With the NBA Playoffs just one month away the league has been put ‘under the microscope’ for the new playoffs format that has been implemented this season. For those who are unaware of the changes to the NBA’s playoffs schedule, the top six seeds in each conference will be guaranteed a spot. For seeds seven to 10 there will be a ‘play-in tournament’ to decide the final two spots in the actual playoffs bracket.
To begin the ‘play-in’ the seventh seed will match up against the eighth seed. The winner of that game will automatically assume the seventh spot in the actual bracket. The loser of said matchup will face the winner of the game between the ninth and 10th seed. Whoever wins between the loser of the the seventh and eighth seeded game and the winner of the ninth and 10th seeded game will assume the eighth and final spot in the actual bracket.
As it stands in the Eastern Conference right now the Miami Heat are in seventh place. Followed by the Charlotte Hornets in eighth, the Indiana Pacers in ninth and the Washington Wizards in 10th. If the ‘play-in’ began today the Heat would play the Hornets and the Pacers would square off against the Wizards. If the Heat (7) were to beat Charlotte (8) then they would assume the seventh seed. Charlotte (8) would then go on to face the winner of Indiana (9) and Washington (10) to determine who gets the eighth seed. The loser of Indiana (9) and Washington (10) would go home after a single elimination.
With all that being said. The Boston Celtics are currently in sixth place in the East and are one and a half games out of fourth but at the same time, one game out of seventh and having to participate in the ‘play-in.’ Any team would much rather be a top six seed and have a solidified spot in the playoffs. Besides the top three seeds that are the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks, the Celtics are the most talented team left. Of the teams that make-up seeds four to 10 in the East they have the most talent and the most playoff experience.
That playoffs experience could come in handy when facing one of those top three seeds. With 11 games left, seven of those come against teams with a sub .500 record. Five of those 11 games are against teams that make-up the four to 10 seeds in the East. The Celtics are one of the hottest teams in the League right now and having won nine of their last 12 games they are catching fire at the right time. If they can carry this momentum through the final couple of weeks of the regular season and into the playoffs, then there is a serious chance that they can make some noise.
In three of the last four seasons the Celtics have made it to the Conference Finals and did not make it that far to get embarrassed and sent home. They proved that they belong in these high-stakes games and the experiences of having been there could motivate the team’s core of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker to reach yet another Conference Finals.
It would be more of a challenge this year considering Kevin Durant has returned to the hardwood to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn and they both recruited James Harden to join them and form a ‘super-team.’ Not to mention Doc Rivers’s presence as Head Coach in Philadelphia seems to have created a winning mentality amongst stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have been average for their potential this year but a superstar like the ‘Greek Freak’ will always be a problem to deal with. Yet, there are still question marks with all three teams which could open a door for the Celtics.
Health is a major question in Brooklyn. The ‘super team’ has incredible potential and when they play together it shows. But they have played less than 10 games this year as a trio. Philadelphia has been great and when healthy Embiid is an MVP front-runner. Their issue would be whether or not their regular season success under Doc Rivers will translate to the playoffs. Rivers has coached up some talented teams during his time in LA, coaching the Clippers, but that never seemed to turn into a successful playoffs run. For the Bucks, it's whether or not the one man show that is Giannis Antetokounmpo will have the right supporting cast to provide the assistance he needs when it comes to hitting big shots. Taking it to the basket can only work so many times in the slow paced, grind it out style of basketball that is played in the playoffs.
The Celtics are getting healthy at the right time. Their stars are clicking and supplying offensive firepower and they have the experience needed to control a game. Counting the Celtics out and expecting them to crumble under pressure would be a mistake. Do not be surprised if they were to make it to yet another Conference Finals if not the NBA Finals.