the Raptors currently hold the top spot in the East, they’re not a lock to hang onto it the rest of the way. The Celtics figure to bounce back, particularly when Marcus Smart returns to their lineup. And the Cavaliers aren’t going anywhere either — after a midseason swoon, a series of deadline-day trades have revitalized the Cavs, who have won four in a row to increase their record to 34-22, 6.5 games back of Toronto.
It would take a major slump for the Raptors to give up a 6.5-game lead with just 25 to play, but if that slump happens, we probably shouldn’t rule out teams like the Wizards (33-24), Pacers (33-25), and Bucks (32-25) either. Still, those clubs are very long shots for the No. 1 seed. The race for the top spot in the East looks like it will come down to three teams — and possibly just two if the Cavs dug too deep a hole during the first half.
Unlike in the West, where the Rockets and Warriors have been just as successful on the road as at home, a pair of top Eastern contenders have been much better when they’ve had home-court advantage. The Raptors have an NBA-best 24-4 mark at home, compared to 17-12 on the road. The Cavs, meanwhile, are 20-7 in home games and having a losing record (14-15) as visitors. Claiming the No. 1 seed and gaining home-court advantage throughout the playoffs could be a huge factor for those teams.
What do you think? Will the Raptors hang onto the No. 1 seed? Will the Celtics reclaim it? Will the new-look Cavs go on a hot streak to get back in the race to the top? Vote below in our poll and then jump into the comment section to share your thoughts!
With a big offeason looming once the 2017/18 NBA regular season comes to an end, several ESPN writers spoke to NBA players to get their predictions on where they expect some of this summer’s top free agents to land. In total, 48 players weighed in. Here are some highlights from the results of ESPN’s survey:
LeBron James is considered likely to return to the Cavaliers, with 59% of the respondents picking Cleveland as his free agency destination, while 22% chose the Lakers. “He won’t leave after all the moves they made last week,” one Eastern Conference forward said of LeBron, referring to the Cavs’ trade-deadline deals. Asked where James should sign, even more respondents (66%) voted for Cleveland.
If James does decide he wants to join the Lakers, the LaVar Ball show won’t be a deterrent, according to 89% of the players surveyed. “If LeBron comes to L.A., then it’s the LeBron show. Not the Ball show,” said one Eastern Conference center.
Most of the survey respondents (80%) believe DeMarcus Cousins will re-sign with the Pelicans.
Only 33% of the players surveyed expect Paul George to be in the Thunder‘s opening-night lineup for 2018/19.
The respondents are slightly in favor (59%) of maximum salary contracts existing in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. “LeBron, Steph and KD, all those guys bring a lot more than what they’re getting paid,” said one Western Conference guard. “But being a lower-tier salary guy myself, if you pay those guys even more, the lower guys on the totem pole don’t really get anything.”
Asked which teams make the best pitches to free agents, players chose the Celtics (27%), Heat (15%), Lakers (12%), and Warriors (9%), with nine other clubs receiving votes. One Eastern Conference guard on Boston: “If you bring Tom Brady? That’s pretty damn cool.”
February 18th, 2018 at 5:35pm CST by Mark Suleymanov
Al Horford made his third All-Star team, and first with the Celtics, in 2018 and he did so without the usual eye-popping statistics of an All-Star, Chris Mannix of The Vertical writes. Instead, Horford earned his spot by being a complete player who can make an impact on both sides of the ball.
Knicks fans may find some hope in comments that Celtics guard Kyrie Irving relayed Saturday about Kristaps Porzingis, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. “I told him I would love to play with a big like you, man, when we played them in the beginning of the season when he came to Boston,’’ Irving said. “He’s so versatile. So I wish him nothing but the best and hope he comes back even stronger.” Irving will be a free agent in the summer of 2019, which is the next time the Knicks will have a healthy amount of cap space. Porzingis is expected to be fully healed from ACL surgery by then and could give Irving, who grew up in West Orange, N.J., a reason to consider coming to New York.
Today’s All-Star Game will reunite LeBron James and Kyrie Irving as teammates for the first time since the trade that sent Irving to Boston for three players and two draft picks. They were on the court together at Saturday’s practice and neither made a big deal out of the reunion, relays Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com.
