If the trade deadline taught us anything about the landscape of the NBA and maybe particularly of the Eastern Conference, it’s that the Larry O’Brien is up for grabs. While the Celtics stood pat with their roster (outside of a possible addition in the buyout market), Atlantic, Central, and Southeast Division contenders bulked up heading into the All-Star break and eventually the playoffs in April.
Daniel Poarch: The Raptors have certainly exceeded expectations in their title defense this season, and the Heat have enjoyed a revelatory year in their first season with Jimmy Butler, but of the three teams, I still think the 76ers remain Boston’s biggest obstacle in the postseason. In some ways, they’re not unlike last year’s Celtics. Despite ongoing issues of chemistry and fit, they’ve proven to be a poor match-up for their rivals and have taken the season series in fairly commanding fashion. The Celtics’ centers have largely been a pleasant surprise this year, but remain overmatched against Joel Embiid, and Philadelphia is one of the few teams with the talent to check Boston’s deep group of wings defensively. Though I’m not convinced the additions of Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III are big needle-movers come playoff time, the Sixers loom large over any potential deep postseason run.
Adam Taylor: Following the additions of Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder, Miami is a threat now. Their defense is going to be difficult to breakdown when they are all focused, while the offense is going to be much improved, too.
Toronto has done a great job of putting W’s on the board even though their primary contributors have all missed time through injury at different junctures of the season.
Philly, while disjointed and showing familiar signs of locker room unrest are still a talented roster. Adding two shooters at the deadline has made them more versatile too. However, adding more mouths to feed into an already dysfunctional locker room does not guarantee success.
I’m leaning towards Miami as being the team to fear out of these three at the moment. The Heat have a great coach, players who know how to win, and have a point to prove. Celtics fans have seen that story play out in recent history.
Jeff Clark: The Sixers are last year’s Celtics team. So I fully expect them to dominate their first round opponent and then get run off the court in the 2nd round as Embiid shoots them out of the series and the locker room implodes upon itself.
The Heat are the early-Isaiah Thomas years’ Celtics: a well coached group of try-hards led by one dominant star player. So they should be good enough to upend some teams but not good enough to beat the best of the best.
I don’t have any good Celtics team analogies for the Raptors (I thought about the 2012-13 team but losing Kawhi is more impactful than losing Ray Allen). They are kind of an addendum to the Ewing theory, except the team won the title with the star.
So what’s my answer to the question at hand? I’m scared of all of them and none of them but if you are making me choose I think I’d like to avoid playing the Raptors the most.