Morning wrap: C's back on top, no foolin'
Morning wrap: Celtics back on top in East, no foolin'
BOSTON – If I told you a few weeks ago that the Celtics would be in first place this morning, Celtics Nation surely would have saw it as some cruel April Fools' Day joke.
But here we are on the first day of April, and there are the Celtics (49-27) in sole possession of first place in the East with Cleveland (48-27) on their heels.
They continue to say publicly that they don’t care about the top overall seed and that they’re not worried about Cleveland or any other opponent that may cross their path later this month when the playoffs start.
While they may not be focusing on those other teams, there’s no getting around Boston is paying attention to the roller coaster of success and struggles experienced by other teams, including those not on the remainder of their schedule.
Because as much as focusing on themselves is indeed a benefit, Boston’s postseason mortality will be heavily influenced by whoever they are slated to match up against in the playoffs.
We saw last year when Boston finished in a four-way tie for third in the East and wound up with the No. 5 seed after tie-breaking procedures kicked in. The Celtics were left to face the Atlanta Hawks who were by far the toughest draw they could have received among the tied teams.
To Boston’s credit, the Celtics are doing what they need to do in order to best position themselves from having their postseason starting point left in the hands of anyone but themselves.
The same can not be said for most of the East, which still has a number of teams still trying to secure a postseason berth.
Here’s a morning wrap of the teams that, for now at least, are most likely to begin their postseason in Boston against the Celtics:
MILWAUKEE (40-36), FIFTH IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
As we near the end of the regular season, the Bucks are looking less likely as a first-round foe for Boston. You would be hard-pressed to find another team playing better basketball at both ends of the floor than the Bucks are right now. They have an elite star in Giannis Antetokounmpo with a roster that’s long on length and – for now at least – seemed to have figured how to use it effectively. UP NEXT: Sunday vs Dallas.
ATLANTA (39-36), SIXTH
The Hawks are one of the more dangerous teams who are going to be a better tougher playoff foe than they are down the stretch. Paul Millsap is inching closer to a return after missing the past seven games. And they will need him in these final days of the season with four of their remaining seven games against teams with an above-.500 record, and only one of those games at home. And that game? It’s against Boston. UP NEXT: Tonight at Chicago.
MIAMI (37-39), SEVENTH
One of the toughest schedules to close out the season among teams in the East, holding on to one of the last two playoff spots will be challenging for the Heat. For them to be where they are after a disastrous 11-30 start, says a lot about this team’s resiliency, as well as their coach Erik Spoelstra, who should be on everyone’s top three list for coach of the year. UP NEXT: Sunday vs Denver.
INDIANA (37-39), EIGHTH
Losers of three in a row, this has to be the team among the top eight most likely to not make the playoffs. Paul George has elevated his game of late, but he’s not getting the kind of steady contributions needed to win. Adding Lance Stephenson at this point can’t hurt; in fact, he could become the X-factor they need in order to get over the hump and hold on to one of last playoff slots. UP NEXT: Sunday at Cleveland.
CHICAGO (36-39), NINTH
Every now and then, staying in the moment can leave you blindsided to the reality of what’s about to happen. Like so many folks, I was all ready to write off the Bulls because of what I saw in front of me. But then I took a peek at their schedule after they beat Cleveland. As much of a hot mess they have been this season, as much as they’ll miss Dwyane Wade (elbow), they’re getting into the playoffs. Closing out the season with six games against teams already eliminated from the playoffs? You can’t ask for a better end-of-the-season schedule than that. UP NEXT: Tonight vs Atlanta.
CHARLOTTE (35-41), 10TH
The Hornets are on the outside of the playoff bubble looking in, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. They’re only two games back of Indiana for the eighth seed. And while they are playing better (6-4 in past 10 games), their schedule down the stretch doesn’t do them any favors with five of their final six games against above-.500 teams, four of which are on the road. UP NEXT: Sunday at Oklahoma City.
DETROIT (35-42) 11TH
Talk about limping to the finish line. The Pistons have lost six of their past seven, and the one win was a 90-89 nail-biter at home over Brooklyn – the worst team in the East. At this point, it’s not about schedule. It’s not about who is healthy or not. It’s about playing good basketball, something the Pistons have not done enough of this season. And with them being 2.5 games back of the eighth playoff spot with just five games to play, too many things have to go their way which as we’ve seen, is unlikely based on how their season has played out thus far. UP NEXT: Wednesday vs Toronto.