Last year at this time the motive was clear for the Celtics. Get that number one seed at any cost. Right now, however, the Celtics’ main objective is simply to get healthy and stay healthy heading into the playoffs.
The C’s held off Cleveland down the stretch of last year’s regular season, going 9-3 to nab that top spot. They may have actually tired themselves out a tad with that late push as they lost their first two playoff games to Chicago and had to rally back against a far inferior opponent.
This time around expect the Celtics to rest many of their top players in the coming weeks - especially if stealing the No. 1 seed away from Toronto becomes unattainable. If the injury-ravaged C’s can beat the Raptors this Saturday night at the Garden – then it’s game on. As of now the Celtics are just three games behind Toronto for the top spot and they have another date the dinos next week in Toronto.
It would be nice to give Al Horford (who played 32 minutes in the Celtics’ 102-94 win over Phoenix Monday night) a breather, and it would be nice to keep Jayson “What rookie wall?!” Tatum and Jaylen Brown fresh heading into the playoffs. It will be up to Brad Stevens – who is getting plenty of NBA coach of the year buzz right now – to determine what is more worth it. Chasing down that No. 1 seed, or getting fresh for the postseason?
Also coming into play here is the health of Kyrie Irving and the potential of having to play his BFF LeBron James in the second round. The 76ers are just a game behind Cleveland for the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. If Philly leaps Cleveland and everything holds to form in the first round, the Celtics would get the young and inexperienced Sixers in the semi-finals while Toronto would have to deal with “Playoff LeBron.”
It may be getting greedy, but there’s a train of thought out there that the Celtics could rest Irving for the first and second round of the playoffs and still get to the Eastern Conference Finals. Irving is already itching to get back to the court now, so it’s unlikely that that would happen – but nonetheless the Celtics’ best case scenario is that the Sixers continue to win. That way, they could sit at No. 2, get some rest in the final days of the regular season, and avoid LeBron and the Cavs for as long as possible come playoff time.
One more out West
Before their big showdown with the Raptors on Saturday, the Celtics will take on the Jazz in Utah (9:30 p.m., ESPN). The Jazz (42-32) will surely be motivated to grab a “W” as they currently sit at the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference with several teams nipping at their heels.