Do the Celtics still have a shot at the No. 1 seed in the East?
BOSTON -- The Celtics had the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for a good chunk of the season, before losing it around the All-Star break. With a little less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the C's are focused on getting that top spot back.
It's an admirable approach to the final seven games, but it has many wondering why this urgency didn't exist a few weeks ago as the team was tripping over itself on a nightly basis. Alas, here we are with a week-plus left in the regular season, and the Celtics still have an outside shot at climbing up the standings.
The Milwaukee Bucks possess a two-game lead over the Celtics heading into Tuesday night's action, with a huge head-to-head matchup between the two teams scheduled Thursday night in Wisconsin. The Celtics and the Bucks split their previous two matchups this season, so Thursday's victor will own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
That could have a say in which team finishes the regular season atop the East, though the Celtics would need to pick up another game on Milwaukee along the way. And the Bucks have not been losing much as of late, going 25-4 since Jan. 23. They won Monday night against the Pistons without Giannis, so hoping for multiple Milwaukee losses the rest of the way may be a pretty tall ask.
But maybe, just maybe, it's not impossible. One of those losses would, of course, have to be to the Celtics if Boston wants any shot at the top seed. But the Bucks have had some issues with the teams they'll face to close out the regular season, so yes, we are in fact telling you that there's a chance.
The Bucks will play the Pacers on Wednesday night, a team they're 2-1 against so far this season. But Milwaukee may opt to rest some of its star players, considering Thursday night against Boston is the much bigger game with much bigger ramifications. After the Celtics, the Bucks will host the three-seeded 76ers, visit the Wizards, host the Bulls and the Grizzlies, and close the season against the Raptors in Toronto.
The Bucks are a mere 10-7 against that collection of teams, with at least one loss to each of their opponents outside of their 3-0 record against the Raptors. They own a losing record against three of those teams: Philadelphia, Chicago, and Memphis.
The Celtics, meanwhile, host the Wizards on Tuesday before heading to Milwaukee. After their road game against the Bucks, the C's host the Jazz, hit the road for another matchup with the 76ers, and then finish the season with three straight home games: Two against the Raptors and the regular-season finale against the Hawks.
The Celtics are 12-2 against that mix, with the only losses coming against the Bucks (ahead of the All-Star break) and the Jazz on the road a few weeks ago. Boston has won five of six and seven of its last nine, so it appears the team has righted the ship after hitting some bumpy waters in late February and early March.
It has given Boston an outside shot at the No. 1 seed in the East. But the Celtics have to take care of their own business the rest of the way, which includes beating the Bucks on Thursday to give them the tiebreaker. They'd also need a little help elsewhere and hope some other team beats the Bucks between now and April 9. And -- most importantly -- Boston can't blow any more second-half leads if they want to finish atop the conference.
The Celtics aren't in any real danger of falling below the two-seed, with a three-game lead and the tiebreaker over the 76ers. But the No. 1 seed could be the difference between playing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Boston and playing it in Milwaukee. It's kind of a big deal.
Win Thursday, and the Celtics would just need to finish tied with the Bucks to get the No. 1 seed. Lose, and you can pretty much kiss homecourt throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs goodbye.
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