A look at the Celtics’ possible first-round playoff opponents

Boston could face the Wizards, Heat or Bucks, among other teams.

Marcus Morris Jayson Tatum
Celtics forward Marcus Morris leaps into the arms of teammate Jayson Tatum as they celebrate Morris' game-winning 3-point shot against the Thunder. –AP Photo / Charles Krupa

As the postseason quickly approaches, the priority for the Celtics is getting healthy. An avalanche of injuries to Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, and others has put them in a more precarious position than they initially thought they’d find themselves, and it could end up dictating their postseason fate.

That will make the first round even more intriguing, as they try to avoid an upset and advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Celtics are all but locked into the No. 2 seed, as the Raptors have run away with No. 1 and the Cavaliers are well behind Boston in the No. 3 slot.

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The Celtics will likely be up against the Wizards, Heat or Bucks, but there are several possible teams they could play – including the Cavaliers, Pacers, and 76ers. Even the Pistons and Hornets are in the mix, but both are extremely unlikely at this point.

Here’s a look at Boston’s potential first-round opponents:

Cleveland Cavaliers

Believe it or not, there’s still an outside chance the Celtics and Cavaliers will match up in the first round.

LeBron James has made seven-straight NBA Finals, and he’s been a constant producer as the Cavaliers have navigated through a tumultuous regular season. He’s averaging 27.5 points, 9.1 assists, and 8.6 rebounds as of Tuesday, and is once again the centerpiece of Cleveland’s arsenal.

The new-look Cavs also feature Rodney Hood, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance, alongside familiar faces Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and JR Smith.

James-led teams have beaten the Celtics in four consecutive playoff series, including a 4-1 thumping last year. The Cavaliers won the season series 2-1 this year as well.

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers have been one of the NBA’s surprise teams this year, and they’ve done so with Victor Oladipo leading the way. The ultra-quick guard is averaging 23.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.1 assists, and he’s a candidate for the league’s Most Improved Player award.

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The Pacers like to play bully ball down low with Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, but they can also hurt you with snipers Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, and Cory Joseph.

As of Tuesday, the Pacers rank sixth in the league in field-goal percentage (47.3), while the Celtics are first in defensive rating at 101.2.

The teams split four meetings this year, with the Celtics grabbing the first two and the Pacers snatching the more recent games. Oladipo averaged 33.3 points in the three of those games he played in, leading the Pacers in scoring on each occasion.

Washington Wizards

Much like the Celtics, the Wizards have dealt with injuries late in the year. Electric point guard John Wall has been sidelined with a knee injury since January, but a report said he recently returned to full-contact practice.

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In Wall’s absence, shooting guard Bradley Beal has taken the reins of the offense, serving as the primary scorer and distributor. The Wizards still have Otto Porter, Marcin Gortat, and Markieff Morris, and yes, they still have Kelly Oubre, who lives in infamy in Boston after body-slamming Kelly Olynyk in last year’s playoffs.

That semifinal showdown certainly didn’t lack drama, and the Celtics survived in seven games to advance to the conference finals. This year’s Wizards team is similar, but Wall’s health – much like Irving’s – remains a question mark.

The Wizards are 2-1 against the Celtics this season, most recently prevailing in a double-overtime thriller on March 14. The teams meet again, in Washington, on April 10, in the penultimate game of the regular season for both sides.

Philadelphia 76ers

The process is coming to fruition, and the 76ers are well on their way to their first playoff berth since 2011-2012 – when they famously upset the top-seeded Bulls in the first round before falling to the Celtics in seven in the semifinals.

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Ever since then, it’s been a grind for Philly fans, but now they’re finally rounding into form. Joel Embiid (23.2 points, 11.1 rebounds) and Ben Simmons (16 points, 8 assists, and 7.9 rebounds) lead the way for this team, which thrives off dribble penetration and ball movement.

The 76ers are second in the NBA in assist percentage, only behind the Warriors. They also lead the NBA in rebound percentage (52.8), while the Celtics rank 13th (50.4).

Philadelphia is worst in the league in turnover percentage (16.6), while Boston is 14th at 14.1 percent.

The Celtics won the first three meetings this year, but the 76ers stole the most recent one. Philadelphia has averaged 95.3 points in those four games, compared to its season average of 108.5.

Miami Heat

The Heat feature a remarkably balanced attack, with nine players averaging in double figures at various points throughout the season. That number is slightly misleading, though, as Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside are recovering from injuries, and Dion Waiters is gone for the year.

First-time All-Star Goran Dragic leads the Heat with 17.5 points per game, and Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, and Wayne Ellington all shoot over 37 percent from 3. Olynyk, who recently scored 30 points on 11 of 16 shooting in a double-overtime win over the Nuggets, is posting 11.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.

The Heat won two of three regular-season meetings with the Celtics, and a playoff meeting would be the teams’ first since 2012, when the James-led Heat won in seven games.

Milwaukee Bucks

As Giannis Antetokounmpo goes, so go the Bucks. The versatile wing has put up a whopping 27.3 points, 10 rebounds, and 4.8 assists this year, and his Player Impact Estimate on NBA.com is third behind James Harden and James.

Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and Malcolm Brogdon are also key pieces for the Bucks, who are 23-15 at home at 16-19 on the road.

The Bucks are 27th in rebounding percentage (48.1) and 17th in assist percentage (58.2), but they rank third in field-goal percentage (48.0) and fifth in blocked shots (5.4).

The Celtics are 2-1 against Milwaukee this season, and the teams will meet again on April 3. By that point, the playoff picture will likely be a little clearer, but at this moment, the Celtics could meet any of these teams in the first round.