Post-game Reactions

It’s theirs to lose.

With 21 games left to play in the regular season, the Celtics have an (effectively) commanding lead over the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, even if it looks close at first glance. Behold the mighty standings:

There is almost no chance the Heat can catch the Celtics, short of a complete Boston collapse. With Miami a full five games back in the loss column, and two games deeper into the schedule, consider what would have to happen for Miami to pass Boston by season’s end (keeping in mind that Boston holds the tie-breaker by virtue of their 3-0 record against the Heat this season). Miami would have to be close to perfect, even if Boston hits a funk.

A theoretical:

Miami finishes 16-3 for an overall record of 59-23.

Boston finishes 12-9 for an overall record of 58-24.

Keep in mind that staggering, tearful Miami has games remaining against Portland, San Antonio, Los Angeles Lakers, and Oklahoma City. And that’s just over the next eight days. Given the way they’ve been playing, a 2-2 record seems entirely feasible for that stretch. Which would leave them only a single available loss to keep our already-unlikely theoretical example still… theoretical.

You can spin the numbers any way you want, but it’s nearly impossible for Miami to take the first overall seed at this point, unless they run the table over the next eight days.


Chicago poses a far greater threat to Boston’s first overall hopes. But with the Bulls three games back in the loss column, and with Boston holding a game in hand, the Bulls will be climbing uphill to get it done.

Another theoretical:

Chicago finishes 15-5 to end at 59-23.

Boston finishes 12-9 to end at 58-24.

This one is more plausible on the Chicago end of things. The Bulls have the third largest margin of victory in the league over their last 25 games (+6.75 compared to the Celtics +3.50) and precious few remaining games against elite teams (really it’s just Boston and Orlando in April). Assuming they stay hot, beat the mid-level teams on their schedule (Atlanta x 2, Memphis, Utah, Phoenix, New York) and don’t punt any games against bad teams, a .750 close to the season isn’t impossible for the Bulls.

But for Chicago to take the first overall seed, Boston also has to fall apart, relatively speaking. The Celtics are winning at a .754 clip this season. The 12-9 record above would be a .571 winning percentage, an extremely unlikely occurrence unless Boston’s integration of its new players is also sabotaged by a major injury to one or more of the big four. Keep in mind Boston has a busy, but relatively soft schedule ahead of it.

If Boston plays anywhere close to its average to close out the season, it will be facing the #8 seed come the first game of the playoffs and the winner of the 4/5 matchup in the second round, while the Bulls-Heat likely battle it out in the other conference semi-final.

As things look now, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion.

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Ryan DeGama

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  • Batman

    pole position?

  • Alex K.

    I seems to me that there is a mentor/apprentice relation between the big four and the newcomers that makes the mentors play better (in stretches) in order to cement their status as mentors; and makes the newcomers play better in order to prove themselves (Murphy is the exception so far).

    If that's correct, then given the rather easy schedule, the Celtics will in fact finish better than .750 for the rest of the games, in clear first position.

  • jack

    It seems we are in a good position. Like Ryan said, we most likely to get the # 1 seed. That is huge considering we haven't lost a game at home to an eastern conference opponent all year!

    And even if Chicago somehow surges past past us for the number 1 seed, I still I am not too worried. In fact I would much rather play miami second round, than orlando. Miami at this point, at least, doesn't really worry me at all. I think we match up well. Not that orlando really worries me, but sometimes Dwight Howard does a little.

    The only big question for us is our health. Hopefully everyone can get healthy for the playoffs. And if we can get 1 of the o'neils back and playing effectively for the playoffs, then that will take care of any concerns with Orlando.

    • ElRoz

      Well, you also got to think of facing the #7 or #8. No offense to Indiana, but there is right now a significant difference between Philadelphia and Indiana. The Sixers can give problems to teams right now. Indiana doesn't seem to be ready.

      So it's much better to play Indiana at #8 than Phily at #7.

