With all the fuss this season surrounding the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors – and to a lesser extent the Cavaliers – the Raptors and the Celtics are quietly making a case for a championship run in 2018. Current Vegas odds have the Raptors tied with the Cavaliers while the Celtics are one spot behind them in the rankings as of March 13. To further make their case, both Toronto and Boston have already clinched playoff berths with 16 and 17 games left to play, respectively, while the Cavs are currently sitting in 4th place in the East, eleven games back from Toronto.
On top of that, the Raptors are currently riding an eight game win streak and have won 15 of their last 16 thanks in part to coach Dwane Casey retooling the offense and a deep bench that is ranked first in assists and three-pointers and second in points per game since February 1. The Raptors are slowly becoming the new San Antonio Spurs, with a diverse offense that comes at you in waves and spreads points out among a number of players instead of relying on a few superstars to do the job.
While DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are the only two players with quadruple-digit point totals, there are 9 other players in the triple digits. Four of those players (Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, CJ Miles and Fred VanFleet) have point totals over 500.
Few people saw this coming. Back in October, the Raptors were 80-1 odds to win an NBA Title. Currently they are at 12/1 odds. A whole lot has changed to say the least. Current projections have them winning 60 games, and they are well on their way to 50 wins while having only lost 17 to date. With those kinds of numbers late in the season, one would be a fool not to consider the Raptors in the mix for a championship.
Boston meanwhile has been another success story, albeit one that didn’t necessarily come out of the woodwork like Toronto did. Always a high-profile team, the Celtics have been in the limelight this year as everyone wants to know how the Kyrie Irving experiment is working out (hint: it’s going great). The Celtics have a good supporting cast for Irving as well, with Aron Baynes and Greg Monroe playing the big man role while Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis do their thing on the perimeter. Together, the team has the second best offensive rating since the All-Star break with 114.9, and that is without their other big offseason acquisition, Gordon Hayward who may still make it back to play this year.
If you are a betting person who is willing to take a little risk, it may be well worth it to invest some money on the Raptors and the Celtics this year as dark horses in the East. Cleveland’s season looks like it is coming apart at the seams, and while Houston and Golden State are still the favorites, it is conceivable that Boston or Toronto could pose a challenge come Finals time.