Raptors

NBA Championship Odds (As of Feb. 7):

Raptors (20.00)


In a highly anticipated showdown between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors didn't just win. They won big. Against the Boston Celtics, who had won four straight, laid claim to the top-ranked defence in the entire NBA and first place in the conference.

That last point didn't change in the aftermath of Toronto's 111-91 win Tuesday. A 20-point loss almost seemed to flatter the visitors from Boston, which trailed by as many as 29 points at one time.

Boston remained first, although the Raptors were able to inch one game closer of that top spot.

Still, the Raptors currently sit at 19/1 to win the NBA Championship (as of Wednesday), with Golden State (29/50), Houston (7/1), Cleveland (8/1) and Boston (8/1) ahead of them.

Cleveland remains the favourite to come out of the East.

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The Raptors have made the playoffs in four straight seasons, providing a renewed enthusiasm in Toronto and across Canada with their #WeTheNorth slogan. And yet for all the steps forward, and back-to-back 50-plus win seasons, they've never been able to make it beyond the third round of the NBA playoffs, losing out in the conference semifinals last year.

This year's team, however, appears to have the makings of a club that can not only make it to the NBA's final four, but beyond into the championship series against a Western Conference foe.

Toronto's offence continues to lead the East, and is behind only the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, the powers of the West, in the league in that category, averaging 111.4 points per game. The Raptors' defence? Ranked third in the league, two spots back of Boston.

Most impressive about this particular showing with the Celtics? Kyle Lowry had 23 points, while DeMar DeRozan had only 15, and Toronto still won - on the strength of a 59-point night from their bench, a display of the kind of depth needed in the playoffs to make a run, especially if your stars get into struggles here and there.

While the Celtics and Raptors are currently in a runaway battle for first in the East, LeBron James and the Cavaliers continue to spin their tires. As of Wednesday afternoon, they had lost six of their last 10. Per the NBA, they had lost 13 times in 19 games since Christmas, which has allowed Washington, Milwaukee, Indiana and Miami all to get within two games of the Cavs in the standings, while eighth-place Philadelphia is only 3.5 games back. Ninth-place Detroit?

They're only four games back of Cleveland, which sits closer to the outside of the playoff picture than first place.

Again, the Cavaliers are still the favourites to come out of the East - the LeBron Factor at work. The East, after all, has belonged to the Cavaliers over the last three years.

The way things are currently trending, would it surprise if there was a changing of the guard? If anyone was still, for some reason, overlooking the Raptors, victories like the one they had Tuesday should get people's attention.

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