Hayes Davenport: I cannot believe I’m saying this, but yes: I’d love to take on the Heat in a playoff series right now. It’s like how you’re supposed to punch a guy in the face on your first day in jail: I’d prefer to confront Miami early, before they get their playoff rhythm going and while Boston still has some momentum from these recent victories. I’d also prefer to face Chicago as late as possible to increase the odds of one of their rotation players getting injured. Is that mean?
Michael Pina: Yes, the Celtics have defeated the Heat in their last two meetings, but LeBron and Wade still make that team one of the league’s most formidable. What I’d really like to see is the Celtics catch Indiana for the third seed, play a beatable team like Orlando or Atlanta in the first round, meet Miami in the second round, and take things from there.
Chris Forsberg: Earlier in the season, this absolutely seemed like the best plan of attack. But back then the Celtics were so inconsistent, it seemed like they needed some sort of gimmick in order to get through the playoffs. Now? Boston is playing like a legitimate contender and there’s no real reason to make things more difficult than they need to be. Yes, avoiding the Bulls for as long as possible remains in this team’s best interest, but there’s really no reason for a good team to desire a matchup with the defending Eastern Conference champions.
Ryan DeGama: I’m torn. On one hand, I’ve no appetite for seven games of Wade and James hurling themselves into the paint and fouling out the entire Celtics frontcourt. On the other hand, Miami again appears vulnerable to Boston, and the Celtics could reframe the entire playoff picture if they take them down. I’m going to accept your offer, but only because there’s a decent chance Derrick Rose ends up battling injuries throughout the playoffs. It make sense for the C’s to take on Miami when they’re fresh and Chicago later, when Rose may be worn down or injured.
Brian Robb: No. The way this team is playing right now, they shouldn’t be worrying who they are playing or when. Given the craziness of a condensed season, I’d take the slim chances Miami or Chicago is upset by the upstart Knicks in the second round, rather than guaranteeing myself a date with the Eastern Conference elite right out of the gate early. You’re likely going to have to go through both teams anyway, so making things easier in earlier rounds (with home court advantage) makes the most sense to me.
Davenport: I think his floor time will be significantly reduced, yes. I love what Pavlovic was doing for the team. He’s a surprisingly strong and speedy defender, and he works very well at facilitating both the offensive and defensive systems: he makes extra passes well and knows where he’s supposed to be. He’s like the Windows Disk Cleanup app of the Celtics (solid nickname potential there). But Pietrus is a better defender and scorer. However, if Pietrus starts gunning way too much and messes with this newfound chemistry, I don’t think Doc should be scared to give Sasha his minutes back.
Pina:Sasha has done everything that’s been asked of him in these last few games. He’s knocked down wide open shots and played solid perimeter defense, but he can’t create his own shot, and he isn’t athletic enough to be a rebounding presence. These are two things Pietrus brings to the table, and substituting him in for Pavlovic on the Bradley, Allen, Stiemsma, Garnett group that Doc’s been going to at the start of the second and fourth quarters this past week makes that unit an even greater weapon. Love what Sasha has done, but eight is enough the rest of the way.
Forsberg: If both Pietrus and Ray Allen are healthy, then there’s probably nothing more than some foul-trouble minutes for Pavlovic. Sure, he’s playing some inspired ball right now, mixing his typically steady defense with more confidence in his 3-point shot. But his role on this team is to be able to fill emergency situations and not be a liability (dare I say he’s downright Scalabrine like in that sense). Pavlovic is excellent depth to have on the wing when he’s playing like this, but it’s not a problem if playoff minutes are not bountiful for him as it means the team is otherwise healthy.
DeGama: He’s this year’s Nate Robinson. Expect extended pine time and the odd stretch where he knocks down a couple of big three pointers or plays a few minutes of harassing defense.
Robb: Yes, Sasha will have his chances to contribute. It probably won’t be consistent game-to-game but the swingman has put together a solid enough stretch now on both ends of the floor that it would be foolish to count him out entirely. The key to his minutes could be his ability to continue be a threat on the floor offensively (7/10 from downtown this month). He won’t keep that up, but if he’s hitting up to space the floor and keep opposing defenses honest, Sasha will get his chances, especially if Ray Allen’s ankle continues to be a problem.
Davenport: I’ll take Wilcox and leave O’Neal. Wilcox would still be a huge boost coming off the bench. I don’t care if it expands Doc’s playoff rotation to nine: at some point his old veterans are going to have to start playing fewer minutes. Losing O’Neal, meanwhile, was among the most positive developments of this second half, because it brought Brandon Bass into the starting lineup for an offensive injection and it maximized Garnett’s value because it reminded him about scoring inside again.
Pina: To put it nicely, everything happens for a reason. The injuries to Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O’Neal have allowed Garnett to start at center, and Bass to start at power forward, which gives Rondo more spacing/weapons and the offense more versatility. Despite their continued rebounding woes, what the Celtics have now is light years ahead of what they started the season with, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Forsberg: I think we can all agree that the constant injury situation with O’Neal wasn’t exactly a positive for this team. If he doesn’t get injured (again), then maybe Kevin Garnett never slides full-time into the center role and who knows how it all plays out for Boston from there. I do think the Celtics would be better if they had Wilcox as a bench option, particularly given the team’s lack of size overall. He would have aided the rebounding deficiency and was another guy that could run the floor. His absence, however, has allowed Greg Stiemsma to flourish with more consistent minutes.
