Boston Celtics need to be careful when it comes to playoff seeding

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Celtics continue to roll right on towards the playoffs. It seems absurd to think that this team actually had a sub .500 record of 18-21 at one point this season, but here they are just a few months later, sitting well above .500 with a 45-28 record.

That record is good for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, although they are techinically tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for third place. If both teams win their respective games tonight (Boston plays the Utah Jazz, Philly plays the Los Angeles Lakers) that would result in a three-way tie for second place with the Milwaukee Bucks, who have the night off. It’s been a tight race at the top of the East all season long, and that has not changed down the stretch here.

Naturally, everyone has their eyes on the still attainable number one seed, which is currently being held by the Miami Heat. But this season may be different. While the Heat will probably gladly hold onto the top seed, there isn’t going to be the same commotion for that spot like there usually is. In fact, the second seed may not be all that desirable either.

As the regular season winds down and playoff seeding becomes more important, the Celtics are going to need to do a little balancing act to ensure they get the best possible seed heading into the playoffs. But what does that path look like? While it may be a bit early considering there are still a decent amount of games left, let’s take a look at what spot Boston should be aiming to get when it comes to playoff seeding this season.

The Boston Celtics may want to stay right where they are in the Eastern Conference standings

For the most part, the 10 teams that are currently set to represent the Eastern Conference in the playoffs (which includes the Play-In Tournament) probably aren’t going to change. Unless the Washington Wizards somehow erase a 5.5 game deficit on the Atlanta Hawks over these final few games, things aren’t going to change. The seeding of those teams is very much up for grabs however.

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If the season ended today, the C’s would have a matchup with the Chicago Bulls, while also having home-court advantage for that series. The Bulls have been fading fast recently after sitting a top the East for most of the season, and that wouldn’t be the worst matchup ever. As the Bulls now sit 2.5 games behind Boston, and with both teams seemingly heading in opposite directions, it seems safe to expect the Celtics to only be as low as the fourth seed heading into the playoffs.

That’s a huge win for the Boston Celtics, as finishing as low as fourth place would ensure they would have home court advantage for at least the first round, regardless of who they face. That cannot be overstated, especially considering how good the Boston Celtics have been recently. Any team that plays them in the playoffs is going to have a tall task ahead of them, but giving the C’s home court advantage makes it ten times more difficult.

Now I know the next logical question is going to be why settle for fourth place? Why not try to move up the standings and get home court for the second round, or maybe even all the way through the playoffs as the one seed? While that’s the logical thought process, it’s not exactly that simple this season.

The problem is the Brooklyn Nets. We all know the story of their struggles this season, with Kyrie Irving not being able to play home games, Kevin Durant missing a long stretch of the season with injury, and the blockbuster James Harden/Ben Simmons trade. Not much has gone right for Brooklyn in the regular season, and they are currently in line for a Play-In spot at eighth place in the East.

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With Irving returning to play away games, and Simmons gearing up for a return, the Nets are going to be a problem in the postseason. Playing them early on in the playoffs isn’t exactly what you are going to want, but right now, that might just be what the number one or two seed is up against.

For those not familiar with the Play-In Tournament seeding, don’t kick yourselves; it’s a bit confusing. Basically, the #7 and #8 seeds in each conference will play a game against each, as will the #9 and #10 seeds. The winner of the 7-8 game will become the #7 seed, and will play against the #2 seed in the first round. The loser of that game plays the winner of the 9-10 game, and the winner of that contest becomes the #8 seed, playing the #1 seed in the first round.

What this means is that as of right now, the Nets would be set to play the Toronto Raptors in that 7-8 game. The Nets would be away, meaning that Irving would be available, and the Nets would most likely win, meaning the #2 seed would be playing one of the toughest teams in the East right off the bat.

The Nets could also lose that game but win the next one to earn the #8 seed, meaning the #1 seed would have to play them. There’s also the possibility that the Nets move up or down the standings between now and the end of the season, only adding to the chaos. The goal is to avoid them in the early going, and let someone else have to deal with them in the first round.

Another thing to consider is that the #1 seed, currently the Heat, isn’t really considered as much of a threat as teams like the Bucks and 76ers. Assuming the standings stay the same, and the top four teams in the East win their first round matchups, that would give Boston another favorable matchup in the second round against Miami, while the Bucks and 76ers would battle each other.

That’s great and all, but what exactly does it mean for the Boston Celtics?

Admittedly, a lot of that information is purely speculative, and there are bound to be some changes to the standings between now and the end of the season. But it’s what the team has to consider as they play out their final nine games. So with that all in mind, where should Boston look to finish the season in the standings?

The truth is, they may already be in the golden spot. The #3 and #4 seeds seem to be the perfect spot for the Boston Celtics to finish the season off. The third seed is a bit riskier because of the aforementioned possibility of having to play the second seed in just the second round, but that may come with an easier first round opponent (currently the Cleveland Cavaliers).

The goal is to avoid playing the Nets in the first round, as that would be an absolute nightmare situation. I’m not saying the Celtics couldn’t beat them (for reference, I think the C’s can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the East) but you don’t really want to put yourself in a situation where this Cinderella story of a turnaround gets ended abruptly in the first round because you had the misfortune of running into the Nets.

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Hanging around the top of the Eastern Conference isn’t going to hurt, but there shouldn’t really be a huge sense of urgency to move up the standings. To be quite honest, I think the #4 spot may be the best possible seed, but I’d be OK with the #3 seed too. There’s a chance getting the #2 or #1 seed works out beautifully, but that also comes with a huge risk too.

I’m not suggesting the team should actively try to lose games in an attempt to stay where they are, as that would be foolish. But as the season winds down, it’s worth keeping an eye on the standings and the potential playoff implications that may come with where the C’s find themselves. The Boston Celtics have been too good to go home in the first round, and if they play their cards right, they could be set for a lengthy postseason run.