  • skeeds

    just avoid those Bulls is what I say. Let's just meet them at the Conference Finals. Thibs is turning them into a beast of a team and they're the only ones I'm affraid of.
    So yeah, if that time comes when we have more people coming back from injuries than new ones going down, I see no reason why we can't stay at #1.

    • talesofJP

      THinking the same thing. Boston is the favorite, but Chicago is the team no one wants to play. A Heat v Knicks first round series could easily end with the Heat going home earlier than LeBron has in years. That would make me very happy.

      • TedL

        Take your talents back to South Beach early this year, LBJ. And I'm really going to love it if the new league agreement makes it impossible for the little 3 in Miami to get quality help.

  • Chris O

    Boston needs to just make sure they don't lose more than 5 more games (which I think we can do). That way we will almost guarantee the 1 seed. I can really see CHI going off and only losing 2 or 3 games more all season. I don't want to b the 2 seed and face PHI, then MIA, then CHI. Much easier to go 8 seed, ORL, MIA/CHI winner. But hey its still super early. On another note…I got tickets to tomorrows game.

  • kricky

    14-7 sounds doable, even giving some rest to the old guys too. Enough for 60 wins and the top seed.

    C's up, blubbering Miami Hoes down!

  • willybeamin

    nice piece, few mistakes…
    we do not play utah or phoenix again this season.

    and you have the celtics only playing 81 games in your bulls/celtics example.

    • NHBluesMan

      the section where he mentions Utah and phoenix is referring to the Bulls remaining schedule, not the C's

  • M.J

    I think we should consider the possibility that orlando beats miami in their division and takes the 3 seed

  • TedL

    I’m with you most of the way. The one thing that bugs/scares me are all the back to backs they’ve got left (six!). The second half of those b2bs are against New Jersey, New Orleans, Atlanta, Indiana, and the Wizards (twice). If they go 4-2 in those games I’ll be ecstatic. If they wheeze to losses against NJ, Indiana and the Wizards, I’m going to lose it.

    Here’s hoping for a return of bench depth, and quality wins against Chicago, San Antonio, Miami, and the Knicks when the Cs are rested.

  • stephen

    Another senario to consider is that we want the #1 seed to not only position ourselves to come out of the East, we also want to finish where we are now—with the 2nd best overall record in the entire league. This way the only senario where we would not have homecourt advantage in the finals would be if we faced San Antonio. We don't want to lose the 2nd best overall record to either Dallas or the Lakers—-The Lakers even more so the way they are beginning to play now. Bynum is starting to up his game, which brings the Lakers to a different level. We want—and need homecourt in case we face L A again !!!!

  • Dan

    What's the chance we can catch the Spurs? We're only 3 losses behind them, plus we play them once, and they're schedule is no cake-walk the rest of the way (at Heat, at Mavs, at Lakers).

  • stephen

    @ Dan—I hope the C's are taking that mindset, because if they go after the # 1 overall record this guarantees one very important thing. No overlooking anybody—no nights off–under any circumstances. It all starts with running the table at home, then you go from there.

  • stephen

    The Spurs have the next 2 at home against Detroit and Sacramento. Should be 2 easy wins. Then they have 3 on the road against Houston,Miami and Dallas. If the Spurs drop 2 out of 3 you never know. We have the Clippers, Philadelphia and Milwaukee. We need that Philadelphia game !!!!!!

  • Jay-O

    Celtics just have to win these next remaining in the month of March. But with all these injured bodies missing who knows if they can hold on to the first spot? It seems like the C's need to worry more about getting healthy for the post-season than being a top seed. Though being a 1 seed would be great. As far as the Bulls, I honestly believe they don't pose a threat to the Celtics. I don't understand why some C's fans are fearful of the Bulls…Why because they have D-Rose and Tom Tom Thibodeau? I feel that the C's are too experienced and talented to let the Bulls roll over them.

    D.Rose carries the Bulls entire offense and that can be an issue leading into the post-season especially when teams play tighter defense and refs call less fouls.

