Just give the Toronto Raptors first place in the Eastern Conference now.
The Cleveland Cavaliers won’t even come close to catching them. Heck, they’ll be lucky to stave off the Indiana Pacers for the East’s No. 3 seed. The Boston Celtics are their lone threat entering the final month of the season, and they still trail the Raptors by 3.5 games.
That gap will be hard enough to overcome in such short order, particularly with the way Toronto is playing. It will be next to impossible to erase with Kyrie Irving expected to miss some time.
How much time? We don’t know. But the All-Star floor general exited the Celtics’ Sunday loss to the Indiana Pacers with a left knee injury that’s been bugging him for a while, and word is he won’t be playing at all again this week, per The Celtics Wire’s Jared Weiss:
Kyrie Irving is planning to sit out likely at least the next couple of games: “I’m not concerned. Where we are in the season, I’m pretty comfortable. I think that competitively, I think that’s more or less what I’m concerned about.”
“When I actually do get back on the floor, I want to feel the level I expect myself to be at and I want to play at and being able to sustain it. Right now, I’m not able to do that. I just got to do that.” . . .
Kyrie on potential further steps in the future to address knee soreness like surgery: “I don’t know. I hope not. I’ve been that road before. I’ve had a fractured kneecap already.”
“I think taking games like this, being smart about it probably will put me in a better position not to be out for a long period of time. That’s the last thing I want to do.”
The Celtics, for their part, don’t have much to lose if Irving misses more than a couple games. They have a seven-game hold on third place, so neither the Cavaliers nor Pacers nor anyone else is going to catch them. They won’t usurp the Raptors themselves, but that was always a long shot.
It’s more important for them to get Irving right for the playoffs anyway. He’s their lone established face-up scorer, and while Al Horford, who missed Sunday’s game himself, can carry the Celtics for brief stretches, he isn’t someone with the one-on-one skill set to ferry the offense down the stretch of close battles, with the season on the line. That job is Kyrie’s, and the Celtics are smart to make sure he’ll be ready to tackle it.