DeGama: I reject the premise of your question. In what year-3000, futuristic sci-fi world was Jermaine O’Neal not getting hurt? The fact he fell apart early and completely at least gave Doc and Danny time to figure out who would replace him. The Wilcox injury hurts a lot more because the Celtics have no playoff worthy bigs behind Greg Stiemsma and Brandon Bass, the latter of whom gave us all heart failure for a few minutes last night. If Bass had been hurt, it would have been nice if Wilcox was there to fill his spot.
Robb:Can I keep those guys separated? When Wilcox went down, I thought he was really in the process of hitting his stride, grasping the C’s system on both sides of the floor, so I think it’s a bit foolish to say the team would be better without him. His rebounding will be missed when the postseason arrives. Jermaine O’Neal on the other hand, wasn’t capable of giving this team much, so I think it’s no concidence the team has taken off without him, freeing up his minutes to the Stiemer.
Davenport: I think you rest your guys. See question 1. Looking at Indiana’s schedule, they should probably win at least six of their next eight games, so I think the 3-seed is out of reach. Between seeds 4 and 7, I absolutely don’t care where Boston ends up, and I don’t care about losing games in the name of resting the veterans. It would be nice if the starters got SOME time together in every game so they can stay familiar with each other. But I don’t think sitting KG for an extra 15 minutes against the Bobcats is going to mess up their rhythm.
Pina: As I previously mentioned, the Celtics should still have something to play for as they try to catch the Pacers for a three seed. Just as I wouldn’t touch the keys on a vintage car that’s low on gas yet inexplicably chugging along, if I’m Doc Rivers I don’t change a thing with this team.
Forsberg: If the Celtics win Friday night in Toronto, then three straight wins would likely afford the team the opportunity to trot out the junior varsity lineup on Saturday in New Jersey (all while allowing the veterans to rest for what would seemingly be a fairly breezy night in Charlotte on Sunday). Sure, you run the risk of taking a loss by leaning on younger players on Saturday night, but wins this week over Miami and Atlanta have given Boston a bit of a mulligan along the way here. Yes, the standings remain crowded and every win is important, but getting rest in the middle of this back-to-back-to-back could be key to winning at least 2 of 3.
DeGama: He should rest them and he will. Rivers all but said so on WEEI this morning. He underplayed the value of seeding compared to health and it’s hard to argue with him. With any mid-seed from 3-6, the Celtics are going to be favored to escape the first round. As long as they’re healthy, things will remain interesting this spring. That’s the major concern right now.
Robb: You have to rest your guys at some point. Doc has done the best he can so far with the high wire act of balancing minutes and wins, but even the youngest and healthiest teams in the league should rest guys in a stretch like this. With a number of wins under their belt now, the Celts’ have a little cushion to deal with as they face three non-playoff opponents this weekend. Staggering a night off for each of the veteran starters would appear to make the most sense.
Davenport: The thing about these Stiemsma calls is that they’re usually right: Stiemsma has almost always committed a foul when he gets whistled (last night’s tangle with Josh Smith being a notable exception) because he tends to stick his arms out in front of him to go for the block instead of straight up. The problem is that he gets whistled every time he does this, whereas refs usually look the other way 30-40% of the time. But he’s absolutely going to get fewer whistles as refs start going easier on him and he simultaneously learns what to do with his arms.
Pina: Sometimes I feel like Doc needs to get himself ejected on one of these atrocious Stiemsma related calls, just to make a forceful statement to the league that the way his guy is being treated by the refs on a nightly basis simply doesn’t make sense.
Forsberg: It’s kinda hilarious at this point, right? Well, probably not for Stiemsma, but there was one point in Wednesday’s game where the referee blew the whistle while a Hawks player was still driving towards Stiemsma (contact didn’t come for a second later). Such is life as a rookie. As Doc Rivers said Tuesday in Miami, he gets six of them and he mights as well use them up if he’s only playing 25 minutes per night. Eventually he’ll start getting the benefit of the doubt from officials more often.
DeGama: After the first playoff game where he fouls out in 18 minutes and the Celtics send a video package to the league complaining about how he’s being officiated. One of my least favorite things in the playoffs is the malleability of how games are called, but the Celtics might as well use it to their advantage.
Robb: They have to hope it’s by the end of April. I’m actually happy in a way there has been so much attention on this right now for a couple reasons. First, it hasn’t cost the C’s any games in the standings. Second, it’s giving Stiemsma first hand experience of the rookie treatment that will be applied to him perhaps even more harshly in the postseason. At least for now, Stiemsma knows it is coming and hasn’t let it affect his play in any way and that’s a good thing. When the playoffs arrive though, he may be wise enough to pick his spots a bit better at times on defense to ensure he can stay on the floor for more than 20 minutes a game if Doc needs him.