* * *
Real or mirage: The Celtics are in danger of falling into the bottom half of the Eastern Conference bracket.
* * *
Steve Aschburner: Real. There are five teams vying for the top four slots in the East. Boston’s embarrassment of riches in talented players won’t save them from slipping to the bottom of that pack if they don’t figure out how to put the good of the group first. Seeing as how the Celtics’ best player, Kyrie Irving, landed there because he essentially had that issue in Cleveland, it’s possible they don’t figure it out by the end of 82. I think they will and expect to see Philadelphia opening the playoffs on the road. But going seven games in the conference finals last season assures Boston of nothing.
Shaun Powell: Aren’t they already there, or close enough? What really matters is where the Celtics are come April. If they’re still looking up to the Pacers, for example, then there’s some issues here and this is no disrespect to Indiana. That’s not the ideal way to go into the playoffs — no home court advantage and a measure of doubt.
John Schuhmann: They’re already there! It’s definitely a surprise to see the Celtics in fifth place this late in the season. But with all the angst about roles and all the ups and downs with their offense, the Celtics have the league’s third best point differential, that of a team that’s 31-12 instead of 25-18. Part of that comes from four wins by 28 points or more (including one by 56) against the three worst teams in the East, but a good point differential is a good thing and the Celtics’ mediocre record (10-10) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes should improve over the second half of the season. Of course, the four Eastern Conference teams ahead of them in the standings are all really good, so there’s no guarantee that improvement from the Celtics will lead to a top-four seed. Boston, Indiana and Philadelphia all have similarly tough schedules going forward. (The Raptors have the easiest remaining schedule among the East’s top five.)
Sekou Smith: Mirage. Things are sticky right now in Boston. There is clearly a disconnect in that locker room right now that has to be remedied sooner rather than later. But I don’t think the Celtics are in danger of falling out of the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference. They are, however, already stumbling out of the position that should be non-negotiable, given all of the talent on the roster. The Celtics needing to chase the top four pack in the standings is an insult to the work Danny Ainge and Co. have done compiling talent and assets. The depth and versatility on the roster should have made this kind of slide impossible. But again, that disconnect in the locker room … now that’s no mirage. It’s as real as real gets.