There is just one day remaining in the NBA regular season, and the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference is still a big mess.
The top two teams in the East (Cleveland and Toronto) are locked into first-round matchups with the Pistons and Pacers respectively, but the remaining four seeds are entirely up for grabs. The Celtics are right in the middle of that battle, even though they squandered away any chance at the No. 3 seed following Monday’s 114-100 loss to the Hornets.
With just one game remaining against the Heat on Wednesday night, the Celtics can still land anywhere from the fourth seed to the sixth seed, as they jockey with the Hawks, Heat and Hornets for those spots. What needs to happen for the Celtics to finish in those positions? Let’s examine all of the possibilities in play, with an assist from the NBA tiebreaker rules.
3. Hawks (48-33)
4. Heat (48-33)
5. Celtics (47-34)
6. Hornets (47-34)
Atlanta: @ Washington (WED)
Boston: vs. Miami (WED)
Miami: @ Boston (WED)
Charlotte: vs. Orlando (WED)
Celtics over Heat (2-0)
Celtics over Hornets (2-1)
Hawks over Celtics (3-1)
Hawks over Hornets (3-1)
Heat over Hornets (2-2, but Heat wins since it holds better division record)
Heat over Hawks (3-1)
Celtics finish with No. 4 seed and homecourt advantage if:
• Celtics beat Heat and Hawks beat Wizards
Overview: Any win by the Celtics on Wednesday would guarantee the No. 4 spot if the Hawks take care of business on the road against the Wizards. In this scenario, Boston would finish in a tie with the Heat and potentially the Hornets as well, but the Celtics own the head-to-head tiebreakers over both those squads. If the Celtics do manage to finish with the fourth seed, they can only face the Heat or Hornets in the No. 5 spot.
Celtics finish with No. 5 seed if any of these scenarios occur:
• Celtics beat Heat and Hawks lose to Wizards
• Celtics lose to Heat and Hornets lose to Magic
Overview: A win over Miami combined with a Hawks loss would put the Celtics in a three or four-way tie with the Hawks, Heat and Hornets for the No. 3 seed. In that case, Miami and Atlanta would take the tiebreaker over Boston due to Miami winning the Southeast Division (deciding tiebreaker) and Atlanta would take the No. 4 spot 0ver Boston via the head-to-head tiebreaker.
A loss on Wednesday to Miami would lock Boston into the fifth-seed if it finishes tied with Charlotte in the standings. The Hornets losing to the Magic in their own season finale is the only way that two-way tie occurs (Boston owns tiebreaker).
Celtics finish with No. 6 seed if:
• Celtics lose to Heat and Hornets beat Magic
Overview: This is the mostly likely possibility if Boston loses on Wednesday night. Orlando has nothing to play for but pride against Charlotte, so the Hornets will be heavily favored in that game. From this position, the Celtics would open up on the road against either the Heat or Hawks in the first round, depending on how both of those teams finish.