Celtics – Timberwolves Preview: Mission, Playoffs?


The Boston Celtics are 3-2 on their current West Coast road trip, and have climbed to within two games of a playoff spot.  In my Celtics – Timberwolves preview, I wonder if making the playoffs should be a goal for this young team.

The Boston Celtics head into Minnesota tonight to play the sixth and final game of its West Coast road trip, and while the team’s mission is to try to finish this six-game stretch of games with a winning record, it bears asking: should the Celtics’ long-term goal be to make the playoffs this season?

Let’s start by looking at the short-term goal: with a 3-2 record so far this trip, the Celtics are guaranteed to emerge from its longest road trip of the season with at least a .500 record.  That is no small feat, considering how terrible the Celtics were on the road against Western Conference teams last season . . . but if the Celtics lose tonight and finish the trip 3-3, you would have to look at that as a missed opportunity.

After all, the Timberwolves have the worst record in the NBA (7-37), own the 22nd-ranked offense in the league (97.3 PPG), own the second-worst +/- differential (-9.9), have the fifth-worst field goal percentage (43.4%) . . . you get the picture: Minnesota stinks.*

*The team, not the state.  I like Minnesota, mostly because I like hockey.

So if Boston cannot take care of business against the Timberwolves and put the finishing touches on  4-2 road trip, that will be extremely disappointing.  I really hope to see a focused and determined Boston Celtics team right from the tip-off, then, because it’s games like these that a young team needs to learn how to win if it ever hopes to be playoff-bound.

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Which leads me to Boston’s next goal: making the playoffs.  Forget what Danny Ainge and the front office want (although, to be honest, with the amount of draft picks this team can start offering to teams, the 2015 NBA Draft might not winding up being an integral part of this rebuild): I firmly believe that the players on the Celtics’ roster not only want to make the playoffs, but absolutely would benefit from being able to do so.

For starters, the earlier players such as Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart and James Young experience the playoffs – the atmosphere, the intensity being ramped up 100-fold, the different style of play – the better off they will be.  Not only will tasting the postseason make them hungrier to get back, but the experience will forever change how they perceive their perceptions of what it takes to win.  It’s one thing to say you want to win, and to say you will work to achieve that goal, versus actually knowing HOW to win, and what it takes to actually get there.

Besides, the Eastern Conference is bad.  Like, Minnesota Timberwolves bad, at least compared to the Western Conference.  If Boston sneaks in as the eighth seed in the East, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be a lock to lose in the first round.  Yes, I know the odds are slim, and no one is trying to argue that this team will shock the world by making it to the NBA Finals, but if this roster can go on the road and hang with the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors for most of a road game, who is to say the Celtics could not win a handful of games in the playoffs against Eastern team?  Just think of the confidence boost the young studs would get, knowing that they not only made it in, but proved they could hang with those teams.

When it’s all said and done, I have to agree with my fellow editor Bobby Krivitsky when he writes that it is far more important for the Celtics to get better this season than it is to shoot for a high draft pick.   The incoming draft class is not super strong to begin with, and if Trader Danny can parlay some draft picks into a few trades that bring talented players into Beantown, missing out on a top-ten draft pick in 2015 won’t matter at all.   The playoffs might wind up being slightly out of reach for this team, but since the team is only two games behind the 8th-seeded Charlotte Bobcats, I say, “What the hell!”  Why not take a shot?

Tonight’s game tips off at 8 p.m. and can be seen on CSN HD and NBA League Pass.  Follow us at @houdiniceltics on Twitter and check in later for Joshua’s three stars and Shawn’s post-game thoughts!

Next: End of Long Road Trip Presents an Opportunity for James Young