The Toronto Raptors won their first division title in franchise history last season. Repeating as Atlantic Division champs won't come easy with the Boston Celtics off to the fourth 19-2 start in their storied history.
The top teams in the Atlantic meet in Toronto on Sunday afternoon when the Celtics go for their first nine-game win streak in more than a decade and the Raptors try to win five in a row for the first time this season.
Toronto won a franchise record-tying 47 games last season and took advantage of the weak Atlantic to win its first division title since the team began play in 1995. No other team in the division finished above .500, and Boston ended the season with the Eastern Conference's worst record at 24-58.
An offseason overhaul, however, has sparked a remarkable turnaround for the Celtics, who have the league's best record. Behind the trio of Paul Pierce and newcomers Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, they've won eight in a row to take a 6 1/2-game lead over the Raptors (14-10).
The streak is Boston's second eight-game run of the season, but the Celtics haven't won nine in a row since March 16-31, 1993.
They are 19-2 for the fourth time in franchise history, and the first time since 1984-85. They've been 20-2 only once, en route to the 1963-64 NBA championship.
The Celtics extended their current run on Friday with a 104-82 victory over Milwaukee -- their franchise record-tying 12th straight home win to start a season. Garnett had a quiet night with 15 points and seven rebounds, and Allen didn't play because of an injury, but Pierce scored a season-high 32 points and went 5-for-11 from 3-point range.
"I wanted to be a little bit more aggressive," said Pierce, averaging 21.0 points to lead the team in scoring for the eighth straight season. "Especially with Ray out, (I wanted) to pick up some of the slack and get us going."
Allen, who had surgery to remove bone spurs from both ankles in April, missed the game because of a sore right ankle. Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Allen might sit out Sunday as well.
"He wants to play, but we've got a lot of games left," Rivers said. "If he keeps playing, he keeps doing that routine, I don't think that helps it."
The Raptors have also been without one of their key players as starting point guard T.J. Ford has missed the last two games after a scary fall during a win over Atlanta on Tuesday.
Ford, who missed the entire 2004-05 season after a similar fall that required neck surgery, doesn't expect to be ready to return Sunday.
Jose Calderon has stepped up in Ford's absence, averaging 15.0 points and 11.5 assists in the last two games. He had 18 points and a career-high 16 assists as Toronto beat Indiana 104-93 on Friday. Calderon set up a number of open shots for Jason Kapono, who scored a season-high 29 points while going 9-for-14 from the field and 6-for-7 from beyond the arc.
"They were helping too much and I was finding Kapono," said Calderon, averaging 12.7 points and 10.7 assists in 10 starts. "I was trying to find him every time."
Toronto and Boston have already met twice this season, with the Celtics winning both contests. They posted a 98-95 overtime victory in Toronto on Nov. 4, and routed the Raptors 112-84 in Boston on Dec. 7.
Toronto star Chris Bosh, leading the team with 19.1 points and 8.5 rebounds, missed the Dec. 7 game with a groin injury. He has averaged 23.3 points and 9.8 rebounds in his last 11 games against the Celtics.