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Weekly Top Matchups and Game Predictions, February 26

We take a look at some playoff teams that made some big moves at the trade deadline.

NBA LIVE 19 Weekly Predictions

This is our first Weekly Predictions article since the trade deadline, and there’s been a lot of movement across the league. Sure, we didn’t get to see New Orleans find a trade partner for Anthony Davis and stars like Mike Conley also stayed home, but there were some huge difference-makers who now are in new jerseys, too.

Marc Gasol, Otto Porter, Tobias Harris, and even Kristaps Porzingis were the headlining names for some of the bigger moves made. Seeing the buyout market play out for players like Markieff Morris and Enes Kanter are sure to make differences moving forward, too. Superstar GM’s such as Masai Ujiri and Jerry West did nothing but give us more reason to praise them and others, such as James Dolan’s Knicks’ front office, provided a couple headscratchers.

For this week’s predictions, we selected three matchups of big-named teams – at least one of them has seen a deadline deal seemingly strengthen their roster. Let’s just dive straight into it. 

Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors

Date and Time: February 26 at 8:00 p.m. EST

The Raptors made a giant splash at the deadline and, honestly, if you count the way that Pascal Siakam has emerged in the past few months, the Raptors have added two key contributors this season. The big question is obviously around Kawhi Leonard’s future in Canada but bringing in another All-Star caliber player could be GM Masai Ujiri’s push for Leonard to stay.

Now, the biggest question mark is how the frontcourt minutes will shake out – Ibaka, Saiakam, and a couple other players filled out a rotation previously. Though it’ll probably be situational, I would hope they start Gasol alongside Siakam – this gives them two versatile bigs on offense who can each pass and operate from the high post while also having two solid defenders, one better down low and the other as a switch-player with wings. While Gasol’s play may have slipped a bit from his Defensive Player of the Year days, don’t forget that Toronto now has about seven or eight plus-defensive players, each of whom are comfortable defending multiple spots.

Boston was a team that stayed set around the deadline as their sights are on big treasure this offseason. While Kyrie Irving’s impending free agency holds all the cards, don’t forget that he’s been something of a distraction to the locker room. The players clearly still rally around Uncle Drew, but a number of players know they would stand to benefit with his departure.

Boston hasn’t looked great – in my opinion, this is a classic case of having too many cooks in the kitchen. The staggering of minutes for everyone stops guys from getting into rhythms, fighting their way out of slumps, and even gaining chemistry. The Raptors have been really good at home and the size and defense the Raptors have will bother the Celtics early on. Trading buckets with a team like Toronto won’t work, because they usually start off hot. 

Winner: Toronto Raptors

Milwaukee Bucks at Los Angeles Lakers

Date and Time: March 1 at 10:30 p.m. EST

Would you believe me if I told you a couple weeks before the deadline that the team to acquire a 15-point scorer between these two would be the small market? The rich getting richer actually applies to the Bucks in this case, as they were able to get their hands on Nikola Mirotic, a stretch-four who really fits their system nicely.

The Bucks were fairly devoid of shooters and desperately looking for a floor-spacer. It’s actually kind of funny that Brook Lopez and Niko somehow have created one of the best shooting frontcourts in the league all-of-a-sudden. The Bucks were already great, this pushes them to an entirely higher level.

On the flip side, the Lakers have been terrible. The chemistry is a mess, it seems like the players don’t care about playing with, and for, each other. Furthermore, the Lakers need to finish out the season as one of the best teams in the league just to have a shot at the playoffs.

After the Anthony Davis debacle and LeBron James playing alongside all future free agents in the All-Star Game, Bron and Rich Paul’s intentions seem pretty clear. While he’s a player who may average a triple-double the second half of this season in a playoff push, it’s going to be hard to get everyone back on the same page and fighting as a team. The Bucks are simply just better than the Lakers – even when they’re on the road.

Winner: Milwaukee Bucks

Golden State Warriors at Philadelphia 76ers

Date and Time: March 2 at 8:30 p.m. EST

This is the game everybody should be circling on their calendars. The only team with similar star power to the Warriors is the 76ers – each team now carries four All-Star level talents who can each step up in a number of ways. The Sixers adding Tobi and Bobi has been spectacular for them – we knew how good Tobias was, but what people are starting to see is the gold standard of efficiency he brings.

Tobias Harris was putting up amazing numbers in LA and has fit seamlessly in Philly. The biggest question mark for me with this Philly team is whether some of the roles get muddied, as we know Jimmy Butler’s persona as well as Joel Embiid’s. The silver lining is that, like the Warriors, the Sixers have one star in Ben Simmons who doesn’t require a host of shots or a huge offensive scoring load.

I really do believe this Sixer team has a chance to be special, and that this could be an NBA Finals’ preview. The Warriors have been everything they should’ve lately – Steph and KD are putting up MVP-worthy seasons, Klay is still one of the best two-way players in the game, and Dray is the heartbeat, but I just have a feeling that Philly comes out firing with something to prove.

We also know that teams can actually kill Golden State down low – Joel Embiid and Boban taking turns in the paint is a scary sight for a team that has a limited number of players capable of finding them.

I wouldn’t ever recommend putting money against the Warriors, but I like the Sixers in this game.

Winner: Philadelphia 76ers

Rahul Lal (Follow Rahul on Twitter @rlal95)

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