That headline is something none of us expected to read (or write) this season, but it’s true: If the playoffs started tomorrow, your 8-12 Celtics would be the division champions and the 4th seed in the playoffs. I’ll give you a second to get your head around that fact.
Twenty games into the season, it’s pretty safe to say the Celtics aren’t tanking, at least by the strictest definition of the word. That definition, of course, is “intentionally losing games to better one’s odds in the lottery.” The Celtics aren’t intentionally losing games, as evidenced by their insistence on winning losable games (like last night’s 108-100 victory over Milwaukee).
They are, however, benefiting from an easy early schedule. Boston’s eight wins have come against Orlando (twice), Charlotte, Utah, Miami, Atlanta, Cleveland and Milwaukee. Those teams have a combined win-loss record of 40-90. If you remove the Miami game, that record drops to 26-86. That’s not exactly stiff competition.
That’s also why it’s probably not time to panic for either proponents and opponents of the tanking strategy. The Celtics are going to keep trying to win, as they should. Eventually, games against tougher teams will probably knock them out of playoff contention and back into the lottery, where pro-tankers think they should be.
Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald concurs. Here’s Bulpett on Boston’s early season…I guess you’d call it success?
Fortunately for these people, the prescription for their ailment involves no controlled substances or ritual sacrifices. The good doctor advises you to take two months and call him on a February morning.
The Celts have now played just 20 of their 82 games, which, as any fool knows, is just .2439024 of the season. But they’re not the problem. The issue is with the New Yorks and Brooklyns and others who have been playing so horribly below expectation. If the Knicks and Nets are still sleeping with the East River fishes around the All-Star break, then you have our permission to break into a cold sweat.
This seems the most rational, measured take on the current situation. New York and Brooklyn have looked awful early, and we are past blaming everything on a small sample size. The sample size is still small, but trends can be formed in 15-20 games, and we are at that point in the season.
That being said, the Knicks are missing Tyson Chandler, who will almost certainly make a difference (not a franchise-altering difference, but — this season, anyway — a playoff-making difference), and Brooklyn has been without Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Andrei Kirilenko for much of the season. If/when those players return, it seems pretty unlikely that the Celtics will continue to lead the Atlantic Division with a .400 winning percentage.
That’s not to say this batch of Celtics will stop trying, of course.
“If we win, don’t jump on our bandwagon now,” Sullinger said after the team’s Monday practice. “We don’t want wishy-washy fans. As grown men, we play hard and do the best for this team. For everybody else outside the circle, we could care less.”
Basically, we should probably stop the tanking talk. Not because this team is going to be good, necessarily, but because Jared Sullinger sounds like he’s about ready to kill us all if we don’t cut it out.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.