The NBA's Eastern Conference playoff picture is coming into focus.
The Toronto Raptors (50-19) clinched the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference Sunday with a 108-99 win over the Memphis Grizzlies (33-38). That also clinched the No. 3 seed for the Boston Celtics (46-23).
As for the rest of the Eastern Conference playoffs, three teams—the Miami Heat (43-27), Indiana Pacers (43-27) and Philadelphia 76ers (42-27)—are all battling for the No. 4 seed, with a half-game separating them.
Securing it isn't as important as it was in previous years, with home-court advantage meaning virtually nothing in the Orlando bubble. In fact, it's fair to question whether a team like the Sixers would even prefer bumping up to a No. 4 or 5 seed after going 3-1 against the Celtics this season.
The other benefit of remaining at No. 6 would be avoiding the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks until the Conference Finals. Granted, a potential second-round matchup with the Raptors is no easy task.
Toronto has been one of the best stories in the NBA for the past calendar year. Fresh off of winning the title last year, the Raptors saw superstar Kawhi Leonard choose to leave for the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency. That left Toronto with a question: Should it rebuild around some of its younger players or should it try to make another title run with its remaining core?
The Raptors chose the latter, and it's hard to argue with the results. Pascal Siakam has grown into the starring role without too many growing pains. Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell have thrived in bigger roles. Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol remain steady, productive veterans. Their defense remains stingy.
The Bucks will go into the playoffs as the prohibitive favorites in the Eastern Conference. But the Raptors will have their say. A year after getting past the Sixers in Game 7 on a miracle shot, shocking the Bucks in the Conference Finals and knocking off the beat-up Golden State Warriors to win a title, the Raptors are right back in the mix.