The Celtics’ chances of making the postseason may have just received a bit of a boost from an unlikely source: LeBron James.
On Wednesday night, James helped the Cleveland Cavaliers secure the No. 2 overall seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 104-99 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. With the No. 1 seed out of reach for Cleveland thanks to an eight-game advantage built up by the Atlanta Hawks, Wednesday’s victory ensured the Cavs will have nothing to play for in the standings over their final four games of the season.
Two of the team’s remaining four games will be coming against the Celtics, with one matchup on Friday night in Cleveland and an afternoon matinee at the TD Garden on Sunday.ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that James may sit out for both of those contests in order to rest up for the postseason.
Though he made no definitive proclamation, James hinted he might sit the next two games, which both happen to be against the Boston Celtics. “I always like to take 1-2 games off before the postseason and use the time off to get in good form,” James said.
The development could serve as a huge break for the Celtics’ odds of making the postseason. Boston is currently tied for the No. 7 seed in the East with the Brooklyn Nets, with four games left to play. The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers are just one game back of both teams in the standings, making the bottom of East playoff picture highly unpredictable with just a week left in the season.
Out of all the teams jockeying for one of the final two spots in the East playoff race, the Celtics have the toughest schedule remaining of the bunch. However, that slate of games will look a lot less daunting if the Celtics do not have to see James in either head-to-head matchup with the Cavs. Boston will also host Toronto next Tuesday before finishing the regular season in Milwaukee on Wednesday night.
It’s important to note the potential absence of James from the Cavs lineup against the Celtics does not ensure a Boston victory. Cleveland’s supporting cast without James is still a better roster than the Celtics from a talent standpoint, so winning either game will still be a tall task for Brad Stevens and company.
However, it’s possible other Cavs stars like Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving could get some additional rest in these games as well. The Celtics will also be playing with a higher sense of urgency in these contests, which should give them an edge there as well.
In an entertaining twist, LeBron’s decision to rest could hurt his former team, the Heat, more than any other team in the race. LeBron’s absence could also pave the way for a first-round series between the Celtics and Cavs, since Boston will clinch the No. 7 seed if they win out.
ESPN’s playoff odds currently pegs the Celtics a 59.3 percent chance of making the postseason, but that number should go up if James stays true to his word. If so, Boston may get the final break it needs to finish off an improbable run to the playoffs.