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Celtics Back In Driver's Seat For No. 3 Seed

By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- Do you feel slightly better about the Boston Celtics after they absolutely pummeled the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night? Any time a team scores 149 points, even against a team that is currently taking up some bubble space by default, you're going to feel better about them.

The lopsided victory puts the Celtics at 2-2 down in Orlando, and more importantly, it puts them back in the driver's seat for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. A speckle of doubt had crept in after Tuesday's disheartening loss to an undermanned Miami Heat team, but Boston's lead over Miami is back up to two games thanks to Wednesday night's bounce back.

A two-game lead plus the head-to-head tiebreaker with four games to play (five for Miami) should be enough for Boston to claim that No. 3 seed. After Friday's tough matchup with the Toronto Raptors, the Celtics have three extremely winnable games. Even a 3-1 stretch ahead of the playoffs should lock in that spot.

Here is Boston's remaining games:

Friday, Aug. 7 @ Toronto Raptors
Sunday, Aug. 9 vs. Orlando Magic
Tuesday, Aug 11 @ Memphis Grizzlies
Thursday, Aug 13 vs. Washington Wizards

Toronto is good. We knew that before they stormed off to a 3-0 bubble record with wins against the Lakers and the Heat. And if the Celtics play like they did against the other two good teams they've matched up with in Orlando -- the Bucks and the Heat -- well, it won't be pretty. Hopefully the energy and balance they showed against the Nets continues Friday night, and it serves as a nice reminder that Boston went 2-1 against the Raptors before the NBA season got turned on its head.

The Magic are 1-2 in the bubble, with their lone victory against the winless Sacramento Kings, so that really doesn't count as a win. They've lost to the Raptors and the Pacers and they are without Jonathan Isaac, but are still locked into the No. 8 seed in the East. They haven't clinched, but with the Wizards their only competition and 7.5 games back, it's all but a guarantee that they'll move on to get swept by Milwaukee in the first round.

The Grizzlies are 0-4 in bubble play and are about to lose the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. They've also lost Jaren Jackson Jr. to a torn meniscus. Rookie Ja Morant is all they've really got going for them at the moment.

The Wizards... they're just waiting to get sent home. They too have lost all four bubble games, and appear incapable of winning a basketball game at the moment. All they'll take from Orlando is the trophy for "The Worst Team In NBA Bubble History."

That all bodes well for the Celtics. Miami, meanwhile, has a somewhat tough close to the regular season:

Thursday, Aug. 6 @ Milwaukee Bucks
Saturday, Aug. 8 vs. Phoenix Suns
Monday, Aug 10 vs. Indiana Pacers
Wednesday, Aug. 12 @ Oklahoma City Thunder
Friday, Aug. 14 @ Indiana Pacers

That's four games against playoff teams, and another against a team fighting for their postseason lives.

The Bucks will be looking to bounce back after a surprising loss to the Nets on Tuesday. Yes, that same Nets team that the Celtics just demolished. (The bubble has had its share of weirdness.) The Suns have proven capable of beating good teams, with a dramatic buzzer beater against the Clippers and a close victory against the Mavericks. Indiana has won three straight in Orlando, and the Thunder are 2-1, including an impressive 105-86 win over the Lakers. Chances are the Heat will not be going 5-0 the rest of the way.

Argue if you'd like about the benefits of not facing the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round, but it's in Boston's best interest to claim the No. 3 seed. The 76ers may have taken three of four matchups against Boston this season, and Indiana (currently the No. 5 seed) may be the better matchup, but avoiding Milwaukee until the Conference Final (assuming Boston makes it out of the first round) is more important. The 76ers have games with Portland, Toronto and Houston, so it's unlikely they'll be moving up in the standings. And as we saw throughout the regular season, they can look like world beaters one day and a total mess the next. There is no in between.

Plus, this doesn't sound good for Philly.

All the Celtics need to do over the next week is beat up on some bad teams, and the three-seed is theirs. Losing it would require a lot to go wrong for the Celtics. After watching Wednesday night's drubbing, that doesn't seem very likely.

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