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Celtics in mix of top teams in East, a quarter of the way through season

Avery Bradley and the Celtics will take on the Raptors Friday at TD Garden.

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We’re just past the quarter mark of the NBA season, which means we now have a pretty good sample size of not just the Boston Celtics, but the rest of the NBA.

Although it’s fun to think about the upcoming matchups against some of the Western Conference teams that the Celtics only see twice a year, it’s the teams in the East we should all be focusing on. After all, these are the teams Boston will have to go through once the playoffs begin if they want to get out of the first round for the first time since Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were still in town.

It seems to always come down to the last couple games of the season when determining playoff seeding, and sometimes the head-to-head matchups do come into play. So let’s evaluate the Celtics up to this point and then three teams that look to be in the thick of things with them, including one they’ll see Fridayin the Toronto Raptors.

Celtics (13-9)

Green Teamers had high expectations for their squad heading into the season, and it’s safe to say those expectations haven’t been met quite just yet. Of course the main reason has to be lack of a full roster. Al Horford has already missed 10 of the Celtics’ 22 games this year and Jae Crowder has missed eight. Marcus Smart, who has become the pesky sixth man that opposing teams hate, missed the first three games. For those reasons, the C’s got off to a slow start. They’ve struggled with consistency and on the defensive end. Almost every team deals with injuries at some point, so C’s fans have to hope they’re getting them out of the way early. (Though they may be without Isaiah Thomas for a second straight game, too.) For what it’s worth, the C’s are 8-4 with Horford on the court.

Cavaliers (15-5)

It’s no surprise to see the defending NBA champions atop the Eastern Conference standings. LeBron James, while ticking up there a bit in age, is still LeBron James. But it’s the support staff coming up huge so far. Kevin Love was a dream trade or free agent scenario for some C’s fans, and this season we’re seeing why. He’s averaging 21.4 points and 10.4 rebounds for the Cavs, while shooting 44.6 percent from the field and 42.2 percent from 3-pointrange, all Cavs career-highs for him. Channing Frye, believe it or not, is having one of the best seasons of his 11-year career, coming off the bench and shooting 48.1 percent from 3-point range. The Cavs’ recent three-game slide proves they are beatable, though.

Raptors (14-7)

Our friends up north continue to be one of the best teams in the NBA, and this year, DeMar DeRozan is playing like one of the best players in basketball. Some experts thought DeRozan would sign with the Lakers over the summer, but he re-signed with the Raptors instead. Now, he’s averaging 28.0 points per game for Toronto, fifth-most in the NBA. The Raptors are averaging 110 points per game as a team and allowing an average of 102.8 points for a differential of 8.1 points, third-best in the NBA and tops in the East. Bulldogs Kyle Lowry and a healthy DeMarreCarroll make the Raps lethal. It’s highly likely that Boston sees either the Cavs or Raptors in the second round – if they make it there.

Charlotte Hornets (13-9)

I know what you all are thinking: “The Charlotte Hornets? Really?” There is some merit to that. The Hornets certainly aren’t the sexy pick. But they do share the same record as the C’s going into Friday. Kemba Walker is having the best season of his career (23.6 points on 46.7 percent shooting) and Nic Batum remains one of the more underrated players in the NBA. That said, the C’s have beaten them three out of the last four times.

 
 
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