Through 50 games, the Boston Celtics sit at the top of the Eastern Conference (by five games) and hold the best record in the league. Although they have been dominant all season, the next five games are critical for Boston to give them wiggle room for any bumps in the road they encounter in the final stretch of the regular season.
Boston’s five-game lead is their largest lead since 2008. According to radio play-by-play announcer Sean Grande, that championship team didn’t achieve it until March.
Bucks lose the back-to-back at Utah, so the Celtics once again have a 5-game lead in the East, their largest since 2008.— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) February 5, 2024
The 2008 Celtics finished 7 games ahead of Detroit in the East, but didn't take a 5-game lead until March 12th. https://t.co/5Dv8nJDR8w pic.twitter.com/BeARF0PIPL
The Atlanta Hawks (22-28), Washington Wizards (9-40), Miami Heat (26-24), and then a home-and-away game against the Brooklyn Nets (20-29) are left on Boston’s schedule before the All-Star break. The only team the Celtics face with a winning record is the Heat, making this run of games even more pivotal going into the mid-season break on a high.
In the past few games, the Celtics have shown some fragilities, especially against the Lakers and the Pelicans. Whether it was playing down to competition or just having a bad night, Boston has to show why they are the team to beat. The Celtics should be the favorites in every game (barring injury) until the break, with only the Miami game on Super Bowl Sunday that could prove tricky.
Boston’s next five games are a great opportunity to put them in good standing at the break. The Celtics are currently five games ahead of the surging second-placed Cleveland Cavaliers. With both the Cavs and the Knicks playing well lately, Boston needs to stay focused and maintain/extend its gap. Only 2.5 games separate second and fifth place in the East and Boston doesn’t want to get dragged into that group.
It’s not unthinkable that Cleveland (which won 14 of its last 15) will win its next five games, too. The Cavs have to face Washington, Brooklyn, Toronto, Philly, and Chicago before All-Star Weekend which are all winnable games.
This stretch of games is also important because the teams that are near the Celtics, have a tougher stretch (except for Cleveland) of games leading into the break. The Bucks, who are still getting adjusted to life under Doc Rivers, have to face Phoenix, Denver, Minnesota, and Miami in four of their next six games. Any games dropped by the Bucks could be the difference in the home-court advantage come playoff time.
The Philadelphia Sixers are a team that a few weeks ago was right in the mix, but went 4-6 in their last 10, mainly due to Joel Embiid’s absence. With the big man out for at least the next four weeks, it’s hard to imagine them catching Boston.
Of course, none of this will matter if Boston doesn’t focus on its job and beat the teams they should be beating. According to the strength of schedule, the Celtics have the second-easiest schedule over the next 32 games.
The time has finally come for the Celts to be able to see how everyone else in the East has been living pic.twitter.com/mE18WIPZuJ— Dan Greenberg (@StoolGreenie) February 6, 2024
Boston, through 50 games, had the third-hardest schedule, which makes it even more impressive that they hold a five-game lead in the East.
Strength of schedule through 50 games:— Dan Greenberg (@StoolGreenie) February 6, 2024
Now it's the Celts turn, and they are 38-12 https://t.co/BP9JurfP1h
If the Celtics can continue to accumulate wins, and beat the teams that they should be beating, Boston ideally could be able to rest some key guys towards the end of the season if/when they lock up the one seed. That extra rest for guys like Porzingis and Horford can be critical leading into the postseason.