After a much needed Celtics 96-92 win last night over the struggling Knicks, Brad Stevens has his group at 32-40 and in the playoff picture. They are a half a game up over the Brooklyn Nets with just 10-regular season games to go. The good news is six of the remaining games are at the TD Garden, where the C's are 18-18. The bad news is only 2.5 games separate the 7th through the 11th seed. Plus all seven teams left to face already own a win or two over the Celts and with the exception of the Pistons (depending how you view them), all have something to play for.
Here's a look at the Eastern Conference (6th -12th seed) battling for a postseason birth:
Milwaukee Bucks 36-36 (6th)
Last 10: 3-7
Jason Kidd is finally feeling the ill effects of not having Jabari Parker in his lineup, and having a second-year guard run the show in Michael Carter Williams instead of a borderline all-star in Brandon Knight. For the first time since December, the Bucks are at .500 and falling fast. The good thing is they have a three-game cushion despite their current woes.
Miami Heat 33-39 (7th)
Last 10: 5-5
A win over the Dwayne Wade-less Heat would have put the Celtics in a great lead and probably have them as the seventh seed right now. Regardless, their recent injuries (Bosh, Wade, Whiteside, Anderson) could slow them down a bit going forward. They do own the tie-breaker over Boston if for whatever reason they finish the season with identical records.
Boston Celtics 32-40 (8th)
Last 10: 6-4
Losses to the Pistons and Heat this week with five-games in seven days only makes Sunday's game against Doc Rivers and the Clippers (48-25), who are also battling for playoff position on the opposite coast, that much more important. The Clippers are the only west coast team left on the schedule, a win would give the C's some breathing room. Especially if the Nets and Heat lose. Boston will also see the Cavs, Bucks and Raptors twice each before the season ends. All three-teams have beaten the Celts at least once. So the next few weeks should be interesting since they're one game back of the seventh seed.
Brooklyn Nets 31-40 (9th)
Last 10: 6-4
The surprise team of the bunch, seemed like they were in a free-fall since the Kevin Garnett trade. With two huge wins over the mighty Cavs and the Hornets this week, they have bounced back nicely after their lost to the Celtics from Monday. Out of the teams that are out looking in, the Nets are the most dangerous with an experienced head coach in Lionel Hollins.
Indiana Pacers 31-41 (10th)
Last 10: 3-7
The hottest team in the league after the all-star break until the Celtics stopped them dead in their tracks. They have only won three-games since, and Paul George doesn't look any closer to returning to aid his teammates in a playoff push. They probably have the toughest schedule of all the teams listed despite being only one-game out of the picture.
Charlotte Hornets 30-41 (11th)
Last 10: 2-8
The one team everyone thought would have no issues being in the postseason, yet they find themselves struggling and a 1.5 games out. Kemba Walker is still not healthy, but Mo Williams has been a great addition. Al Jefferson needs all the help he can get especially against opponents like the Hawks and Wizards.
Detroit Pistons 28-44 (12th)
Last 10: 5-5
Being four games out and having big man Greg Monroe possibly being shut down for the season, it doesn't look good in Motown for Stan Van Gundy in his first season in charge. Despite high hopes for the Pistons after cutting ties with Josh Smith and bringing in Reggie Jackson, one would think there would be a silver lining. But the loss of Brandon Jennings hurt this team more than they realize. Now since they have been a pain in ass for the Celtics all year, they have another reason to beat Boston and keep them out of the postseason when the two teams face each other in 10-days.
Playoff basketball is in the air in Boston after a two-year layoff. The Celtics will have to play better than .500 ball to stay where they are or possibly climb higher. Either way with Isaiah Thomas back in the fold, this should be fun to watch. At a time when the city and New England need some sunny and warm days after a long winter, what better way to enjoy some spring than the C's making a playoff push?
"First and foremost, it would be really fun to make the playoffs," Thomas said. "I think everybody wants to do that and it would be very important, especially with this young group of guys. It would definitely build confidence going into next season." [ESPN Boston]
Who would have thought with the exit of Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and finally Rajon Rondo, the last remaining pieces of a championship era, the Celtics could still have a chance to make the postseason with young, exciting talent and a former college coach?
Whether you are in the 'tank' for the draft or make a run for the playoffs camps, one thing is for sure; the future looks bright for these C's.
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