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Celtics, Raptors jockeying for top seed
TORONTO -- The Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors will meet for the final time in the regular season Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.
It will not have the significance of a playoff game but could have an influence on the postseason. The game could go a long way toward determining who will finish first in the Eastern Conference.
The Raptors have the advantage, still leading by two games despite their 112-106 loss Tuesday night to the Cavaliers in Cleveland.
The Raptors have lost five of their past eight games, including two in a row, after going on an 11-game winning streak.
"We've got to find our rhythm on both ends of the floor," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after the game Tuesday. "We've got to find our identity both offensively and defensively."
The Celtics, however, also dropped their game against the Bucks at Milwaukee on Tuesday, 106-102.
In the first three games between the teams this season, the home team has prevailed. Boston defeated Toronto 110-99 on Saturday in their most recent meeting and has a 2-1 advantage in the season series between the teams.
The Celtics played the game Saturday without some key injured players, including guards Kyrie Irving (knee), who is out until the playoffs, and Marcus Smart (thumb). They did have Al Horford and Marcus Morris back to play against the Raptors on Saturday after both had missed the previous game with ankle sprains.
Point guard Terry Rozier, who played through a sprained ankle Saturday, did not play Tuesday at Milwaukee. Nor did his backup Shane Larkin, who missed his second straight game because of flu.
Kadeem Allen made his first NBA start for Boston.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he did not know whether Rozier could play Wednesday.
"Regardless of the situation, you want guys ready for the playoffs," Horford said after the game Wednesday. "If you can play, play. But if you're hurt, there's no need to put things in jeopardy. We're already thin enough as a group. We've got to think long term."
Stevens suggests that the he is not consumed by the pursuit of first place.
"There's value to winning the next game and preparing to win the next game," Stevens said. "And then all those things figure themselves out at the end. I don't think about it. We don't talk about it. We just try to win the next game."
First place does bring home-court advantage through the conference finals.
"We're going to have hard games no matter what," Stevens said. "Ultimately, if you want to win the whole thing, it doesn't matter where you play. You just play as well as you can. We have to focus on only us in the next couple of weeks, because we're still trying to figure out how to play together with this group. And I think that we're not going to get caught up in standings or any of that stuff."
Casey said one of the objectives for his team was the finish first.
"Right now, one of our goals is to finish with home-court advantage, finish at the top of the conference," Casey said before the game in Boston on Saturday. "That's what we started the year out with, and we're right there in the hunt, and that's what these games mean (Saturday), Tuesday night (in Cleveland), Wednesday night (against the Celtics) and then Friday night (against the Indiana Pacers) also."
Another of Casey's goals, however, was to keep his All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan fresh for the playoffs by monitoring their playing time during the regular season.
"I think it's going to make a big difference, even if it's something psychological, knowing that we didn't play that many minutes," DeRozan said. "So, if it's called for us to go out here and play big minutes at a high level, we're going to be able to do it and still feel fresh, and be able to do it the next night if need be."
Updated April 4, 2018