BOSTON -- Conventional wisdom tells you that the Boston Celtics would come out of the All-Star break focused on getting as high up in the standings as possible heading into the playoffs.
Now the owners of a four-game losing streak, the longest such streak for them this season, the calculus for success has to be tweaked a bit.
Boston (37-25) seems to be firmly entrenched in the No. 5 spot, although their recent string of defeats as them now closer to the eighth seed (just 8.5 games ahead of Charlotte) than the top-seed Milwaukee Bucks who now have a 10 game lead over Boston.
Instead of necessarily racking up wins, the focus for the Celtics now has to shift towards simply playing better regardless of the outcome, which is why Wednesday’s loss -- while disappointing -- was a step in the right direction as they try to climb their way out of the ditch they have dug for themselves this season.
Because even with 20 games remaining, it’s hard to imagine at this point that they will do enough to move up much in the standings, if at all.
And while it’s certainly not the preferred path going into the postseason, there seems to be an unspoken acceptance of this being a playoffs-or-bust type of season for the Celtics.
“As long as we get there,” said Kyrie Irving following Wednesday night’s 97-92 loss to Portland. “I can’t wait for all this other BS, regular season, keep getting better, talking over and over and over again about what we can do to get better in the regular season. I just want to get to the highest level of playing; that’s what I’m here for.”
Irving has not been coy about his declaration that when the postseason arrives, he and the Celtics will be just fine.
☘️BLAZERS 97, CELTICS 92
While Boston has played some of its best basketball of the season against the top teams in the East, here’s one thing you have to remember.
Boston has a 7-5 record against the top four teams in the East (Milwaukee, Toronto, Indiana and Philadelphia).
Of those seven wins, all but one came at home.
The way Boston has played lately, there’s a good chance that they will begin their postseason journey as the fifth seed and in doing so, not have home court in the first round of the playoffs.
You love Irving’s confidence in the Celtics come playoff time, but reality tells all of us that if they continue playing the way they have of late it won’t matter if they start off at home, on the road, or the middle of Wakanda.
Their postseason journey will be a short one.
There’s no way to look past the importance of the Eastern Conference standings and how they relate to the Celtics (37-25).
Celtics big man Al Horford wants the highest seeding possible for Boston heading into the postseason.
But he knows at this point, the way this team has played, winning games doesn’t mean nearly as much as how they're playing.
“We want to make sure we’re playing really good basketball (heading into the playoffs),” Horford said. “(It means) nothing if we play like this and end up third. I’d rather be playing really good basketball and maybe not be in that position. I just want to make sure our group is playing the best way we can.”
And while the focus may be on how they play, good play by this group has more nights than not, produced the kind of results -- wins -- that the Celtics are seeking.
Which is why there was a sense of encouragement among the players and head coach Brad Stevens following Wednesday's loss.
Stevens acknowledged that the team felt a little better about themselves following their play on Wednesday, but “it doesn’t feel much better because we didn’t win.”
And as far as the team’s playoff position, Stevens isn’t quite ready to look that far down the road … yet.
“We need to stay in the moment, stay in the day,” Stevens said. “That time will come when that time comes and wherever we are (seeding-wise), we’ll play.”
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