ASSOCIATED PRESS — The Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics were expected to be the main contenders in the Eastern Conference this season.
The Raptors have lived up to expectations; the Celtics have not.
Boston visits Toronto on Tuesday night mired in fifth place in the East after losing four of its past six games. The Raptors, meanwhile, sit No. 2 in the East and still have the first-place Milwaukee Bucks in their sights.
Both teams are coming off losses. The Celtics lost 126-116 Saturday night on the road to the Chicago Bulls. The Raptors, without Kawhi Leonard, lost Sunday at home 113-98 to the Orlando Magic.
Celtics guard Marcus Smart termed the game in Chicago as “embarrassing.”
“Each and every game becomes closer and closer to the end for us and we haven’t been playing to the best of our ability,” Smart said. “It’s frustrating because we know the potential that we have.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens holds himself accountable.
“I’ve said this before,” Stevens said. “I’m disappointed in myself.”
All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, however, feels the Celtics will be better in the postseason.
“In the playoffs, when we can plan for a team, prepare for a team, I still don’t see anybody beating us in seven games,” he said.
Center Aron Baynes has been out since Feb. 4 with a bruised left foot, and the Celtics are 4-4 in his absence. He is not expected to play Tuesday.
“I feel great,” he said. “Everything is progressing well. It’s just a matter of them holding me back. But it’s for the benefit of myself. So I can’t really complain.”
The Raptors’ loss to the Magic ended their seven-game winning streak. Leonard was given what was termed a “load management” day off and is expected to return Tuesday.
The Celtics have a 2-1 edge over the Raptors in their season series, with both of their wins in Boston. The Raptors have won seven straight home games against the Celtics since 2016. The last time the Celtics defeated the Raptors in Toronto was April 4, 2015, in overtime.
Leonard is averaging 31.7 points and 9.7 rebounds through three games against Boston this season.
The Raptors were within three points of the Magic at halftime Sunday but let the game get away in the second half.
“Not that we didn’t play hard enough, we just didn’t execute.” said Toronto guard Kyle Lowry, who had 19 points and 10 assists. “They made a lot of shots; we took the ball out of the basket a whole lot. They played well.”
The Raptors, who have been breaking in recently acquired Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin, have added another player. They signed Jodie Meeks last week, and he scored 10 points — all in the second quarter — in his debut with his new team Sunday.
“That guy hasn’t played in an NBA game for 10 months and gets 10 points in what was — four minutes, maybe five minutes, five and a half minutes? — probably a little longer than that,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
“He finds the opens spaces on the weak side, sliding to the right areas, relocating to the right areas, comes off of the screens and gets into the paint.”