Blakely: Celtics tied atop the East, but odds are still not in their favor

Blakely: Celtics tied atop the East, but odds are still not in their favor

BOSTON -- Just when it seemed Boston’s loss to Cleveland doused all hope of the Celtics finishing tops in the Eastern Conference, a recent slump by the Cavs now has Boston in position to regain its spot atop the East in this final week of the season.
A Celtics win over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night will put Boston (51-29) a half-game ahead of the Cavs for the best record in the East.
But that lead has the potential be a short-lived one with the Cavs playing at Miami Monday night and like the Boston-Brooklyn game, the Cavs’ game at Miami also has a 7:30 p.m. start time.
While the Celtics have every reason to keep hope alive that they can wind up with the top seed in the East, the odds are still against them.
Their 114-91 loss to the Cavs last week gave Cleveland the head-to-head series three games to one, which means the Cavs would get the higher seed if these two finished in a tie.
The only way Boston can wind up with the top seed is if they win both of their remaining games and the Cavs split games with Miami and Toronto, or the Celtics split their remaining games against Brooklyn and Milwaukee – both at home – while the Cavs drop games at Miami and at home against the Raptors.
At this point, anything is possible because depending on how things play out in the coming day or two, Toronto might decide to rest its core guys and thus increase the likelihood that Cleveland winds up with the top seed.
The other factor that may come into play is whether the Cavs will even fight for the top seed, or instead decide to rest some of their core guys for the playoffs.
While LeBron James and head coach Tyronn Lue have poo-poo’d on the talk that James needs some rest between now and the playoffs, there’s no way to look past the huge amount of minutes he has been playing lately.
April is usually the month in which the minutes for players like James are cut back or at the very least, remain relatively the same.
But in the month of April, James, who averages 37.8 minutes played per game this season, was up to a league-high 43.2 minutes in Cleveland’s five games this month.
 Not only is he playing more minutes, but he’s doing it with little to no time in between games.
Against the Hawks, James played 47 minutes and that was with him fouling out in overtime.  It was the second of two back-to-back sets of games Cleveland has played this month. And the Hawks’ loss was the first of what will be a three-games-in-four-days stretch for them to close out the season.
Meanwhile, the Celtics have their own set of issues to work through. Specifically, their defense has been hot and cold of late which is the last thing a team wants to see this time of year.
However, Boston has a great chance of finishing out the regular season on a strong note with home games against Brooklyn – the team with the worst record in the NBA – and a Milwaukee Bucks team that, depending on how where they stand playoff seeding wise on April 12, may elect to rest some of their core players as well.
Regardless, the Celtics have set themselves up for what should be a No. 1 or 2 seed when the playoffs start this weekend.

WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

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WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Pelicans in New Orleans. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 5:30  p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

As the NBA trade deadline drew near, Celtics Nation was hoping tonight’s matchup between Boston and New Orleans would be Anthony Davis returning to where his pro career began.

He’s still with the Pelicans, doing what Davis has done for most of his career – dominate play.

But there’s a new twist now … he’s also winning. 

That’s why the 6-foot-10 Davis is no longer seen as a player that might be on the move anytime soon. 

He’s not just one of the league’s best players, but a bonafide MVP candidate whose stock as an elite player is even greater since New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins (ruptured Achilles tendon) for the season on Jan. 26. 

Since Cousins’ season-ending injury, New Orleans (39-30) has a 12-9 record with Davis averaging 31.1 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 2.3 steals per game in that span. 

Davis is also averaging 7.8 free throws per game which ranks fourth in the NBA, although you wouldn’t know he was among the league leaders in that category based on the postgame rant by his coach Alvin Gentry following New Orleans’ 107-101 loss to Houston on Saturday night. 

“A.D. (Anthony Davis) never gets a call,” a visibly angry Gentry told reporters following the loss. “He never gets a call. We talk about them holding him. We talk about them grabbing him on rolls. We talk about them coming under him on post-ups. He never gets a call; not one. And you know why? Because he doesn’t (bleep) complain about it. He just keeps playing the game.”

Regardless of how often he gets to the line, Davis is still putting up MVP-caliber numbers this season in Cousins’ absence. 

But it’s not like Davis’ stat line this season overall – 28.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals – didn’t stand out for all the right reasons, either.

However, Davis’ shine isn’t quite as bright now with the Pelicans losing four of their last five games which has dropped New Orleans (39-30) down to the eighth and final playoff spot and just 1.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers (37-31).

So, the Celtics come into town facing not only one of the better teams in the West, but a club that is absolutely starving for a win.

While Boston (47-22) certainly wants to come into the Big Easy and get a victory, its impact on the Celtics’ playoff hopes is non-existent. 

Boston has the second-best record in the East and trail Toronto (52-17) by five games with 13 remaining. They face the Raptors two more times this season, but even if they win both of those games and thus the head-to-head series, it likely won’t come into play because of Toronto likely finishing with the best record in the East. 

And behind Boston in the standings is Cleveland (40-29), another injury-riddled team that’s seven games behind the Celtics in the standing and has shown no signs of threatening to gain ground on Boston. 

So regardless of how the Celtics fare, it’s likely they will remain sandwiched between Toronto and Cleveland in terms of playoff seedings are concerned. 

And that might factor into who plays – and who doesn’t – for Boston in these final few games of the regular season. 

Boston’s Daniel Theis suffered a season-ending torn meniscus injury in his left knee, and Marcus Smart’s right thumb injury will keep him out for the rest of the regular season with the earliest he might be back being the latter stages of the first round of the playoffs, or sometime during the second round if the Celtics advance that far. 

Boston must also make sure Kyrie Irving and his sore left knee, are good to go for the playoffs. In addition, the Celtics must work Jaylen Brown back into the fold after he suffered a concussion that has kept him out of Boston’s last three games. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has made a point of not allowing himself or his players to use their injury situation as an excuse for not playing good basketball. 

But he knows good basketball for his injury-riddled roster, involves players elevating their play.

“We’re going to be in the process of really looking at ourselves and redistributing responsibility on our team without guys going outside of what they do best,” Stevens said, adding, “We’re going to have to figure out how to play our best basketball.”