The Celtics’ recent six-game winning streak reframed the conversation around the team and propelled them up in the standings.
Unfortunately, the teams around them have spiked at the same time. The Celtics have won eight of their last 10. So have the Hawks, who hold the tiebreaker and a half-game lead in the standings as of Tuesday evening, and the Knicks — who are just a game behind — have won seven of their last 10.
So can the Celtics claim the No. 4 seed? Potentially.
First, the glass half-empty: The Celtics picked a bad time to snap their six-game winning streak. Monday’s loss could set the Celtics up for a three-game losing streak — their next two games are against the Suns and the Nets. If the Hawks beat the Knicks and/or the Heat in their next two games after Tuesday’s matchup with the Magic, they have a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Celtics.
If the Celtics can split against the Suns and Nets, however (or even win both), the conversation shifts.
Currently, according to Tankathon, the Celtics have the 20th-toughest schedule remaining, while Atlanta is 18th. But the Celtics’ two most difficult games remaining are their next two. They have a pair of contests against the Heat and one each against the Knicks and Blazers, but they also have games against the Timberwolves, Magic, Thunder, Cavaliers, and Bulls. As evidenced by Monday’s game, none of those are certain wins (especially if health issues persist), but the Celtics have played well against inferior teams recently.
The Hawks, meanwhile, have a tough road ahead. They still have two games against the Philadelphia 76ers — who are vying with the Brooklyn Nets for the one seed — as well as contests against the Bucks, Suns, and Blazers.
Even the Hawks’ easy games might not be a cakewalk. They face both the Pacers and Bulls, who are still in contention for the play-in game, and they have two games against the Wizards, who have won seven of their last 10.
The rest of the East is bunched up as well. The Knicks are tied with the Celtics, while the Heat trail by a game. The Celtics really can’t afford to fall off.
But the Knicks have a brutal schedule that includes two games against the Suns and one each against the Clippers and Nuggets. Miami’s fate against the Celtics, meanwhile, could be decided when they face each other back to back on May 9 and 11, and both of those games are in Boston.
The Celtics are more concerned with keeping their players healthy for the postseason, since player availability will play a much bigger role in their success than home-court advantage in the first round.
“We will not prioritize our seed over our players’ health, that’s for sure,” Brad Stevens said in April.
Still, the Celtics would certainly like to stay home for their first series if they can, and they have a chance to do so. If they maintain some semblance of health when Evan Fournier returns, the last 14 games could be a chance for the Celtics to build some momentum down the stretch.
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