BOSTON (CBS) - Today, on the morning of March 24, here is the stark reality. The Celtics are in. The Bruins are out.
There are still games to play, of course, but this is clearly not what most of us were expecting. A year ago at this time, the Bruins were rumbling toward the Presidents' Trophy for the best regular season record in the NHL, the Celtics were jostling for prime position in the annual NBA draft lottery. The Bruins ended up No. 1, at least until they met the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs. The Celtics ended up at No. 6, from where they selected nut-cracking point guard Marcus Smart.
And so we say it again:
As of today, the Celtics are in and the Bruins are out.
Which is more shocking?
Me? I'm going with the Bruins. Possessors of the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff structure as recently as nine days ago, the B's have face-planted in the last week like a drunken college student on a Prudential Center escalator. The Bruins now have lost five straight, culminating in Sunday's 5-3 pasting at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and they might as well be walking around town with two black eyes, a bandaged nose and an unsightly gash on their collective foreheads.
Wow. What a mess. Nearly three months ago, sounding like a desperate parent, Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs put everyone in the organization on alert and deemed it "unacceptable" if the Bruins were to miss the playoffs. And now the schizophrenic B's are in a coma again. Last night, the Ottawa Senators overtook the B's for the final playoff spot in the East – the Sens still have a game in hand, meaning they could possess as much as a three-point lead – and the Bruins' next two games are against the Anaheim Ducks and New York Rangers, tied with 99 points for the best record in the NHL.
Translation: sound the alarms at Delaware North. We've reached the crisis stage. The Bruins have roster and management issues, meaning everyone from president Cam Neely and general manager Peter Chiarelli to Milan Lucic and Carl Soderberg are on the proverbial hot seat. Few people are safe. And few should be.
The irony? The Bruins might be better off missing the playoffs because they seemingly need a high draft pick as badly (or worse?) than the Celtics do. Depending on where the Bruins finish, they would have anywhere from, say, a 1-to-3 percent chance of winning the NHL draft lottery, in which prized prospects Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel currently reside.
Comical, right? In recent years, the B's have drafted so poorly that they fired their amateur scouting director and replaced him with Wayne Gretzky's brother, Keith, whose first selection last year was David Pastrnak. Given the Bruins' salary cap issues, a high pick – however unlikely – would be of enormous value.
All of this brings us back to the Celtics, whose victory over Brooklyn last night put the Celtics shoelaces ahead of Charlotte, Indiana and Brooklyn for the final spot in the woeful Eastern Conference. The Celtics are now 11-6 in their last 17 games – many of which have been played without their best player, Isaiah Thomas – and certainly appear to have hit the next level in their development. The Celtics won't be winning a championship anytime soon, but Boston has gone from Tankapalooza to the middle of the pack almost overnight, all while shedding a varying-degree of sandbags like Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green.
Inside the walls of the Celtics offices this season, to the best our knowledge, no one has been put on alert. Deep down, we must still wonder whether the Celtics would be better off with the chance at another high draft pick in the long term, but rest assured that club officials recognize the benefit of a postseason appearance, too. Yesterday, one NBA official familiar with the draft suggested there is a minimal difference between, say, picks 12 and 16, the approximate, projected and respective draft positions of the Celtics if they miss the playoffs and make it.
Regardless, this much is true: the Celtics are now benefiting from playing relatively "meaningful" games down the stretch of this season, however relatively "meaningful" those games may be. The young players on the Boston roster are simply too inexperienced to know any differently. Many of the current Celtics are learning how to compete, to fight, to play under the pressure in the final minutes that separate good NBA teams from bad ones.
Meanwhile, the Bruins look as if headed for a cataclysmic end.
If you claim to have predicted all of this a year ago, you're probably lying.
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