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What to watch for in Raptors-Celtics: Early road success will be tested

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The Toronto Raptors visit the Boston Celtics Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. ET, a game which can be watched on Sportsnet ONE.

This contest marks the start of a stretch of their season that will see them play eight of their next nine games on the road, and could go a long way to determining just what, exactly, this team is – particularly with Pascal Siakam back and playing, albeit on a minutes restriction right now.

The Raptors have maintained dating back to media day and the start of training camp that they believe they’re a team that’s talented enough to reach the post-season, and how they perform during this upcoming run could be telling if the confidence they had in themselves was warranted or just typical start-of-season bluster.

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Here are three things to watch ahead of Wednesday’s game.

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At home on the road

One of the best reasons to have confidence in this Raptors team this season is the way they’ve started on the road.

Toronto has begun 4-0 on the road and boast the best road net rating (plus-13.5) in the league, a rating that’s far better than the minus-3.6 net rating the Raptors sport at home.

Granted, four games isn’t much of a sample size, but you have to wonder if the experience the Raptors went through last season, playing in Tampa, Fla., and, essentially, playing their entire season on the road sparked something in some of the players on this team – like OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet – to be absolutely comfortable in hostile environments.

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Beginning Wednesday in Boston, this theory will certainly be put to the test over the course of the next 16 days.

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Opportunity to take advantage of

Toronto will play a back-to-back Wednesday and Thursday against the Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.

On paper, these seem like relatively tough matchups – especially on a back-to-back – but it looks like the Raptors will catch a bit of a break with each contest.

Celtics star forward Jaylen Brown will miss Wednesday’s game with a right hamstring strain and Philadelphia 76ers superstar centre Joel Embiid is in league health and safety protocols, and likely won’t be available Thursday when the Raptors visit Philadelphia.

And while it’s true the Celtics do still have Jayson Tatum available and the Sixers have other talented players available such as Seth Curry and Tobias Harris, who will likely be eligible to play again for Philly after he tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month, these are still a pair of teams that will be shorthanded and the Raptors need to look to take advantage of.

If the competitive window for the Raptors is as open as they believe it to be, then finding ways to rack up wins against handicapped competition will be vital.

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Though it’s not too tasteful, sometimes in the NBA you do have to kick a team while it’s down.

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Injury report

Heading into Wednesday’s game, as mentioned before, the Celtics won’t have Brown available, a significant loss considering he’s been Boston’s leading scorer and, overall, its best player this season.

On the Raptors front, Yuta Watanabe continues to remain out with a left calf strain and Khem Birch is listed as “doubtful” with right knee swelling. This update on Birch is an upgrade over what Raptors coach Nick Nurse said on Tuesday at practice, where he said that Birch would miss both games of the back-to-back.

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And on the topic of the back-to-back, while Siakam is available and is expected to play Wednesday, it’s unclear if he’ll be allowed to play Thursday in Philadelphia. Like with the way his minutes are restricted, the Raptors are assessing and trying to figure out the best course of action on how to bring Siakam along and get him back into full game shape. Missing the second night of a back-to-back may be part of that.



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Joel Klatt answers your questions from the mailbag | Joel Klatt Show

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Michigan, USC, Oklahoma & Penn State among Joel Klatt's surprises of National Signing Day

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