addByline("Taylor Snow", "Celtics.com", "taylorcsnow");
With three games left in the regular season, the Boston Celtics know that they are playoff-bound. Beyond that, they know absolutely nothing with regard to where they’ll fall in the standings or who they’ll face in the first round.
It’s shaping up to be the tightest Eastern Conference race in recent memory, as 2.5 games separate the first- through fourth-place teams.
Boston (49-30) is currently in second place, sitting two games behind Miami (51-28), while Milwaukee and Philadelphia sit half a game behind the Celtics with identical 48-30 records (the Bucks own the tiebreaker over the 76ers).
Meanwhile, Chicago and Toronto are in a tie for fifth place (the Bulls own the tiebreaker), both with 45 wins and 33 losses.
As for the teams that are likely bound for the play-in tournament – Cleveland (43-36), Atlanta (41-37), Charlotte (40-38), and Brooklyn (40-38) – they are all separated by just 2.5 games as well.
The remaining five East teams have each been eliminated from playoff contention.
C’s head coach Ime Udoka said after Monday afternoon’s practice that he’s never seen a race quite like this one, “where 1 to 4 is so tightly contested, and then I guess 5 and 6 more so now. Obviously, the play-in plays into it as well for preparation purposes, so we could be playing (several) different teams.”
The Celtics, who could finish anywhere from first to fifth, could potentially face any one of the aforementioned teams in the first round with the exception of Miami.
Heading into a typical final week, playoff-bound teams are usually trying to figure out how to balance resting players with maintaining rhythm on top of having a seeding strategy. However, this is shaping up to be far from a typical final week for Eastern Conference teams, as it is impossible to strategically navigate the standings with so much up in the air.
The only certainty for the Celtics is their final three regular-season opponents: they will finish on a three-game road trip starting with Chicago on Wednesday, Milwaukee on Thursday, and Memphis on Sunday.
As for how they will approach those three games from a rest standpoint, Udoka said a decision has not yet been made.
“A lot of it obviously has to do with seeding and standings and kind of what happens as far as that,” he said. “We’re going one by one, honestly, and start with Chicago. Based on results and whatever else happens around us, it's a back-to-back, so we're just taking it Chicago first and then figuring it out down the line. And, obviously, it has to do with opponents and what they end up doing as well. But the health and playing well are the keys and then seeding and standings and everything that you can't really kind of determine will play into it afterwards.”
Boston’s first two opponents are both in a similar situation, as Chicago and Milwaukee are both still fighting to rise in the standings. However, the last opponent – Memphis – has already locked up the No. 2 seed in the West. That means the Grizzlies will likely rest guys during their season finale, which could play into Boston’s game plan as well.
For now, the strategy is simple for the Celtics: “Keep playing our best basketball,” said Udoka.
Control what they can control, and let the chaos play itself out.