Feeling bullish on the Green
Tonight the Celtics take on the Heat in what surprisingly could turn out to be an incredibly important game, despite Boston long-ago having earned a playoff spot and instructed Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe to avoid risking irritation to leg injuries rather than shake off the cobwebs in the season’s final handful of games. The reason: a win tonight would push the C’s a long way toward clinching the two seed in the Eastern Conference, a pretty big prize.
As of today, the two seed will earn home court advantage in the likely second-round series between the Celtics and the Orlando Magic, and a substantially easier first-round match-up than the three seed. The Chicago Bulls, fresh off losing one of their best players, Luol Deng, for the season, currently hold the seven seed. Without Deng, the Bulls should be out of Boston’s way in four games, assuming Chicago can hold off the veteran Detroit Pistons for their current spot. Deng has bothered Paul Pierce with his length in recent contests, and very well could have forced the Celtics to a fifth or sixth game. Now, the Bulls stand no chance whatsoever of causing even a hiccup on Boston or Orlando’s seismograph.
This brings us to tonight’s game against the Heat. With the Philadelphia 76ers breathing down Miami’s neck, Dwayne Wade’s team knows it needs to win out to guarantee itself a bonafied chance at the second round. The 76ers stand just one game behind the T-Mobile endorser’s mediocre bunch of ballplayers. Whoever ends up in the sixth through eighth seeds have little chance at defeating powerhouses from Cleveland, Boston, or Orlando. So earning the fifth seed is equally as important as entering the playoffs with good health.
For the Celtics, this should mean a good game from Miami. Unfortunately, the Celtics also have to travel to Cleveland for their next game, where the Cavs have lost only once all season and threaten to equal an NBA-best 40-1 record on the season at home-one the Celtics set in 1986. The next two games will be challenges, because wily Cleveland will hope to drop Boston down to the three seed in the hopes that Orlando will at least bruise Boston, if not eliminate altogether the Cavs’ top threat to a second trip to the NBA Finals in three years.
After the next two games the road eases up a bit, although the Green still have to travel to Philly to take on those pesky 76ers and host the Wizards on the following night for the last game of the season on April 15. With a superior conference record Boston wins any tiebreaker against Orlando, and with a one-game lead with four games left just needs to win three of four to host Orlando in the second round even should the Magic not lose again this season. As that reality dawns upon the Green, rest assured they’ll not go overboard in resting their best players in the last few games of the year if they know what’s best for them, starting against Miami.
If Boston ends up with a win tonight, just as it did against the Bobcats last week, it’ll be more important than most realize.