With only 20 games remaining to play and five games to make up in the standings, the idea of the Celtics catching the New York Knicks is a daunting proposition for even the most optimistic of Celtic fans out there. Hollinger’s playoff odds currently gives the Celtics a 9.4 percent chance of winning the Atlantic Division crown for the seventh straight season.
However, with the Knicks recent injury woes to Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, combined with a challenging schedule remaining for the team in the Big Apple, I feel like the division question is still worth exploring. If nothing else, that 9.4 percent means there is still a possibility and I’ll let the immortal Lloyd Christmas take things from there.
20 games remaining (10 home, 10 road)
Games vs. playoff teams: 8
That my friends is what you call a favorable slate. The Celtics still have a looming three-game road trip throughout the Western Conference that won’t be easy next week (@ New Orleans, @ Dallas, @ Memphis) but after that, things soften up quite a bit. There are a couple games against tough opponents mixed in (hello Heat, Pacers), but two of those three games come in the last week of the season.
By then, Miami and Indiana could have the top two seeds wrapped up, so the top guns on both rosters may be getting some strategic rest or at the very least, may not be giving 100 percent effort. That will help the Celtics.
With a healthy diet of Minnesota, Charlotte, Toronto, Orlando, Cleveland, Detroit, etc. mixed into the rest of the slate, the Celtics could be looking pretty if they take care of business.
The Celtics are still very capable of losing to all of the teams just listed, but in the rest 20 games, they are winning the games they are supposed to win for the first sustain stretch all season. I don’t see that changing in the next month. Very few back-to-backs also helps as well lessen that possibility.
The other important part of the C’s schedule? Two head-to-head matchups with the Knicks (one home, one road). Goes within saying, the C’s will need to sweep both in order to have any chance, but they are fully capable of doing so against a potentially shorthanded New York squad.
New York Knicks
22 games remaining (9 home, 13 road)
Games against playoff teams: 14
Whoa boy, that’s not a fun setup at all. Lots of games on the road, lots against playoff teams and plenty of back-to-backs for an old and injury-plagued team? Yikes. Where’s the panic button?
We’ll find out a lot pretty quickly with this crew as the Knicks start a five-game west coast swing tonight in Golden State. Four of those games are on back-to-backs. The Knicks could go 3-2 on this, but they could just as easily go 0-5 or 1-4.
There are winnable games (Golden State, Utah, Portland) and nearly certain losses (Clippers, Nuggets). All of those winnable games though come against teams in the playoff race that have tough arenas to win in however. I’m not saying the Knicks will come up empty in those, but let’s just say New Yorkers better hope J.R. Smith isn’t partying this week.
It doesn’t get too much easier after this week for Mike Woodson’s crew. April is especially tough with trips to Miami, Atlanta, Oklahoma City and Chicago looming. All things considered, going .500 the rest of the way would be a victory for NY, but even that might be asking too much when you factor in the back-to-backs.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN FOR BOSTON TO CATCH THE KNICKS?
So let’s give the Knicks the benefit of the doubt here and say they find a way to go 11-11 (no sure thing). The Celtics would need to go 15-5 in the final month in order to catch them. Can they do that?
Based on their schedule, yes they can. Would they be favored to? Probably not, but even when you factor in losses to Miami in both games, losing to Memphis and Dallas on road and one other wildcard loss (at home or on road to bad team) the C’s would be able to go 15-5. That would only be enough if they beat the Knicks twice, but that’s certainly not a far-fetched scenario.
15-5 may be asking too much from Boston, but remember we’re being optimistic about the Knicks going 11-11 as well with their schedule. Boston could do a game or two worse, but so could New York. I’d actually be surprised and impressed if the Knicks finished that well.
We’re forgetting about one other wildcard here though. Brooklyn
Oh right, that other team that is 2 ½ games ahead of the C’s in the standings. Boston would have to leapfrog them to in order to catch the Knicks. Let’s see how their schedule is looking the rest of the way.
Brooklyn Nets (7 home, 12 away)
19 games remaining
Games vs. playoff teams: 8
Definitely a much more favorable slate than the Knicks as far as opponents go, but still that’s a lot of road games remaining. In fact, Brooklyn still has an eight-game road trip remaining, which features several prominent Western Conference squads.
They’ll go over .500, but I don’t think they can do too much better than that with so many roadies. Let’s peg them at 11-8, a reasonable prediction.
Assuming the Celtics are able to go at least 14-6 the remainder of the way (including beating the Nets at home in the Garden), that will be enough to leapfrog Brooklyn as well. Again, that’s no sure thing, but still a distinct possibility.
When you factor in schedules, injuries, and the way each of these teams have been playing, I believe the Celtics odds of winning the division are much higher than nine percent. A lot of it will ride on the head-to-head matchups. Boston needs to beat both New York and Brooklyn in all of those division games the rest of the way to have a real shot.
If they do though, the rest of the schedule lines up nicely for the possibility. You know Doc Rivers loves home court, but also will want to give Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett some rest over the remainder of the year to be fresh for the postseason.
Going 14-6 or 15-5 seems like a tall order when you factor those games not playing games here and there, but if Doc picks his spots right, it’s doable. In fact, I’d put it closer to a 50-50 proposition at this point, that the C’s end the season playing .700 ball.
Boston’s shot at the division could end quickly with a successful Knicks road trip at this point, but if they are tripped up out west, Boston will be lying in the weeds, ready to pounce on an opening for another Atlantic Division crown.