|Red-hot Raptors eye East's 2nd seed vs. Celtics|
The Toronto Raptors own the longest active winning streak in the NBA and can clinch the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference on Friday night when they oppose the Boston Celtics at The Arena inside the NBA bubble near Orlando.
The Raptors (49-18) will be seeking their eighth consecutive victory, and the triumph would eliminate third-place Boston (45-23) from contention for the No. 2 seed.
Toronto is 3-0 since the season restarted and has held two opponents below 100 points, including the Orlando Magic in Wednesday's 109-99 victory.
"In our locker room, if you don't have the will or the discipline to play defense, it is going to be really hard for you to see the floor, and that gives the coaches a lot of credit, right?" veteran center Marc Gasol told reporters. "They have high standards defensively, and I think that's what separates the good teams from the great teams. I think that's who we are."
The reigning NBA champions are just 1-2 against the Celtics this season, and the matchup against the Boston offense figures to rank as a good test on Friday.
The Celtics are only 2-2 in the restart but averaged 138.5 points in the two wins, including Wednesday's 149-115 drubbing of the Brooklyn Nets.
Boston shot 56.8 percent from the field and connected on 20 of 39 3-point attempts against the Nets while posting its highest point total of the campaign. Seven players scored in double digits, led by shooting guard Jaylen Brown's 21 points.
The splurge happened with four-time All-Star Kemba Walker sitting out to rest his sore left knee. Walker is expected to Toronto.
While the high-octane offensive exploits were impressive against the Nets, Brown said there is plenty for the club to work on.
"Making sure we play the game the right way defensively, being a really, really good team, being a (expletive) to beat going into the playoffs," Brown said. "We figure that out, we'll be alright."
Robert Williams, the 22-year-old big man, had his best NBA showing against the Nets as he scored a career-best 18 points and made all seven of his field-goal attempts while playing 19 minutes.
The first-round choice (27th overall) in 2018 totaled just 13 seconds of action in Boston's first three games of the restart.
"It's really just the will to want to play," Williams told reporters. "I want to bring the right energy. I think a lot of the young guys brought great energy. That is my job."
Star forward Jayson Tatum was needed for only 18 minutes in the one-sided contest against Brooklyn. He scored 19 points.
Meanwhile, Toronto is receiving stellar production from guard Fred VanVleet.
The 26-year-old scored a career-best 36 points in Monday's 107-103 win over the Miami Heat and followed up with 21 points and 10 assists in the victory over Orlando.
But VanVleet, like Gasol, was much more impressed with the defense on Wednesday than his individual play.
Toronto held the Magic to 11 first-quarter points and led 55-35 at halftime en route to the latest triumph.
"I think it just starts from the top down, obviously (coach Nick Nurse) sets the tone, and then it's just a collection of what kind of guys you've got," VanVleet said. "What is your character like? Do you have defensive-minded guys? Do you have guys who are pissed off when they get scored on?
"That's kind of the beginning of it, and then it gets to the point once you've got enough of that, you look bad when you don't play defense. Like you stick out like a sore thumb. ... You can tell when a guy's not on the same page as everybody else, it looks bad, and guys feel that, and you don't want to be that guy ever on the court."
Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry will look to rebound from a 2-for-9 shooting effort against Orlando. He is 4 of 17 over the past two games.
--Field Level Media