Last night the Boston Celtics were officially eliminated from playoff contention after finishing March with a 3-11 record. The tank kept a rollin' all month long, but the Celtics have a smooth road ahead, which may thwart their chances at a top draft position.
Entering April, the Celtics are currently the fifth worst team in the NBA, but they have the easiest schedule remaining of the six teams fighting for the three through eight lottery positions.
This is unlike last month, when Boston had the hardest schedule of the bottom-feeding teams. Fortunately for them, they managed to create space between themselves and other teams with close records.
The C's still trail Orlando by two games and they're one half game behind Utah, but Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Detroit are now behind by a decent margin. This is significant, especially considering five teams (including the Celtics), had either 20 or 21 wins at the start of April.
With so few games left for each lottery team, your first thought might be that the C's have a high draft position all but locked up, but this is not the case considering the simplicity of their remaining schedule.
Even from a quick glance, the Celtics have a pair of matches against the Masters of Tanking and a handful of winnable games with Detroit, Atlanta, and Cleveland.
But just how easy are Boston's remaining games compared to the rest of the similar lottery teams? Let's take a look:
|Team||Wins||Losses||Games Remaining||Opponent Win %||Opponents vs. Teams below .500|
|Los Angeles Lakers||25||48||9||0.586||0.738|
Boston's final eight opponents have a combined 39.4 winning percentage, which is by far the easiest of those six teams. The two teams right behind them, Los Angeles and Sacramento, have the most difficult.
The final column details how each team's opponents perform against teams below .500, and still, the Celtics have the easiest record. Meanwhile, the Lakers and Kings will face-off against teams that have abused pushovers like them this season.
Even though the Celtics have some breathing room in the standings, this is concerning. They could conceivably win four or five games when those teams could realistically lose almost all of them.
It's also very unlikely that the Celtics make a climb up the standings, which will hurt their chances of attaining a top three pick on lottery night. There are no guarantees in the NBA draft, but history proves that superstars and franchise-changers are more likely to be selected at the top.
Once the season is over on April 16th, one or two games could separate these teams, and while the records may not differentiate too much, the odds will.
For example, the team in the third slot will have a 46.9 percent chance at a top three pick, but the fifth worst will only have a possibility of 29.2 percent. Even more alarming, the seventh worst team will see their chances drop to just 15 percent.
Keep in mind that the Celtics are led by coach Brad Stevens, who has instilled a winning culture despite the losing record. This team has shown the heart of a lion and fought against some of the best teams in the league, so it wouldn't be surprising if they smack around some of their opponents this month.
Compare this to other poor teams, who have thrown culture and player development out the window in order to secure themselves a higher chance in the draft lottery.
There's something admirable about the tough attitude the Boston Celtics are playing with, but you've got to wonder if it could end up costing them in the longrun. Though some of these games may appear meaningless, one extra win or loss could drastically change the course of the team's future.