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Celtics’ march through March will set playoff expectations

After a light January and February schedule, the close of the regular season presents a proving ground before the playoffs.

Boston Celtics v Indiana Pacers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

March Madness.

Sure, that’s a college hoops term, but apt for the Celtics remaining regular season schedule. After feasting on sub-.500 teams in January and February and getting fat on a 19-8 record, March and April pose a more stern challenge as Boston tries to climb further up in the Eastern Conference standings. For teams in the hunt, the postseason has already functionally started.

“It’s gonna be a big challenge for us,” Derrick White said of the Celtics remaining schedule. “Let’s see what we’re made of.”

According to Tankathon, the Celtics have the 4th most difficult slate of remaining games (and for what it’s worth, Milwaukee and Chicago, currently the cream of the East, are first and third respectively). Of the remaining nineteen games, only seven are against teams under .500.

The gauntlet starts tonight with a trio of the league’s best point guards visiting TD Garden this week. Trae Young is in town with Hawks with tip-off at 7:30 pm, Ja Morant will try and follow up 46-point and 52-point performances with the Grizzlies in town on Thursday, and Kyrie Irving graces the parquet on Sunday afternoon with possible returns of Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons.

“These are the games that are fun,” White said. “I’m looking forward to them.”

After starting their post-All-Star schedule with three consecutive road games, the Celtics will play five of their next six at TD Garden. They also still have a four-game west coast swing to take in mid-March with stops in Golden State and Denver, but then another nice 5-out-of-6 homestand heading into April.

Since the turn of the new year, head coach Ime Udoka has shortened his rotation to eight players, but that doesn’t mean he’ll stick to it completely. On Sunday, he gave Al Horford a rest day on the backend of a back-to-back and inserted Daniel Theis to soak up minutes as the third big. Jayson Tatum is currently second in the league in minutes played, so he could use a maintenance day with three B2B’s still on the schedule. That could open up playing time for Aaron Nesmith.

One scheduling quirk to consider if you’re trying to predict the final standings is that unlike most of their conference rivals, the Celtics have few games against the top-6 in the East left. They have a third and final meeting with Miami at the end of the month and trips to Chicago and Milwaukee for games #80 and #81 when playoff seeding could already be determined and teams resting players in anticipation of the postseason.

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