    • ElRoz

      Home court means games 5 and 7 at home, if needed…means not having to play games 6 and 7 in LA, which might end up wth a better record than Boston this season once again.

      Boston was 1-3 on the road in the finals….and during the "Big Three" + Doc era has been HORRIBLE winning clinching games – win #4 – on the road…they basically cannot do it: during three playoff runs they won once and lost 9 times. Last year they were 0-4 on the road when facing win #4 in a plaoff series. In 2009 they were 0-2. In 2008 they were 1-3 on the road facing win #4….that's 1-9 record. They don;t need home court to win a series, they really need it to win a title.

  • phreesh

    The big outstanding question for the Cs is health. What happens if one of the big four go down between now and the playoffs? Especially with the busy schedule. Doc should be willing to accept some losses to keep his starters' minutes down.

    • ElRoz

      games 6 and 7 in LA last year…..homecourt not important?

      Boston is 1-9 during 2008-2010 when facing win #4 in a playoff series on the raod…so bascially if they need a fourth win in a series but it is on the road, they have lost 9 out of 10 times in the Doc +"big three" era. NOT a good sign.

  • Uhoh

    Jinx? Celts losing to the Clips.

  • ElRoz

    This lost at home to the Clips – a wasted opportuntiy – puts this baselessly optimistic article in a realistic perspective. Clearly the writer assumed Boston will not have mental breakdowns and "trap" games against poor teams. He hasn't watched the C's the last year and this year? Recently Boston clearly struggled to beat sub-par teams: Phoenix, GSW, and the previous game against the Bucks….and now a stinker at home against the Clippers. The Bulls focused, motivated, and with an easier schedule – Celtics are NOT.

    Boston has at least 4-5 tough roads games and Chicago has an easier schedule and is a more focused team. I would be surprised if Chicago DIDN'T catch Boston for #1.
    Boston has to play in Phily, Houston, SA, Atlanta, NY, Chicago, and Miami – do you feel good? You don't think they will go 12-9? They are now 0-1 since the prediction and so they'd have to go 12-8 now.

    #1 seed means facing the Pacers instead of Phily…means having home court in games 5 and 7 in the Eas Finals….means not having to play games 6 and 7 at LA, which might end up with a better record than Boston this year once again.

    • Ryan DeGama

      You have an interesting definition of "baseless".

  • StatsAlive

    Hahahaha, Celts lose and make this author seem like the fool he is. This is pathetic analysis and frankly, as it was posted to TrueHoop, I expected more. Try doing some real analysis next time and factor in intangibles. The Celtics are old and often finish seasons poorly. Everyone wants home field throughout the playoffs, but the Bulls are a far worse road team than home. They really want that home court advantage, especially over the Celtics and Heat. Expect big minutes for their young studs and the limited depth, new players, and constant injuries to the Celtics to play a bigger role in their ability to close games. Also, losing your only good center really messes with your win %.

  • ElRoz

    Whoeve deGama is…he is pressed to wriute something I'm sure…the guys has done no analysis of the tough games bOsotn has to play…and has not noticed how they played rather poorly against Phoenix, GSW, and then undermanned Bucks….

    then the losses against Clippers and Sixers and Boston is 3-2 against somewhat good and poor teams.
    Chicago is a clear favorite for the #1 seed – and it is very good at home…and Boston is very bad at winning clinching games in the playoffs on the road 1-9 during the new "big three" and Doc era…1-9, think about that.
    The underachieving C's still have to play in SA, Houston, NO, Miami, Chicago….with the way they are playing and the ineffectiveness of the starters – who in their right mind expects them to do better than .500 in these games?
    Remember, games 6 and 7 in LA – does homecourt matter?
    1-9 during 2008-2010 when needing to get win #4 on the road…..1-9

  • Greybeard

    Knock Knock….It's the Bulls just a half game back….

  • Eric

    Tell me, if 2.5 with 21 to play is "effectively commanding," what is .5 with 18 to play?