Morning wrap: Down to wire for 1st-round opponent
BOSTON – The sun rose this morning and the Celtics are once again tops in the Eastern Conference, courtesy of their win over a scrappy Brooklyn team coupled with Cleveland’s overtime loss at Miami.
There is a very strong sense that Boston’s ascension will render a similar outcome to what happened with the Atlanta Hawks a couple years ago when they finished with the best record in the East despite most believing that the Cleveland Cavaliers were the best team in the East.
The two met up in the Conference finals, and the Hawks were swept, 4-0.
Despite the impressive record (52-29), getting that far might be a bit of a reach for the Celtics, depending upon the matchups.
And while most teams have one or two regular-season games remaining, there’s still a considerable amount of juggling going on in the East for playoff seedings.
By virtue of Milwaukee’s 89-79 win over Charlotte on Monday, the Bucks will be either the fifth or sixth seed in the playoffs, which means there’s no way the Celtics will see them in the first round.
Here’s a look at the Celtics’ possible first-round foes and where they stand in these last few hours of the regular season:
ATLANTA (42-38) FIFTH IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
The Hawks would have to lose their final two games while Milwaukee and Indiana would each have to win their regular-season finale, in order for Atlanta to fall to the No. 7 spot, where they could potentially meet the Celtics, who will be seeded No. 1 or 2 overall in the East. There’s a short list of teams the Celtics wouldn’t want to see in the first round, a list that includes the Hawks. UP NEXT: Tonight vs Charlotte.
INDIANA (41-40) SEVENTH
Riding a four-game winning streak, the Pacers are doing all they can to move up in the playoff picture. Indiana needs a win and a loss by either Chicago or Miami to secure a playoff spot which won’t be decided until the final day of the season. UP NEXT: Wednesday vs Atlanta.
CHICAGO (40-41) EIGHTH
Beating the team with the worst record in the NBA, at home, is all that stands between the Chicago Bulls getting into the playoffs. It’s hard to imagine the Bulls screwing this up but hey, stranger things have happened. And remember, one of the keys to their resurgence of late has been ex-Celtic Rajon Rondo, who has a wrist injury that has kept him sidelined for the past three games and could linger into the postseason if the Bulls get in. UP NEXT: Wednesday vs Brooklyn.
MIAMI (40-41) NINTH
The way this team has fought so hard to be in position to be a playoff contender after an 11-30 start, it just doesn’t seem right that their playoff fate will likely be determined by a tiebreaker. While there are many scenarios that can play out via tiebreakers involving the Heat, most of them are favorable to Miami. The Heat get in with a win in the regular-season finale AND have Chicago or Indiana lose their regular-season finales. The Heat could also get in by winning their game, the Bulls beating the Nets and the Pacers losing their finale, which would create a three-team tie for the last two playoff spots that would go to Chicago and Miami. Also, they face a Washington team that’s locked in as the No. 4 seed so there’s literally nothing for the Wizards to gain other than potentially notching their 50th win of the season. UP NEXT: Wednesday vs Washington.