There’s a month left in the NBA regular season and the Celtics have already clinched a playoff berth. So what else do they need to do before entering the postseason. Here are a few ideas:
Stay Healthy / Get Healthy
Jaylen Brown’s scary fall reminded us all just how quickly things can get real bad. We were legitimately worried about his long term health. Basketball becomes a distant second priority. Thankfully he was able to get up and it appears that he came away with “just” a concussion (which is plenty scary enough and a serious thing that he needs to take his time coming back from).
Beyond that, the team may try to take advantage of opportunities to give players situational rest. That seemed to be the case with Kyrie Irving missing the Bulls game. I don’t doubt that he has an issue with his knee that requires maintenance. But let’s just say that I doubt that he would have missed a game against the Raptors or Cavs.
The Celtics have games coming up against the Magic, Kings, Suns, and other tankerific teams in the last month. It might be a good opportunity to give some veterans a chance to tend to their own nagging injury issues.
Maximize Playoff Seeding
On the other hand, home court still matters greatly in the playoffs. So any chance to earn that edge in the regular season should be embraced. The Toronto Raptors are red hot at the moment and sitting at the top of the East standings. If that holds, the Celtics would potentially be lined up against the Cavaliers in the 2nd round (assuming both advance). It would also obviously give the Raptors home court advantage through the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Celtics play the Raptors twice in the final month and the season series is currently split. Those two games could be critical to deciding who gets the top seed.
Setup Playoff Rotations
Brad Stevens likes to use a deep bench and sometimes a situationally adjusted rotation during the regular season. It gives regulars more rest, provides on the job learning experience for younger players, and provides him with a different look to throw at teams.
The playoffs shorten the rotation for obvious reasons. The stakes are higher and there’s more rest between games. So which players that are currently getting time are going to find themselves relegated to cheerleading duties?
The Celtics have 7 players that average over 20 minutes per game and all of them figure to be starting or playing big minutes off the bench. They include Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, and Terry Rozier.
Aron Baynes starts most games but only plays 17.7 minutes per game. He shares duties at the Center position with Daniel Theis and newcomer Greg Monroe. Each has their share of talents and weaknesses and we may very well see Stevens go with the best matchup and/or hot hand. Or he may elect to play situational small ball with Marcus Morris or even Jayson Tatum playing alongside Al Horford as the only bigs.
Semi Ojeleye is a guy that could find himself sitting out an entire series, then be called upon to play major minutes in the next round. His defensive chops could make up for his inexperience but it would depend on the matchups.
With Brown out indefinitely, Semi could earn himself a longer look at playoff minutes in the next few weeks. Likewise, it will be instructive to see how well Monroe continues to pick up the schemes and what impact his low post presence has on the rest of the lineup.
So while the rest of the world will be focused on March Madness, the Celtics have some work to do before the end of the season.