At CelticsHub, we took a look at the battle to avoid the 8th seed back on March 13th. It was a different world back then. The Celtics were rolling, Kevin Garnett was healthy, and the Bucks had put together a nice stretch after acquiring J.J. Redick at the trade deadline. Boston was just 1 1/2 games in front of the upstart Bucks and the Celtics still seemingly had a chance to land anywhere from the 3rd seed to the 8th seed in the East.
Fast forward to three weeks later and the seeding possibilities have changed quite a bit. Back then, we didn’t have tiers of teams in the East (beyond Miami) but now we are seeing some distinct separation.
The Knicks and Pacers have gone on hot streaks to lock up their divisions, as they battle it out now for the 2 and 3 seeds.
Brooklyn, Chicago and Atlanta have all played well above .500 separating themselves from the bottom of the playoff pack. They’ll all fall somewhere between the 4-6 seeds when it’s all said and done.
Meanwhile, the Celtics have fallen into a rut, thanks to a tough schedule and injuries to Garnett and Courtney Lee, causing them to amass a 4-7 record since March 13th. The ugly stretch has ruined their chances of gaining home court advantage for a round, or earn a top six seed. However, it hasn’t all been bad news as the Celtics have received some assistance in the standings from the team directly below them. Yes, the Bucks have been on quite the slide themselves lately too.
In fact, they’ve gone an identical 4-7 since March 13th, meaning the Celtics have incredibly surrendered zero ground to them for the 7th seed despite laying a serious egg over the past few weeks.
Now the real battle begins, though as the standings have tightened up yet again. Can the Celtics hold off the Bucks and avoid the Heat in the first round? Let’s handicap the fight to the finish.
Milwaukee Bucks (36-37) 1.5 Games Behind Boston
Games Remaining: 9 (3 home, 6 road)
Games against teams “playing for something”: 5 (@MIA, @OKC, @ATL, @NYK, vs. DEN)
Bucks own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Celtics (3-1 season series edge)
Schedule Analysis: That final note is the most important one to start with. If the Bucks and Celtics tie at the end of the season, the Bucks get the 7th seed, due to their season series win over Boston. So even though the Celtics lead the Bucks by 1.5 games right now in the standings, that lead is just one game as far as the 7th seed is concerned. Due to this, this race is tighter than it appears at the moment.
Thankfully for the Celtics, the Bucks have a tough slate remaining on a number of fronts. There are several road games, several back-to-backs and five high quality opponents awaiting Milwaukee in the final weeks of the regular season. In even more good news for Celtics fans, all of these playoff teams will still be playing for seeding in some form (in all likelihood) when they play the Bucks, giving them no real incentive to rest their stars. Miami will be fighting for home court advantage throughout the postseason, while Oklahoma City, Denver, New York and Atlanta will all be battling it out for seedings (with the Thunder being the lone possible exception in the regular season finale).
Tough opponents on the road playing for something indicate that the Bucks will be favored to lose these five games. Will they? That remains to be seen, but on paper they should. That’s more than half of their games remaining right there and that could be the difference in the 7th seed race.
The other games? A couple are gimmes with Charlotte on the road and hosting a Raptors squad that is crashing and burning. The Wolves are playing well as the Celtics saw Monday night, so that won’t be a walkover. The Magic on the second half of a back-to-back for the Bucks and that’s not a gimme either, especially when you consider a lot of those guys were traded away by the Bucks last month. They could have revenge on their minds. All things considered, going .500 for the Bucks will be a major victory.
CelticsHub Bucks Projection
Expected wins: vs. MIN, vs. TOR, @ CHA
Tossups: @ ORL, vs. DEN
Expected losses: @ NY, @ MIA, @ ATL, @ OKC
Projected record for Bucks: 4-5
Now let’s take a look at how the Celtics schedule looks the rest of the way.
Boston Celtics (38-36)
Games Remaining: 8 (5 home, 3 road)
Games against teams “playing for something”: 3 (@MIA, vs. BKN, vs. IND)
Thankfully, the most challenging sections of the Celtics schedule are over. Boston is back in town for a four-game homestand starting Wednesday, and the TD Garden has been friendly friendly to the C’s in the post-Rondo era this year as the team has gone 12-2 at home since January 27th. The biggest caveat we have there, is the fact that those two losses came without Kevin Garnett in the lineup.
We don’t know yet when Garnett will return, but given the fact that he’s traveled with the team over the weekend and Doc talked optimistically about his status on Sunday, I think it’s safe to say he should return to the lineup by Sunday. We’ll know more at practice tomorrow, but we’ll hit the two week mark on Friday for his rest.
While it may be tempting to rest him the rest of the way, I think if Garnett is close to 100 percent, the C’s would prefer to avoid the Heat for a couple rounds and earn that 7th seed. In order for Boston to do that, they’ll need Garnett, even against inferior opponents. Still, no matter what KG’s status is, the schedule looks pretty promising for Boston. There are a couple tough home games in there against Brooklyn and Indiana, combined with the never easy road back-to-backs as well. Thankfully, Boston will be playing non-playoff teams both of those nights, so those games should be winnable, if the C’s want them.
Expected wins: vs. DET, vs. CLE, vs. WAS
Tossups: @ ORL, vs. BRK, vs. IND, @ TOR
Expected losses: @ MIA
Projected record Celtics: 4-4
Final Standings Projection
7. Celtics 42-40
8. Bucks 40-42
Final Analysis: Even going with a fairly pessimistic guess at the C’s record in their last eight games, the 7th seed appears safe. If the Celtics go .500 the rest of the way, Milwaukee would have to put together a 6-3 mark to pass them, and based on their schedule, that’s a very tall task. As long as Garnett makes his return as planned and the Celtics remain healthy, they should be able to hold on to the 7th seed, delaying the possibility they’ll see the Miami Heat until the Eastern Conference Finals.
That is of course, if they can get there.