NBA Saturday February 25 Preview: Toronto Raptors v Boston Celtics & LA Clippers v San Antonio Spurs


Toronto v Boston | Saturday, February 25, Noon (AEDT), Air Canada Center, Toronto

The Toronto Raptors (33-24, 19-10 home) are hoping to surge forward following the signing of former Thunder and Magic star Serge Ibaka (pictured below).

The power forward was acquired before the trade deadline and will be an important piece in a Raptors outfit looking to be figure prominently in the Eastern Conference playoffs conversation. 

Known for his lockdown defensive skills and shot blocking, Ibaka has developed his shooting range from downtown and is now a dual threat at both ends of the floor.

The 27-year-old’s combination with leading score DeMar Derozan (27.3 PPG) (pictured above) and All-Star Kyle Lowry (22.9 PPG) will be crucial to their playoffs hopes. 

After a lacklustre stretch leading into the All-Star break which yielded just three wins from their last eight, the Raptors will look to hit the floor with a renewed vigour after the mid-season break.

Standing in their way are Atlantic Division leaders Boston Celtics (37-20, 17-12 away) who conversely, were on a tear leading into the All-Star break.

Lea by All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas (pictured above), the Celtics won seven of nine in February including a 109-104 triumph over the Raptors on February 2.

Thomas has cemented himself as one of the league’s leading fourth quarter closers and his 29.9 PPG and 6.3 APG have him firmly planted in contention for MVP honours.

Not surprisingly, the Celtics' rich vein in form has coincided with Thomas’ hot hand where he’s averaging 32.2 PPG in February.

The Verdict

The form lines point to a Celtics victory but how often do you see a team turn their fortunes around after the All-Star break?

That’s exactly what the Raptors are hoping for and the injection of experienced shot blocker Ibaka will bolster a defence which has been brittle at times.

The Celtics lead 2-1 in the four-game series, so a win here for the Raptors will square the ledger in the series. 

There were no available odds at the time of writing.

Tip: Toronto

LA Clippers v San Antonio Spurs | Saturday, February 25, 2.30pm (AEDT), Staples Center, LA

Blake Griffin (pictured above) and the LA Clippers can’t afford to rest on their laurels despite a sparkling run of form leading into the All-Star break.

Second in the Pacific Division, the Clippers (35-21, 18-8 home) hit top gear heading into the break with four straight wins including double digit victories over Utah (88-72) and Atlanta (99-84).

Their schedule, however, straight after the break is a brutal one and any momentum garnered before the break can quickly evaporate with back-to-back defeats.

Saturday’s match-up against the San Antonio Spurs (43-13, 24-7 away) comes just a day after facing Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors.

It’s a baptism of fire, but if the Clippers can get through those games unscathed, it could be the tonic for a deep run into the Western Conference finals. 

In the absence of injured point guard Chris Paul who is still recovering from thumb surgery, Griffin has led the Clippers’ scoring with 21.9 PPG while first-time All-Star DeAndre Jordan leads the team in rebounds (13.8 RPG) and blocks (1.7 BPG). 

Southwest division leaders San Antonio were on a hot run before the All-Star break winning six of eight and seven of their last nine.

Aussie Boomers guard Patty Mills (pictured above) has figured prominently in those games guiding the Spurs’ second unit, which is widely regarded as the best in the NBA.

Averaging 21.3 mins per game, the former St Mary’s College star is averaging 9.7 PPG and is equal second on the team in assists (3.3 APG). 

All-Star Kawhi Leonard (pictured below) leads the Spurs in scoring with 25.9 PPG, but the NBA MVP candidate also gets it done at both ends of the floor and leads the team in steals (1.80 SPG).

The Verdict 

Despite a dominant season, the Southwest division-leading Spurs still trail 2-0 in the four-game series but they’ll look to claw a game back with a win here.

The Clippers hit a purple patch before the break but without Paul, they lack the depth to go toe-to-toe with the deep Spurs. 

There were no available odds at the time of writing.

Tip: San Antonio

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