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3 reasons Celtics have claimed the No. 1 seed in NBA Eastern Conference

Jae Crowder has been a force for the Celtics of late.

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The date is March 29, 2017 and your Boston Celtics are in first place in the Eastern Conference.

It might sound weird - and look even weirder in the standings - but the Celtics have passed LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the top spot with just eight games to go in the season (and one head-to-head matchup next week).

In fact, it's the latest point in the season that the Celtics have had sole posession of first place since the 2007-08 championship season.

And with the easiest remaining schedule in the East, there's a legitimate chance that Boston finishes the season as the No. 1 seed.

It's a far cry from them just making the playoffs two seasons ago and being swept by the Cavs in the first round. But are the C's really a championship contender? Or is this just fool's gold? Are the Cavs imploding at the worst possible time? Or are they simply waiting for the playoffs, when they'll take it to that next level?

Those are all questions that will be answered in time, but if you're the Boston Celtics, you're not thinking about any team but the Boston Celtics.

And whether or not you feel they're a legitimate No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, they deserve to be treated as such until proven otherwise.

So here are three reasons behind the Celtics' recent success and their spot at the top of the Eastern Conference.

1. Jae Crowder's re-emergence

There were times during the earlier parts of the season when Jae Crowder felt more like an afterthought out there. Isaiah Thomas was scoring the points, Marcus Smart was making the "winning plays", and Al Horford was the new guy on the block. The truth is, Crowder has proven to be just as valuable as anybody (OK, aside from Thomas), and that's showing not only on the stat sheet, but off it as well. First, the stat sheet, where he's scored in double digits in each of the last six games, averaging 18.0 points on 49.3-percent shooting, including a season-high 25 points Sunday against the Heat. And then off the stat sheet, where Crowder's make-no-friends attitude is one the C's would be smart to mimic, especially in the playoffs. Crowder isn't shy when it comes to getting in opponents' faces or their Instagram mentions (see: Phoenix Suns).

RELATED: When will David Price return to the Red Sox in 2017?

2. A big-man presence

One thing that fans have been clamoring for since the beginning of the season is more production from their bigs on offense and defense – but especially on the glass. No deals were struck at the deadline and they didn’t sign any big men who cleared waivers, like Andrew Bogut, who went to play for the Cavs for literally a minute. But Amir Johnson has shown why the C’s were happy to sign him two offseasons ago. Johnson, who has played in 73 of 74 games this season, finished Sunday’s win off a perfect 6-for-6 for 14 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. The 11-year vet knows that this is the time to zone in and focus on the task at hand.

3. We must protect this house

Matchups aside, the best thing about the Celtics finishing with the top seed is that they are guaranteed home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference Finals. Will they need to win on the road at some point? Yes. But the C’s are playing lights-out at home lately, winners of seven straight and 14 of their last 15, the most of any NBA team since Jan. 25. Aside from the C’s, only the Cavs (19-18) and Raptors (20-17) have a winning record on the road in the Eastern Conference. It’s not easy playing at the Garden, where Boston is 27-9… and it’ll only get harder in the playoffs.

 
 
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