As it stands now, the Boston Celtics are 35-19, one game ahead of the Atlanta Hawks for third place in the Eastern Conference. Boston is 6 1/2 games back of Cleveland for first place, and 1 1/2 games behind Orlando for second.
Third place probably isn’t where Boston expected to be at this juncture of the season, with preseason talk spanning from a prediction of 72 wins to the proclamation that Boston wanted its defense to be as stingy as the ’85 Chicago Bears. But as far as the standings go, Boston actually isn’t in a bad spot; the schedule gets far easier from here on. (Boston Globe)
Of the 28 remaining games, 17 come against teams that would not quality for the playoffs if the season ended today, including three each against the Knicks and Bucks and two each against the Pistons and Wizards. This allows the opportunity for the Celtics to make up ground on the Magic and Cavaliers while working on cementing their identity for the playoffs.
Beyond playing mostly sub-.500 teams, Boston will play 17 of their last 28 games at home. In a season that has seen Boston struggle at home while excelling on the road, I still think — hope? — all those home games should be a good thing.
Boston is also done with playing Atlanta (thank God), Orlando, and L.A. They still have three games remaining against King James and the Cavaliers, and one against the Denver Nuggets, but three of those four games are at home. Which, again, is hopefully a good thing.
The Celtics look like they are finally starting to round into shape, and the schedule could make it easier for them to climb back up the standings, perhaps giving them home-court advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs. It will be tough to catch Cleveland, but could be pivotal to avoid the Cavs in the second round and also gain home-court against either the Magic or the Hawks.
But the schedule isn’t the biggest worry, and neither is home-court advantage. Boston has to continue to play with the sense of purpose and teamwork they showed for most of the just-completed four-game road swing. As long as they do that, I’m confident they can make a spirited run at another deep playoff run.