2020 NBA Playoffs: Celtics' path more daunting with tournament seeding

2020 NBA Playoffs: Celtics' path more daunting with tournament seeding

The Boston Celtics project to have a daunting playoff path if the NBA is to launch directly into its typical postseason format upon a potential summer restart.

But the possibility of the league testing a 1-16 seeding format could increase the degree of difficulty even further.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has expressed interest in the 1-16 format but has admitted that travel is the biggest impediment in a potential conferences-go-out-the-window format. So as the NBA ponders a single-site reboot to the 2019-20 season, 1-16 playoff seeding is something that Silver could pitch his owners in a season that would already be resuming under unique circumstances.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Celtics news and analysis

Would the Celtics (and other Eastern Conference teams) be on board with that plan?

That vote might hinge on whether the league is planning any additional regular-season games before the playoffs. Some shuffling of the current standings could be advantageous for Boston, if only because the current 1-16 bracket is an absolute bear.

Under the current standings in a 1-16 field, Boston would be the fifth seed and draw the same first-round matchup against Philadelphia as the East-only bracket would deliver. The difference is Round 2 matchups and a possible matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers under the 1-16 format.

In fact, if higher seeds won out, Boston would have to beat the 12th-seeded Sixers, fourth-seeded Clippers, top-seeded Bucks, and second-seeded Lakers to emerge as champions in a 1-16 format. That’s a murderers' row of opponents and the case can be made it would be the four best teams in the entire postseason tournament.

Those four teams have the highest probability of wining the NBA Finals based on FiveThirtyEight’s projections at the time of the season being suspended. The Sixers, Clippers, Bucks and Lakers had a combined 83 percent chance to win the title, according to FiveThirtyEight’s projections, while Boston itself accounted for another 6 percent.

FiveThirtyEight also has a metric called “full-strength rating,” which rates teams based on having all of its top talent available. Sort teams by playoff full-strength rankings and the list goes, 1. Clippers, 2. Lakers, 3. 76ers, 4. Bucks. Boston is sixth with the Rockets one spot in front.

In a typical East-only bracket, the Celtics would swap out the Clippers for the Raptors in Round 2 (again, assuming higher seeds advance). It doesn’t alter Boston’s path all that much considering the Bucks and Lakers would come later, but it's undeniably more desirable to face Kawhi Leonard’s former team than having to deal with him and Paul George on the same Clippers team in Round 2.

Listen and subscribe to the Celtics Talk Podcast:

Ultimately, if the NBA can simply resume games and cobble together a postseason, beggars won’t be choosers. This year’s champion is going to have an asterisk attached, regardless of the format, because of the long break due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 1-16 format might be a bit more agreeable for Boston if a handful of regular season games shifted the standings a bit.

The Celtics were a game behind the Clippers for the fourth-best record when the season paused and teams 11-13 are virtually tied at the moment. Drawing the Pacers instead of the 76ers, or the Nuggets instead of the Clippers, might be a tiny bit more agreeable — at least as we judge teams based on their potential from what we saw earlier in the season.

From an entertainment standpoint, it’s undeniable that the cross-conference matchups could add some tremendous intrigue.

The Celtics and Clippers played two tremendously entertaining games with a total of three overtimes during the regular season. Getting a best-of-seven series in Round 2 would be phenomenal from a viewer’s perspective.

What’s more, if Kyrie Irving were healthy enough to get back on the court, a first-round matchup between the Nets and Lakers would have some extra sizzle. One potential downside: A possible showdown between L.A. teams would require both squads to make the championship round of the 1-16 format instead of just the conference finals in the typical format (and the Lakers get a very agreeable path to that title round).

That this is even a debatable topic is an encouraging sign as the NBA explores ways to simply restart the season and crown a champion.

2020 NBA Restart: How would Celtics fare in playoff series vs. Heat?

2020 NBA Restart: How would Celtics fare in playoff series vs. Heat?

Miami is always a tough opponent come playoff time, but the Boston Celtics have every reason to feel confident they would prevail if the two were to meet in the playoffs in Orlando. 

In their two regular season matchups, the Celtics won both by an average of 13.5 points. 

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Celtics news and analysis

Making the victories even more impressive was Boston playing without some top players, as Marcus Smart (illness) missed the Celtics’ 112-93 win at the TD Garden on Dec. 4 while Jayson Tatum (groin) and Enes Kanter (hip) were both sidelined for the rematch, a 109-101 Celtics win, in Miami on Jan. 28. 

