Whenever it has looked as though the Cleveland Cavaliers were about to pull away from the Toronto Raptors at the top of the Eastern Conference, the Canadian franchise has clawed them back. With less than a month to go until the end of the regular season, the Cavs and the Raptors both know that their postseason tickets are all but booked. But that won't stop the battle between the two going all the way to the finish. While it's hard to look beyond the Golden State Warriors in terms of the championship this season, there are at least two teams in the East who will be feeling confident about handling themselves well against Stephen Curry and company.
Toronto's impressive 112-104 overtime victory over a Miami Heat side leading the Southeast Division only served to further cut the gap between the Raptors and the Cavs at the top of the Eastern Conference. DeMar DeRozan once again showed just how much of an influence he is going to have in the playoffs, with the All-Star swingman repeating his exploits from the 117-115 win over the Portland Timbers earlier in the month by recording 38 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. The latest in a string of sensational performances this season, DeRozan scored 17 of his 28 points in the final 17 minutes of the game and impressed in all areas of the court.
In a rare off night for Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph, who recorded just five goals from 23 attempts collectively, DeRozan's performance ensured the Raptors maintained pace with Cleveland at a time of the season when many felt the Cavs would have already wrapped up the Eastern Conference. But with still a month left of the regular season, including a number of tough games for both franchises, this race at the top of the conference could well go down to the wire. While Cleveland are as short as 4/11 in the latest Bet365 NBA betting odds, the Raptors have shown more than enough over the past few weeks to prove they aren't yet willing to throw the towel in just yet. And while you're at it, Bet on Euro 2016 finals on William Hill's website.
While Toronto were beating Miami, the Cavs will have been sat around their televisions knowing just how big a result this could be. With the Canadians now within two games of Cleveland, who have led the conference for much of the season, both teams know it would be the Raptors who would take the title should the East's top-two finish with identical records due to their 2-1 season series win. Both franchises are set to play 10 of their final 18 regular season games away from home, during which time Toronto could be able to welcome back Carroll into the team following his knee injury.
Having averaged almost 12 points a game, the former first round draft's return to action will be a major boost to a Raptors team that will need all hands on deck come the postseason. While Toronto have won 23 games from the 28 Carroll has missed, the small forward will have an important role to play between now and the end of the campaign.