The Importance of the 6th Seed

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We’ve seen it be true many times before -- seeding and home court advantage are nice in the playoffs, but the most important thing is to be rested and healthy. We saw how true this was in 2010 when the Celtics made it to the NBA Finals as a 4 seed, beating two teams who held the HCA on their path. Then in the Finals, one could argue that it came down to Lakers having game 7 at home, but I (and many) think the injury to Perkins was the more significant difference maker in that game.

The Celtics are by no means a favorite to win the championship this season, but certainly have a "puncher’s chance" if the stars align. The last lockout season had an 8th seed New York Knicks make it to the NBA Finals, so weirder things have happened. There are a few things that are either necessary for the Celtics to win a championship (like Rondo playing at the top of his game consistently) or could greatly improve our chances of winning a championship. One thing that will greatly improve our chances of winning a championship could be grabbing the 6th seed in the East.

Nobody knows exactly what the standings will look like when season is over. But there are two things I’m fairly certain of and those are that Miami and Chicago are the two teams that will give Boston the most difficulty in the playoffs and that those teams will claim the 1-2 seeds in the East by the regular season’s end. Normally, a team would ideally like to avoid those teams in the first round, but wouldn’t find it disastrous if unavoidable because the path would likely go through those cities anyways. This season looks like it could play out a little differently. As it stands, the bottom 6-7-8 seeds in the East are Orlando, Boston, and NY Knicks. If the Celtics can make up the current 1.5 games they are behind Orlando for the 6th seed, that would mean that Miami and Chicago would have to play Orlando and New York in the first round.

In my opinion, Miami and Chicago are considerably better teams than New York and Orlando. But that’s why they play the games -- in the playoffs, upsets happen. If we want the Celtics to have the best chance at a title, I feel we want to maximize the chance that Miami or Chicago get upset and I think that chance is highest if they have to play NY or Orlando in the first round. In the playoffs, great players step up their games and rise to the occasion and both of these teams have great players that can do that.

In Orlando’s games vs. Miami and Chicago so far this season, Dwight Howard put up 25 pts, 24 rebounds, on 63% shooting in a win against Miami and 28 pts, 15 rebounds, on 61% shooting in a loss to Chicago. If Dwight puts up stats like those and Ryan Anderson starts burying three’s, I have no doubt that Orlando could possibly win a series against either of those teams.

The Knicks, on the other hand, have lost to both Miami (without ‘Melo) and Chicago so far this season. One wouldn’t see much hope for optimism there, but Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire are elite players in the NBA capable of carrying an entire team on their back to a win. I’m not particularly high on how this team has been constructed, but it’s not unthinkable that Melo and Amare could explode in 2 games out of 7 each in a series and lead their teams to wins in those games. Plus, Jeremy Lin seems to be emerging as a legitimate player and threat on that team and Tyson Chandler’s defense and championship experience could be of significance come playoff time.

In order to get these matchups, the Celtics have to play good enough regular season basketball to get the 6 seed. If they can surpass that and get a 4 or 5 seed, that’s wonderful; but, the difference between a 6 and 7 seed looks like it will be of much greater difference than the difference between getting the 3 and 6 seed because getting the 6 seed could open up the potential for Chicago or Miami to be knocked out in the first round. This is, of course, contingent on Atlanta, Indy, and Philly continuing their good play and Orlando and New York playing just mediocre enough basketball to finish in the 7-8 spots.

I’m not saying that the Celtics can’t win a title if they have to play Chicago or Miami. I’m just saying that the Celtics would have a better chance at winning a playoff series against Orlando or NY Knicks than against Chicago or Miami. Especially since it would award Boston home court advantage being the higher 6 seed. I’m not saying the Knicks or Magic have a great shot at upsetting those teams either. But I think they have a better chance than any other team in the field because of their superstar players capable of raising their games to extremely high levels.

Of the potential pairings between Miami, Chicago, Orlando, and New York, which matchup do you think would have the best chance of sporting an upset in a playoff series?

As an interesting side note, in the last lockout season (1999), the Knicks as an 8 seed upset the 1 seed in the first round. Who was that 1 seed? The Miami Heat. Do you believe in history repeating itself?

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