Two nights ago, the Chicago Bulls inched ahead of the Celtics by 1 game in the win column for first place in the NBA Eastern Conference (1/2 game overall). Last night, the Celtics beat the Indiana Pacers to tie the Bulls record, but regain first place by virtue of tie breakers (the Celtics lead the season series with the Bulls 3-2). Tonight, the Bulls beat the New Jersey Nets to once again go 1 up in the win column and nose ahead of the Celtics for first place. Friday night in Houston, if the Celtics beat the Rockets, they will hold serve and grab back the lead in the East.
Why is the first seed so important? Aside from the considerable advantage of having home court in every round in the East, the #1 seed will have one more important and perhaps crucial advantage. The #1 seed in the East will not have to play the Miami Heat in the second round. If the Celtics secure the best record in the East, they will only have to play EITHER the Bulls or the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. If the Celtics finish second, they will (most likely) have to face the Heat in the Second Round AND THEN the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. The road to Banner 18 will be considerably easier if the Celtics "hold serve" Friday in Houston, and go on to finish with the best record in the East. The good news is that goal, that pennant race is a great motivational tool for a team that is going through a grueling two Can Celtics Hold Serve in Houston?weeks, while trying to reassemble a team after trades and injuries. Win just one game and the Celtics move back into first.
This year, right now and until the end of the season, EVERY game matters. Oh, and if that's not great enough, the Celtics and Bulls do play each other one more time in the regular season: Thursday, April 7 in Chicago. Mark it on your calendar. Shaq will be back. First place, the #1 seed, and the easiest path out of the East may be on the line, and I'll be watching.
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