Celtics Blog

What Are the Celtics’ Actual Chances of Making the Postseason? Breaking Down The East Playoff Race

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On Monday night, the Celtics climbed their way back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture with a convincing 108-89 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. Boston’s fifth straight win pulled them into a three-way tie with the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers for the seventh seed in the East. The Charlotte Hornets loom closely behind that trio of teams, one half-game back in the standings.

7. Indiana 30-36
7. Miami 30-36
7. Boston 30-36
10. Charlotte 29-36
11. Brooklyn 27-38

While the playoff race is heating up with just 16 games remaining in the regular season, Brad Stevens insists his guys aren’t paying close attention to it.

“I don’t know. I haven’t heard them talk about [the playoff race] once,” Stevens said after Monday’s win. “I’m dead serious. I mean, we’ve talked about it, we’ve seen the standings, like you see it but I don’t hear it. I have not hear them say whoever Miami’s playing today, or who’s Charlotte playing today? They haven’t talked about it around me”

While the Celtics roster might not be openly talking about the postseason just yet, that’s not the case here. It’s a crowded field of teams competing for the final two playoff berths in the East and that race is likely to come down to the last week of the regular season in April.

The Celtics are riding plenty of momentum right now, but will they be able to keep pace with the other squads? Let’s take a look at the remaining schedules over the next few weeks to determine whether the Celtics have the inside track.

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Celtics (30-36)
Games remaining: 16 (Home: 7 Away: 9)
Back-to-backs: 4
Games vs. teams “fighting” for playoff spots or positioning: 13
Games against .500+ teams: 9
Key remaining games: vs MIL (2), vs. IND, vs. MIA, @ CHA, @ BKN

Analysis: Outside of a couple potential walkovers against the Knicks and Pistons, the Celtics have to fight through a fairly daunting schedule to make the postseason. They have only three games remaining against the West, but those all come against playoff teams (@ OKC, @ SA, vs. LAC). Beyond that, it’s a steady diet of Eastern Conference playoff and near-playoff teams, including home-and-homes against the Toronto, Cleveland and Milwaukee.

The good news? The Celtics will largely be in control of their own destiny since they will have head-to-head matchups against every team left in the playoff race. Postseason tiebreakers will be on the line in matchups against Indiana, Miami, Charlotte and Brooklyn. Boston can afford to scuffle a little bit in their games against elite teams if they take care of business against direct competitors in the playoff race. A finish over the .500 mark is no sure thing, but likely will be necessary if the Celtics want to hold onto their spot.

Pacers (30-36)
Games remaining: 16 (Home: 7 Away: 9)
Back-to-backs: 4
Games vs. teams “fighting” for playoff spots or positioning: 14
Games against .500+ teams: 9
Key remaining games: vs. BKN (2), @ BOS, vs. MIA, vs. CHA

Analysis: The Pacers were the hottest team in the NBA before the Celtics put a stop to their seven-game winning streak on Saturday night. A look below the surface shows that Indy’s strong recent stretch was more a byproduct of a soft schedule than anything else.

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The other side of the coin comes in the next couple of weeks, as six of the team’s seven remaining opponents in March are playoff teams. That slate of games includes road trips to Chicago, Cleveland, and Washington, with visits from Houston and Dallas mixed in. Things lighten up in April, but with Paul George’s status still up in the air, it’s clear that the Pacers won’t be running away from the pack in this race. The Celtics have a slight edge here.

Heat (30-36)
Games remaining: 16 (Home: 8 Away: 8)
Back-to-backs: 2
Games vs. teams “fighting” for playoff spots or positioning: 11
Games against .500+ teams: 8
Key remaining games: @ BOS, @ IND, vs. CHA, @ MIL

Analysis: Judging from the schedule, the Heat have the inside track on the seventh seed at this point. Miami ends the regular season with a pair of pushovers in Orlando and Philadelphia and also face the reeling Pistons twice this month. A pair of long road trips remain (four games next week, three in early April), but the overall toughness of the schedule is a notch below both the Celtics and Pacers on a nightly basis.

The bad news for the Heat? All of their remaining head-to-head battles with the Celtics and Pacers come on the road, putting them in danger of losing some key tiebreakers.

Hornets (29-36)
Games remaining: 17 (Home: 7 Away: 10)
Back-to-backs: 6
Games vs. teams “fighting” for playoff spots or positioning: 12
Games against .500+ teams: 8
Key remaining games: vs. BOS, @ IND, @ MIA, vs. ATL (2)

Analysis: The Hornets have been quite miserable on the road this season (13-18), so the fact they have 10 road games remaining is quite daunting. The six back-to-backs will do them no favors either especially since a couple of them will be coming on a Western Conference road swing this week. The overall strength of schedule is on par with Indiana and the Celtics, but the heavy volume may force the Hornets out of the race.

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Final thoughts: The bottom line here is no team will have a cakewalk into Eastern Conference playoffs, but the Celtics are positioned no worse than any other team outside of the Heat. After going 14-6 in their past 20 games, the Celtics are simply playing the best basketball out of anyone in this group right now. If that trend continues in the next month, the Celtics have a better than 50-50 shot of getting the job done.

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