Andrew Doxy: I’m going to go bold and predict 52-30 and first place in the East by way of tiebreaker with the Miami Heat. This would likely leave Boston to face a team like the Charlotte Hornets, the Atlanta Hawks or the Brooklyn Nets.
Of that group, the Charlotte Hornets would naturally be the easiest opponent without Rob Williams on the roster. I’m of the mind that the Celtics at their best shouldn’t be worried about Brooklyn at all. They’ve been too dominant and the Nets have been too mid to be shaking in our boots at the thought of facing them in the first round. However, if we’re talking best first round matchup without Williams, then the Hornets are the easy choice here. Trae Young and Kevin Durant have nuclear detonation potential, so it’s just safer to go against a Hornets team that doesn’t have a megastar or a strong front court.
Jeff Clark: The top half of the East has some pretty easy games coming up, so I wouldn’t be shocked if the Celtics slide down to 3 or even 4. The Bucks game could be a loss for Boston and the Memphis game could be a toss-up competition between each team’s bench.
Of the teams we could face, I wouldn’t mind going up against the banged up Cavs. Not sure if they are getting out of the play-in games though, so we might be stuck with a team like the Nets. I don’t want to face Durant or hear about Kyrie, but I think that team has enough flaws that we could take care of business in a seven-game series.
Bottom line is that I’m not afraid of any first round matchup, even though I have respect for each of the teams. (Boring coach-speak answer, I know!)
Jeff Pratt: This is a relatively tough stretch to end the season for Boston, while other teams at the top of the East are set to face easier matchups for their last couple of games. The Celtics should take care of business against Chicago, but Milwaukee will be tough and the Grizzlies game is a toss-up (some guys might rest due to playoff implications). It feels like Philly is pushing for the 4-seed right now, so I think Boston will finish the year at No. 3 in the East.
That would set the Celtics up for a Round 1 matchup against Toronto or Chicago, and I would much rather play the Bulls in the first round. Chicago has always appeared to be a pretender. They’re horrible against teams above .600 and are missing a key piece in Lonzo Ball, who now is likely done for the year. Boston matches up well with the Bulls and has an immense advantage in playoff experience.
I’d prefer to avoid Toronto. Nick Nurse is a phenomenal coach and there are obviously rumors floating around that Jaylen Brown may be unvaccinated. If that’s the case, not having him for at least two games in that series would be extremely unfortunate.
Trevor Hass: I believe the Celtics will beat the Bulls, lose to the Bucks and beat the Grizzlies to finish 51-31, and that will put them third in the East behind the Heat and Bucks and ahead of the 76ers.
The best matchup for Boston would be the Bulls, as they don’t have the size and physicality to match the Celtics. The Celtics have a better chance of slowing DeMar DeRozan down than most, and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown would have their way. The Cavaliers would also be a favorable matchup and a series the Celtics would likely win in 5 or 6. The team they want to avoid, of course, is the Nets, who could actually sneak into the 7-seed. If the Celtics get the 2-seed and draw the Nets, that could yield a brutal and abrupt end to a stellar season. Fortunately for Boston, the chances of it happening are slim. A series with the Bulls, Raptors, Cavaliers, Hawks or Hornets is much more likely (all very winnable, even without Robert Williams). It’s always fun when the end of the regular season matters, and this year is one of the more compelling finishes in recent memory.
Bobby Manning: The way Milwaukee is playing to finish the season, I believe the Bucks and Heat (with a 2.5 game lead) edge out the Celtics for the top two seeds. The Sixers have a relatively easy schedule to close the year too, so there’s a chance they sneak up to 3, but I’ll give Toronto the game over them and Milwaukee a win over Boston to settle the Celtics into that 3rd slot vía tiebreaker.
That would likely position Boston against the Bulls in Round 1, a favorable matchup given Lonzo Ball’s absence, Nikola Vucevic’s struggles and an ailing Chicago defense that would have a hard time keeping Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum away from the basket. The Celtics should try to remain as high in the seeding as possible, with the Raptors in an exact opposite position of the Bulls, healthy with multiple able defenders to throw at the Jays, along with a vicious offensive rebounding attack. They’re looking more and more like the five seed and a threat. The Celtics should aim for the chance to play the conference’s weaker defenses in the No. 2 slot, even given the chance of a difficult series with Brooklyn. The Nets fit that struggling defense description, as does battered Cleveland lately. Rest may help Al Horford, but the rest of the team only needs to play three games over the next 11 days.
Daniel Poarch: I really want to go the bold route here and take the Celtics as the second seed of the Eastern Conference, but I just can’t quite get there with how tough the final week of the season is for them. The tipping point may well be that the Bucks game comes on the second night of a back-to-back, directly following a tilt with the playoff-bound Bulls. I think the Bucks most likely claim that win, and the Celtics finish in third.
The good news is that I absolutely want the Bulls in that 3-6 matchup in the first round. It just seems like this isn’t their year. They looked like an emergent force in the Eastern Conference early in the season, but that momentum fizzled fast due to injuries and inconsistent play, and they’re now limping towards the finish line at 4-6 in their last 10 games as of this writing. Lonzo Ball has missed much of the season and is now likely done for the year, and Zach LaVine has struggled to stay healthy and may not be quite 100% heading into the playoffs as he has struggled with knee issues. If not for a terrific season from DeMar DeRozan, this team may have sunk even further in the East – and DeRozan has some playoff demons of his own to exorcise. The Celtics solidly overmatch them on both ends of the court, even with Robert Williams absent.
The third seed also keeps the Celtics clear of facing the winner of the play-in tournament, which this year might actually be its own kind of blessing. I’m not particularly awe-struck by this Brooklyn Nets team, but a team with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving (notably a full-time player once again) is a different beast than your average seventh seed nonetheless. I’ll take the Bulls, and let Milwaukee deal with Durant for the time being.