NBA playoff picture: Why upcoming week is crucial for Celtics


The Boston Celtics are just 5-5 in their last 10 games. But if there's ever a time to snap out of their funk, it's now.

Despite their recent skid, the Celtics still enter Friday as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference at 48-22 with 12 games remaining in the regular season. The Philadelphia 76ers are breathing down Boston's neck, however, while the No. 1 seed is still in play for the C's after the Milwaukee Bucks' loss to the Indiana Pacers on Thursday.

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What are the odds that Boston catches Milwaukee for the top seed, fends off the Sixers to maintain the No. 2 seed or slips behind Philly entering the postseason? As part of our "Celtics Playoff Push" series, we'll reset the current East standings and examine the upcoming schedules and short-term outlook for all three teams.

Eastern Conference Standings (as of March 13)

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (50-20)
  2. Boston Celtics (48-22) -- 2 games back
  3. Philadelphia 76ers (46-22) -- 3 GB
  4. Cleveland Cavaliers (44-28) -- 7.0 GB
  5. New York Knicks (41-30) -- 9.5 GB
  6. Brooklyn Nets (39-31) -- 11 GB
  7. Miami Heat (38-33) -- 12.5 GB
  8. Atlanta Hawks (34-35) -- 15.5 GB
  9. Toronto Raptors (34-36) -- 16.0 GB

Celtics' upcoming schedule

Next five games: at Trail Blazers, at Jazz, at Kings, vs. Pacers, vs. Spurs

Winning percentage of remaining opponents: .504 (13th-toughest schedule in NBA)

First-round matchup if season ended today: Miami Heat

Short-term outlook: The good news: Five of the Celtics' next six opponents have losing records. The bad news: Eight of the Celtics' 22 losses have come against teams with losing records.

If Boston can take care of business in this soft portion of the schedule, however, Joe Mazzulla's club could get within striking distance of the Bucks entering the teams' March 30 matchup. The season series is tied 1-1, so if the Celtics are within a game of the Milwaukee heading into that matchup, they'd vault the Bucks in the standings with a win.

Bucks' upcoming schedule

Next five games: vs. Raptors, vs. Spurs, at Jazz, at Nuggets, at Pistons

Winning percentage of remaining opponents: .495 (17th-toughest schedule in NBA)

First-round matchup if season ended today: Atlanta Hawks

Short-term outlook: The Bucks left the door open for the Celtics by falling to the Pacers on Thursday night, their third loss in eight games after ripping off a 16-game winning streak. Unfortunately for Boston, Milwaukee has a relatively easy upcoming schedule save for a matchup with the Western Conference No. 1 seed Denver Nuggets.

As mentioned above, though, the Celtics only need to gain one game on the Bucks between now and March 30 to give themselves an opportunity to pass Milwaukee.

76ers' upcoming schedule

Next five games: at Hornets, at Pacers, vs. Bulls, at Bulls, at Warriors

Winning percentage of remaining opponents: .527 (6th-toughest schedule in NBA)

First-round matchup if season ended today: Brooklyn Nets

Short-term outlook: The Celtics should keep a close eye on the Sixers in their rearview mirror. Philly is riding a six-game winning streak and has a cupcake short-term schedule, with a matchup against the lottery-bound Hornets and back-to-back games against the mediocre Bulls. If Boston drops one or two of its next four games, it could be looking up at the Sixers in the standings.

The Celtics do own the season tiebreaker over Philly, however (3-0), and get the Sixers one more time on April 4. The C's completing the season sweep would go a long way toward them staying ahead of Philly in the standings.

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