Irving told reporters it was “pretty awesome” to be back with James, but added that their interactions were “just normal.” “Sorry, I know that sounds like not a lot,” he added, “but it’s just normal.”
James is responsible for bringing them back together. As one of the team captains for today’s game, he made the decision to select Irving, saying, “If he was available I was taking him.” James was originally angry that Irving requested a trade, but didn’t do much to talk him out of it, Vardon writes, even though he asked Cleveland’s front office not to make a deal. James said he still has fond memories of their partnership.
“Those thoughts still go into my head of how great it was to break the drought in our city, over 50-plus years,” James said. “The both of us had magical Finals runs and, so it’s always special.”
There’s more this morning out of Cleveland:
The Cavaliers got rid of a bad situation on and off the court with three deals just before the trade deadline, Kevin Love tells Vardon in a separate story. Several players the Cavs sent away were reportedly affecting team chemistry, although Love says he didn’t see any “friction” with Dwyane Wade. “It might not have been a bad thing to get some fresh faces in there and guys from situations where they really wanted to win,” Love said. “I think first and foremost, seeing those [new] guys in Atlanta, they didn’t play, but they got there right after the trade and they just said they want to win. You can tell when somebody says it, you can tell when somebody means it. They really meant it and it felt good to have that there.”
Love offered a medical update on the broken left hand that has sidelined him since late January, Vardon adds. Love has started running again and plans to have his cast taken off at the four-week mark, which will be in early March. His prognosis has him out of action for eight weeks.
James has been able to make about $20MM extra since rejoining the Cavaliers by signing one-year contracts with player options, notes Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com. The team wanted James to agree to a four-year max deal when he returned to Cleveland that would have been worth roughly $88MM. By opting for shorter commitments, James maximized his flexibility and will have earned $108MM by the end of this season.
For starters, Blakely cites the drop in the Celtics’ defensive rating pre- and post-Smart injury. Boston was second in the NBA with a 99.7 defensive rating before he injured his hand and have been ninth since. Blakely also points to Smart’s effect on team chemistry and the pressure he takes off fellow defenders as reasons why the C’s would be buoyed by his return.
February 15th, 2018 at 5:02pm CST by Mark Suleymanov
The Nets‘ acquisition of Jahlil Okafor signaled a change of scenery for a talented yet displaced player. With 24 games left in the season, however, the Nets seem to be wasting their opportunity to audition Okafor as a potential long-term commodity, Brian Lewis of the New York Post writes.
Since being traded to Brooklyn, Okafor has appeared in 22 games while averaging 6.2 PPG and 3.0 PPG. Okafor’s playing time has been inconsistent, which makes it difficult to assess both his value and interest in retaining him beyond this season.
“Getting on the floor is very important,” Okafor said. “As a basketball player we all want to be on the court. My minutes have been fluctuating up and down, but the coaches say it’s nothing on my end.”
Head coach Kenny Atkinson noted that the team feels comfortable with 19-year-old Jarrett Allenplaying at power forward with Okafor at center. As it stands, the team will have a decision to make in terms of Okafor’s playing time and future.
Check out other notes from the Atlantic Division:
Nets shooting guardAllen Crabbe has been on a tear, averaging 25.3 PPG and 5.5 RPG over the team’s last four games. It has taken a while but Crabbe is finally playing and scoring the way the Nets hoped he would, Brian Lewis of the New York Post relays.
Dwane Casey is headed to Los Angeles to coach Team LeBron this weekend, but his proudest accomplishment is entering the break with the Raptors wielding the best record in the Eastern Conference. Despite the improvements the franchise has enjoyed under Casey, there always seems to be a perception that the Raptors head coach is on the hot seat, Chris Mannix of Yahoo! Sports writes.
After a rough stretch in which they’ve lost nine of their last 15 games, the Celtics may explore changing their lineup after the All-Star break, Chris Forsberg of ESPN writes.
The Celtics still plan to start taking injured forward Gordon Hayward on road trips beginning next month, tweets A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston. Hayward continues to make progress from the fractured ankle he suffered on opening night, but he remains unlikely to return to the court before the season ends.