The Boston Celtics are coming up to the half way point of the season. They are 38 games in with a record of 27-11. It is a good time to step back and take a bigger look at the remaining schedule down the second-half stretch. The Eastern Conference looks like it will be a battle all the way to the end.
For the Celtics, this team has been playing great basketball with a new found attitude which they did not possess last season. Every one on the team has taken a step up in their development which has vaulted this team to an impressive record. Even with this start, they still are bunched up with many other teams vying to move up in the standings. It is coming up to the crossroads of the NBA season where teams look out and see the work they will have to do for the second half of the year.
Currently, the Boston Celtics sit as the two-seed in the Eastern Conference. This could change in a matter of hours as they are only up 0.5 games on the Miami Heat. Boston leads their division with a little more cushion with a 2.5 game lead on the Toronto Raptors and a 3.5 game lead on the Philadelphia 76ers. With everyone bunched up from the two-seed to the six-seed, the real question is will the Celtics have a shot to make up the seven game lead and catch the Milwaukee Bucks for the one seed?
After practice on Monday, Jaylen Brown was asked about the standings. He responded saying, “never in my life have I ever said I wanted to be number two in anything. If we can get to the number one spot and catch the Bucks, let’s do it.”
The Bucks have been an unstoppable force through this season, but why shouldn’t the Celtics try to stop them? The Thursday night match-up between these two teams will paint a better picture about the chances of making up this seven-game deficit.
The Celtics have the second hardest remaining schedule among Eastern Conference teams, while the Heat, Raptors and Sixers have the 12th, 13th and 15th hardest.— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) January 14, 2020
The other factor to consider while looking at the standings in the second half of the season is the strength of schedule. Relatively speaking, the Celtics have had it easy these first few months. They have the second hardest remaining schedule among Eastern Conference teams. Maybe more importantly, the Heat, Raptors, and 76ers have three of the four easiest strength of schedules left.
This schedule gauntlet started at the beginning of January with the Celtics having 23 games in 42 days. They have already had two of their back-to-backs in January with one more to go tonight and tomorrow night in Milwaukee. The month is capped off with their southeast road trip with three straight games against Orlando, New Orleans, and Miami.
February is where the competition really heats up. It will be the Celtics biggest test they face on their whole schedule. If they can weather this storm, they may be in good shape. In the 12 games they have next month, 7 games are against teams currently above .500. This month also includes a West coast trip. The slate for March is a bit easier as they will be playing some of the Eastern Conference’s weaker competition. Even as the games may be less intimidating record-wise, the team will still be playing 15 games in this month. Finally, April will be the last stretch for the team before the playoffs. It sets up to be an important month with two games against the Heat, one against the Pacers, and one against the Bucks. These will most likely determine the all important seeding for the Eastern Conference.
All in all, the Eastern Conference is setting up for the Bucks to easily take the one-seed which leaves the two-seed as the most important asset up for grabs. The Celtics need to strive to achieve this seeding because of how the Eastern Conference standings are sitting. The two-seed to six-seed are all bunched up within 3.5 games of each other. They will be flip flopping throughout the rest of the season.
The seven-seed, Orlando Magic, however, are a whopping 5.5 games behind the Sixers in the six-seed. This is why the two-seed is such an important prize. This possible first-round match-up against the Magic is much more promising than getting stuck with a Pacers or Sixers team in a first round playoff match-up.
The Celtics need to focus on this goal even if the one-seed is not in play. A light first-round match-up will pay dividends down the road in the playoffs if they can secure this two-seed. It will all start with this tough second-half of the season. The team will be tested and will really get to show how much of a contender they are this season. If they can battle through, the Boston Celtics could be poised for a deep postseason run.