Celtics-Raptors preview: Toronto on upswing

Celtics-Raptors preview: Toronto on upswing
January 15, 2014, 3:15 pm
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BOSTON — When the Celtics fell to the Toronto Raptors in their season opener, they came away feeling as though the Raptors were a pretty good team.

Today?

"They've gotten even better," said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens whose club hosts the Raptors tonight. "The additions that they have on their team, are really helping their team in a great way."

The Raptors (19-17) have won three in a row and eight of their last 10 games to catapult to the top of the Atlantic Division.

Toronto's turning point this season came with the trade with the trading away of Rudy Gay to Sacramento last month.

Since then, the Raptors are 13-5.

"They've played the best in our division and they've been one of the best in the East for the past month and a half," Stevens said.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey has embraced the improved play of his team. But he's quick to note they are in no position to take any team lightly - not even a Celtics squad that has lost nine in a row.

"We don't have any right, yet, to overlook anyone in this league," Casey told reporters after Toronto's 116-94 win over Milwaukee on Monday. "This is a tough league, we're still building, we're still getting there. I can't allow our guys to have that in their thought process."

Here are some other keys in tonight's game:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR:  Put-back baskets are a key to Toronto's success this season. They average 15.4 second-chance points which ranks third in the NBA. For Boston which has been surprisingly solid on the boards of late, being able to hold their own on the boards will be central to their chances of escaping with a win.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs. Kyle Lowry. Bradley has been the one reliable source of offense for Boston during their recent doldrums, scoring at least 24 points in three of the last four games. But this will be one of the tougher matchups Bradley will face this month. Lowry is having a really strong season which picked up considerably after the Raptors traded Rudy Gay to Sacramento. Scoring, shooting, assists . . . just about every statistical category for Lowry has improved since the Gay trade.

PLAYER TO WATCH: DeMar DeRozan is an on-the-bubble All-Star this season. He's the best player on arguably the hottest team in the Eastern Conference. He has had 19 or more points in nine of Toronto's last 10 games, and he's averaging career highs in scoring (21.3), rebounds (4.4) and assists (3.7).

STAT TO TRACK: The Boston Celtics have to keep their composure for longer stretches of play, especially against such an opportunistic team like the Raptors. They average 18.2 points off turnovers which is the fifth-best mark in the NBA.