Blakely: Celtics tied atop the East, but odds are still not in their favor


BOSTON -- Just when it seemed Boston’s loss to Cleveland doused all hope of the Celtics finishing tops in the Eastern Conference, a recent slump by the Cavs now has Boston in position to regain its spot atop the East in this final week of the season.
A Celtics win over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night will put Boston (51-29) a half-game ahead of the Cavs for the best record in the East.
But that lead has the potential be a short-lived one with the Cavs playing at Miami Monday night and like the Boston-Brooklyn game, the Cavs’ game at Miami also has a 7:30 p.m. start time.
While the Celtics have every reason to keep hope alive that they can wind up with the top seed in the East, the odds are still against them.
Their 114-91 loss to the Cavs last week gave Cleveland the head-to-head series three games to one, which means the Cavs would get the higher seed if these two finished in a tie.
The only way Boston can wind up with the top seed is if they win both of their remaining games and the Cavs split games with Miami and Toronto, or the Celtics split their remaining games against Brooklyn and Milwaukee – both at home – while the Cavs drop games at Miami and at home against the Raptors.
At this point, anything is possible because depending on how things play out in the coming day or two, Toronto might decide to rest its core guys and thus increase the likelihood that Cleveland winds up with the top seed.
The other factor that may come into play is whether the Cavs will even fight for the top seed, or instead decide to rest some of their core guys for the playoffs.
While LeBron James and head coach Tyronn Lue have poo-poo’d on the talk that James needs some rest between now and the playoffs, there’s no way to look past the huge amount of minutes he has been playing lately.
April is usually the month in which the minutes for players like James are cut back or at the very least, remain relatively the same.
But in the month of April, James, who averages 37.8 minutes played per game this season, was up to a league-high 43.2 minutes in Cleveland’s five games this month.
 Not only is he playing more minutes, but he’s doing it with little to no time in between games.
Against the Hawks, James played 47 minutes and that was with him fouling out in overtime.  It was the second of two back-to-back sets of games Cleveland has played this month. And the Hawks’ loss was the first of what will be a three-games-in-four-days stretch for them to close out the season.
Meanwhile, the Celtics have their own set of issues to work through. Specifically, their defense has been hot and cold of late which is the last thing a team wants to see this time of year.
However, Boston has a great chance of finishing out the regular season on a strong note with home games against Brooklyn – the team with the worst record in the NBA – and a Milwaukee Bucks team that, depending on how where they stand playoff seeding wise on April 12, may elect to rest some of their core players as well.
Regardless, the Celtics have set themselves up for what should be a No. 1 or 2 seed when the playoffs start this weekend.

Contact Us