You wouldn't exactly say the Celtics are riding high headed into their big game Wednesday (8 p.m., CSNNE) at home against the Eastern Conference-leading Cavaliers.
After winning 11 of 12 games from Jan. 25 to Feb. 15, the Celtics dropped their last game before the All-Star break to the Bulls (albeit in controversial fashion). Despite a hot rumor mill, a trade wasn't made at the deadline, and they thanked their president of basketball operations Danny Ainge by dropping two of three out of the break, with key losses to the Raptors and Hawks. It's those two losses that should be concerning to Celtics fans hoping their team would make a big playoff run this season.
The Raptors did improve at the deadline. They traded for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker to greatly upgrade their interior play. No, it's not all good news for the Raptors, as All-Star Kyle Lowry will undergo right wrist surgery, likely knocking him out until the playoffs. But if and when the tough point guard does return, you can be sure the Raptors will be a team looking to wreak havoc. And even so, they beat the Celtics without him last Friday anyways.
The Hawks also added a nice rotation player in Ersan Ilyasova at the deadline. Yes, the Celtics took Al Horford from them over the offseason, but if Monday's game proved anything, it's that the Hawks still know how to beat the Celtics. Unfortunately for the C's, that's the case for a lot of playoff contenders in the East.
The Celtics are 0-2 against the Cavaliers, needing a win tonight to give them a shot at a series split. They're 1-2 against the Wizards with a home game remaining, 1-3 against the Raptors, and 1-1 against the Hawks with a road game remaining.
That's right, aside from the Hawks, the second-place Celtics cannot have a winning series record against the teams they're fighting for playoff positioning with - something that could come back to haunt them in the end.
Of course, a win Wednesday would go a long way in building confidence back up again.
As it stands, the Celtics (38-22) are four games behind the Cavs (41-17) for first place in the Eastern Conference, with two extra games played. But it's hard to talk about teams that have upgraded and not mention the Cavaliers. Cleveland traded for sharp-shooter Kyle Korver back in January, and they just signed former All-Star Deron Williams to add even more depth.
And if that isn't enough, there are reports that Andrew Bogut could be next. Bogut was recently waived by the 76ers, becoming a free agent once he cleared waivers. The Cavs and Celtics are two of the teams linked to his services, and he could have his decision any second now.
The case for Cleveland: It’s hard to bet against the LeBron James-led Cavs again this year, even with Kevin Love’s injury. Assuming Love returns in time for the playoffs, the trio of James, Love, and Kyrie Irving along with their depth will be hard to beat.
The case for Boston: Many feel as though the Celtics are just one big man away from really making some serious noise in the playoffs. Their rebounding woes are well-documented. Bogut could find himself starting and/or playing big minutes for Boston, proving to the rest of the NBA that he has plenty left in the tank.