With the All-Star break and the trade deadine in the rearview mirror its time to look ahead to the playoffs.
The Celtics are jostling for position in the Eastern Conference and are currently in 7th place. They’re a sold 1.5 games ahead of the 8th place Milwaukee Bucks right now who’ve won two striaght to get to .500 on the season.
The Celtics need to avoid conceding ground to the Bucks at all costs. They want to avoid the 8th spot at all costs. You don’t want to run into the Miami Heat in the first round.
Though the Celtics matchup well defensively with the Heat, you still don’t want to play them. The Heat like to get the ball into the paint and kick it out to the corners for threes the Celtics are 9th in the NBA in taking away corner threes–the most efficient shot in basketball. They only allow 5.1 corner threes per game and opponents only shoot 35.3% on the corner three against the Celtics.
The Heat emphasis three spots on the floor: the elbow area, the corner three spot, and in the restricted area. The Celtics defend all three of those well. Being able to stop the Heat is going to be a task, but the Celtics top 10 defense can do it.
The problem is that the Celtics’ offense is really easy to defend and the Heat take away what they love the most. The Heat have plenty of weaknesses defensively. But that’s because they choose to concede certain things to an offense. They’ll give up midrange jumpshots and allow teams to isolate. The Celtics rarely isolate people, but they are 5th in the league in midrange jump shots per game at 28.2 per game. That plays exactly into what Miami wants on defense.
Another problem here is that Miami likes to pressure the ball. The Celtics don’t have a point guard that will be able to handle that press. While Boston is a good passing team, if the Heat–or any other squad–choose to pressure the ball all the way up the floor the Celtics will be vulnerable to turnovers.
No one has taken that route against the Celtics just yet, but when the playoffs come around coaches take different, unconventional routes. Sure, no one is going to press the ball all the way up the floor in the regular season unless they’re down big. But in the playoffs, they’ll do anything just to win one game. Every single game is crucial at that point.
So where the Celtics want to end up is the 7th seed to face the New York Knicks who currently hold the tiebreaker against the Indiana Pacers for the second seed. If they can’t get a matchup against the Knicks, they’ll want to move up to the 5th or 4th seed to face the Atlanta Hawks or the Brooklyn Nets.
Those teams aren’t the most difficult to defend and the Celtics wouldn’t have too many problems with them. They don’t want to see the Indiana Pacers in the playoffs because of their offensive rebounding prowess. The Celtics have picked it up in rebounding lately, but the Pacers are the most aggressive rebounding team in the league. They also have the best defense in the league to boot. They force things into the middle to Roy Hibbert. They destroy pick and rolls with their bigs and are very forceful in playing passing lanes.
If the Knicks somehow drop down to the 5th seed after conceding two games to Brooklyn, then the Celtics things wouldn’t change with where they want to be.
Its not likely that the Celtics will be able to jump to the 4th or 5th seed from where they are right now. They’re 3.5 games back from either of those spots. If the Knicks or Nets end up getting the thrid seed, the Celtics will need to jump the Bulls to get to the sixth spot. They’re currently 2.5 games behind the Bulls who are only 4-6 in their last 10 games. They haven’t been the hottest team lately so its very possible that this may happen.
The Celtics have one of the easiest schedules left in the league. They’re strength of schedule ranks 18th. Their remaining opponents have a .498 winning percentage right now. They’ll have plenty of opportunity to jump the remaining seeds that they’ll need to jump and get the perfect matchup for themselves against the Knicks or Nets.
The Celtics playoff picture is looking pretty good right now. The 7th or 6th seed would be perfect for them. They can control where they land by playing well and winning the games that they need to win.
Big thanks to NBA.com/stats for their stats