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The Boston Celtics are emerging with confidence as they inch towards the playoffs

On the Boston Celtics' booming confidence, patience with Isaiah Thomas, and the Mavs' potential collapse.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Some thoughts on state of the Boston Celtics as the end of the regular season approaches:

1. Fans are understandably in a panic about Isaiah Thomas' lower back injury and the Celtics can't seem to get everyone healthy at the same time, but it's important to be patient. It's frustrating for an emerging Celtics team pursuing the playoffs to lose their best scorer, but there is no reason for the organization, fans, or Thomas himself to rush back this weekend.

Boston fortunately has a pair of winnable games versus Orlando on Friday and Indiana on Saturday, before returning home on Monday to face Philadelphia, which is when Thomas is aiming to return. Rushing Thomas back for the next two games, or even Monday's, would be a major mistake because all three games are winnable with or without him. It's more essential to not risk any setbacks and assure that he'll be ready for the challenging road trip against Oklahoma City and San Antonio.

2. Is it imaginable that the Dallas Mavericks could miss the playoffs? Dallas is currently the 7th seed in the loaded Western Conference and they are quickly sliding down the standings with only 16 games left. New Orleans is rising (4.5 games behind Dallas) and Oklahoma City is knocking on the door (5 games behind Dallas). The Thunder and Pelicans have far easier remaining schedules compared to the Mavericks, who will have to face nearly every elite opponent in the West.

If the Mavs collapse down the stretch and misses the playoffs, then the Celtics would likely be rewarded with the 14th selection this summer (unless the Mavericks won the lottery and got a top 3 pick). Boston owns the rights to Dallas' protected 2015 first-round draft selection, which is protected for picks 1-3 and 15-30 in 2015, and picks 1-7 in 2016 through 2020.

Even though Rajon Rondo and the Mavericks will probably crawl into the playoffs due to the lack of games remaining, it's worth keeping tabs on, because having an additional 2015 first-round pick would allow Danny Ainge and the front office to be even more versatile this offseason.

3. After Wednesday's miraculous victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, Celtics starting shooting guard Avery Bradley had some interesting things to say about the team's confidence: "I feel like it's at a high level. We were just talking and we've really been in every game except the Cleveland game. It shows that we're making strides and we're continuing to be a better team. I think it all starts from Brad. Brad is getting us all together and getting us to believe in one another. We're like a family out there. We're a lot closer than we were and it shows on the court."

Bradley is correct when he says the Celtics have "been in every game." Since Isaiah Thomas' first appearance on February 22, Boston has a minus-0.1 Net Rating (the difference between offensive and defensive rating), which ranks 15th in the league, and since the debacle in Cleveland they rank 10th, with a plus-4.1 Net Rating. It's clear that Boston is on the rise, and they are peaking at the perfect time of the season.

But the greatest take from Bradley's quote is his praise for second-year head coach Brad Stevens. Stevens is proving himself to be one of the NBA's best overall head coaches, whether it's his knack for rallying his guys and maximizing ther potential, his situational game planning, or his after-timeout calls (like the option alley-oop to Marcus Smart or the unguardable game-winner to Tyler Zeller).

Whatever Brad Stevens is doing, it's clear that the message is getting across by the way the team has responded to adverse situations. And it all might be just enough for the Boston Celtics to boost themselves into the Eastern Conference Playoffs for a chance to be this year's Cinderella.

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