Morning Wrap: Celtics most likely will settle for second
ATLANTA -- The Cleveland Cavaliers, for all their warts and worrisome moments, are still the defending NBA champion.
And they sent a resounding message to the entire Eastern Conference playoff pool with a 114-91 win Wednesday night over the Boston Celtics, who came into tied with the Cavs for the best record in the East.
While it’s still possible for the Celtics to leapfrog their way back into the top spot, it's looking more like they’ll wind up with the No. 2 seed . . . . which isn’t all that bad, considering the injuries, illnesses and inconsistent play that has limited their preferred starting five to just 33 games played together this season.
Even though there’s a lot more clarity to Boston’s postseason position, the same can’t be said for their potential first-round opponent.
Here’s a morning wrap of the usual suspects that constitute the possible first-round opponents whose postseason journey will begin in Boston.
MILWAUKEE (40-38) FIFTH IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
The Bucks have been a stealth success stories in the Eastern Conference this season. They lost Jabari Parker, which came on the heels of not having Khris Middleton for most of the season, and yet here they are in position where they should be able to secure a playoff spot sometime this week. But closing out the season won’t be easy, not with three of their last four on the road. UP NEXT: Tonight at Indiana.
ATLANTA (39-38) SIXTH IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
They have Paul Millsap and will use these last few games of the regular season to get him into some kind of rhythm (they hope) heading into the playoffs. Dennis Schroder (left) is an electrifying player, but he has been the epitome of this Hawks team -- sometimes he’s really hot, other times he’s just horrible. But they have enough talent and experience to at a minimum, but a legit scare into one of the higher seeds come playoff time. UP NEXT: Tonight vs Boston.
CHICAGO (38-40) SEVENTH IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
If the playoffs began today, this is the team Boston would face in the first round. Despite the Bulls being one of the hottest teams in the East, the Celtics should have little trouble putting the Bulls away even with Dwayne Wade’s expected return. Team officials had said earlier it was a season-ending elbow injury, but it magically got better just in time for a playoff push. Funny how that stuff works out. UP NEXT: Tonight at Philadelphia.
MIAMI (38-40) EIGHTH IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
The Heat got a tough, gritty 112-109 win over Charlotte that was a two-fold success. The victory brought them one step closer towards securing a playoff berth while delivering a serious blow to one of their chief competitors in the race to get one of the last remaining playoff spots. It looks like it’ll be a down-to-the-wire finish in determining the last couple of playoff spots this year. UP NEXT: Friday at Toronto.
INDIANA (38-40) NINTH IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
As important as Paul George (left) has been to the Pacers this season, the play of recently signed Lance Stephenson will likely be the X-factor that catapults them to the postseason or brings their playoff hopes to a crashing halt. We saw just how big a difference-maker he could be in Indiana’s 108-90 rout of Toronto earlier this week. UP NEXT: Tonight vs Milwaukee.
CHARLOTTE (36-43) TENTH IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
The Hornets have to win each of their last three games just to have a slim shot at making the playoff bubble. There’s no way to stress how crippling a blow it was to Charlotte’s playoff hopes in losing to the Heat this week. Again, nothing short of a three-game winning streak to close out the season can help them now. UP NEXT: Saturday vs Boston.
DETROIT (35-53) ELEVENTH IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
The Pistons’ playoff hopes should officially end in the next 24-48 hours. The math is simple. Detroit has to win all of their remaining four games, while Chicago, Miami and Indiana must lose all their remaining games along the way. It’s hard to imagine either one of those scenarios happening, which means the Pistons will officially be one of the league’s biggest disappointments this season. UP NEXT: Friday at Houston.