In both wins, Jaylen Brown was the one player the Heat had no answer for containing. After dropping a season-high 31 points on Miami in the first matchup, Brown was just as dominant in the second meeting when he scored 25 points, only to be outshined by Gordon Hayward’s 29. 

For the Celtics, both wins came down to their ability to force Miami into the Jimmy Butler show while limiting the overall impact of those around him.

But the Heat team Boston could see in the playoffs will be better than the squad that the C's faced earlier in the season. Miami has been a notoriously bad three-point shooting team for years. But after the All-Star break, the Heat averaged 15.5 made threes per game, which was fifth-best in the league. And their 40.8 percent shooting on threes after the break was tops in the league. 

The Celtics' starting five has been strong all season, and will look to continue along that path if the two meet up in the playoffs.

For Miami to pull off the upset, look for the Heat’s bench to play a major role. Miami’s second unit averages 41.3 points per game which ranks seventh in the NBA. They would face a Boston squad that’s allowing a league-low 33.6 bench points per game. Part of that strong defense after the break has been Boston’s board work. After the break, they have a rebounding percentage of .510 which ranks ninth in the league, while the Heat’s .496 rebounding percentage ranks 20th. 


A. Sherrod Blakely: Miami is a better team now than it was during either of Boston’s two regular season wins. But Jayson Tatum’s meteoric rise combined with a healthy Kemba Walker will be too much for the Jimmy Butler-led Heat.

Prediction: Celtics in 5 games

Chris Forsberg: The Heat look a little different than the team Boston toppled twice in the regular season and added veteran, playoff-tested experience in Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder. While Jimmy Butler has a penchant for the big stage, he wasn’t able to get a loaded Philly roster out of the second round a year ago.

The task will be even more difficult here and Miami’s younger players will be challenged to maintain their regular-season production. If healthy, the Celtics have more pure talent overall and match up well against Miami’s small-ball ways.

Prediction: Celtics in 5 games

DJ Bean: We've seen Jimmy Butler's numbers drop in the postseason before, and while Bam Adebayo's a stud, they'd have the same problem virtually every team in the East will have: they just don't have the sheer number of stars Boston does. 

Prediction: Celtics in 5 or 6 games

Kara Lawson writes heartfelt tribute to Celtics after landing Duke job

Kara Lawson writes heartfelt tribute to Celtics after landing Duke job

Kara Lawson was only on the Celtics' coaching staff for one season, but it was clearly a special experience both for her and the team.

On Sunday, C's head coach Brad Stevens and some of the Celtics players both congratulated Lawson on her new job as head coach of the women's basketball team at Duke and described how much of an impact she made in her limited time in Boston.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Celtics news and analysis

Marcus Smart was effusive in his praise for the former Olympic gold medalist, saying, "she became more than just my shooting coach, she became a longtime friend and somebody I know I can talk to if I ever need advice.”

On Wednesday morning, it was Lawson's turn to express her appreciation for the Celtics in an emotional social media post, writing, "These men have changed my life. I have loved my time with the Boston Celtics. Our players are authentic, intelligent, creative and passionate men. They motivated me every day to be my best for them."

View this post on Instagram

It’s been an emotional few days for me. And, while I couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity in front of me at Duke University, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the team I’m leaving behind. These men have changed my life. I have loved my time with the Boston Celtics. Our players are authentic, intelligent, creative and passionate men. They motivated me every day to be my best for them. They surprised me last night by all wearing @DukeWBB T-shirts for an incredible show of support before I head to Durham. I cried. They would probably laugh and tell you I’ve cried a lot these last few days but I will tell you having relationships with players that move you to those kinds of emotions is the most meaningful pursuit one can have as a coach. I love them and I will miss them.

A post shared by Kara Lawson (@20karalawson) on

Seeing the entire C's contingent decked out in Duke women's basketball shirts makes you realize the genuine affection and appreciation the players built for Lawson in such a short time — and it's no surprise that Jayson Tatum is front and center in the picture as Lawson heads to Durham.

Enes Kanter, always a consistent presence on social media, summed up the photo with a perfect one-word caption: FAMILY.

With Lawson leaving the Orlando bubble, the Celtics are replacing her on the traveling coaching staff with Brandon Bailey, who is also in his first season as a Celtics assistant.