As far as playoff hopes go, a win at home Wednesday night over the Boston Celtics is of the crucial kind for the Toronto Raptors.
Yes, it’s only the first week of February and the 17-31 Raptors still have 34 games left on their schedule, but heading into the tilt with the 24-23 Celtics, who currently sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors sit 7.5 games back of the final playoff spot in the East. And seeing that Toronto only meets Boston twice more after Wednesday's date at the Air Canada Centre this is one of only a few opportunities left on the schedule for the Raps to make up ground without relying on other teams to beat Boston.
The Raptors host a Celtics team that's missing Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger; opportunity can’t knock much louder than that. The all-star point guard is out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL in his right knee and while the Celtics are 4-0 since Rondo went down it’s hard to imagine that they’ll be able to maintain that type of success with Avery Bradley leading the offense. Sullinger, who had worked his way into the Celtics starting lineup, is now also out for the rest of the season after undergoing back surgery last week.
While injuries are beginning to plague the Celtics lineup, the Raptors are slowly returning to full strength. Several sources are reporting that Andrea Bargnani could very well return to the Raptors lineup. Bargnani has been out for nearly two months with an elbow injury, but he practiced with the team on Monday and Tuesday and impressed Raptors head coach Dwane Casey.
Casey told Holly MacKenzie of Sportsnet.ca after practice Tuesday:
"He played well today. He really went well today. Now we're going to wait until tomorrow to see how he responds to his physical. Today was probably the hardest practice he's had since he's been back, because we've had so many day-in-between-(games) practices where there is not a lot of banging, hitting and body on body. Today was kind of the first day we had that. He went through that well, made it through it. He got some tough rebounds, which was good to see. We'll wait and see how his body responds tomorrow."
Should Bargnani play it will be interesting to see how Casey integrates him into the team’s offense that clearly now centres around newly acquired small forward Rudy Gay. The 26-year-old made his Raptors debut on Friday and scored 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting coming off the bench in a 98-73 win over the Los Angeles Clippers and he followed that up with a 29-point performance Sunday, though the Raptors fell 100-85 to the Miami Heat.
This team has come a long way since Bargnani was last in the lineup and should he play Wednesday it will be the first chance for all to see whether or not the former No. 1 selection can adapt and find a way to fit in with the team’s revamped lineup.