With just four days remaining in the regular season, the playoff picture is starting to take shape for the C’s. After a loss by the Orlando Magic last night, the Celts can officially pencil in the Atlanta Hawks as their first round opponent, a likelihood we had all counted on in recent days.
From there, the news is even better after the Hawks dropped one at home to the Knicks yesterday. That loss keeps the door open for Boston to finish ahead of Atlanta in the standings, earning home court advantage along with it. All this comes after Doc Rivers punted on an opportunity to help cement home court for his team Friday night in Atlanta (a decision I fully agreed with, by the way).
Atlanta currently remains a full game ahead of Boston in the East with two games remaining for both teams. After winning the season series 2-1, Boston holds the tiebreaker. Here are what the two teams have left on their schedule, with both games coming on Tuesday and Thursday night respectively:
Boston: vs. Miami, vs. Milwaukee
Atlanta: vs. LA Clippers, vs. Dallas
On the surface, the C’s look like they have a tougher slate remaining, simply due to the Heat matchup. However, a closer inspection of Miami shows us that they have nothing to play for at this juncture as they’re firmly locked into the number two seed in the East. Dwayne Wade will not play for the remainder of the regular season after dislocating his finger Saturday night and LeBron James hinted to reporters he could “use the rest” when asked if he’d suit up for the team’s final two contests. With Chris Bosh also sidelined due to leg fatigue, a B-squad C’s team may be enough to defeat a JV Heat team with nothing to play for.
It will be interesting to see how Doc approaches this stretch with his core guys. The trainers will dictate whether Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen or Mickael Pietrus (I doubt we see the latter two before the playoffs) will see the floor, but with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, I have a hard time seeing them both sit out after five days of rest. Sitting out a week and a half doesn’t seem to be ideal for either guy as far as rust purposes go. Having both guys going through a limited workload (think 15-20 minutes before being shut down in second half) should be enough for Boston in one or perhaps both of these upcoming contests if Doc and company are actually pursuing home court edge in the first round.
Meanwhile, Atlanta still has to drop at least one game in order for the Celtics to have a shot at catching them. And while two games at home await, those contests will be against opponents still jockeying for playoff position. The Clippers are duking it out for the third seed with their cross-city rivals, so it’s unlikely they will relinquish the chance to avoid a first round matchup with the dangerous Grizzlies.
To the same effect, Dallas is still in the running for the sixth seed in the Western Conference, a pretty enticing spot considering it will enable them to avoid a first round showdown with the Thunder or Spurs. Dallas currently stands a 1/2 game behind the Nuggets (who have two games left to play) but the Mavs own the tiebreaker, so there will be something for them to play for against the Hawks Thursday no matter what happens before then. Combine that, with a full four days of rest for Dallas before that contest (they played last Saturday night in Chicago) and I get the feeling Dallas will have a full roster ready for action at Phillips Arena.
Put all of these circumstances together and I’d say there is better than a 50-50 chance that the Hawks lose one of these two games against motivated opposition. 0-2 is not out of the question for Atlanta either. The door is still open for Boston to swoop in for home court advantage in the first round and if it doesn’t cost the roster anything major in terms of health and rest, it’s hard not to see Doc playing Pierce and Garnett just enough to ensure a couple wins.