Freeze it: Eastern Conference NBA standings watch

Freeze it: Eastern Conference NBA standings watch


The Celtics are peaking.

With 20ish games to go, the Eastern Conference is made up of three distinct groups: the “which one of you guys is playing for second” duo (Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers), four teams to stay in the remaining three spots of the top-6 (New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, and Orlando Magic), and the play-in caboose (Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, and Atlanta Hawks).

At #2 and #3 are two teams play with a ton of size in their front court. A seven-game series against the 7’1 Brook Lopez, 6’11 Giannis Antetokounmpo, and 6’7 Khris Middleton or the 6’11 Evan Mobley, 6’9 Jarrett Allen, 6’5 Max Strus would have to wait until the conference finals. The headline here is avoiding the Bucks for as long as possible.

However, Round 2 is the real focus here. Currently, a game and a half separates the 4th-seeded Magic and the 7th-seeded 76ers with the Knicks and Heat sandwiched in between. For them, there’s obviously motivation to stay out one-game randomness of the Play-In Tournament. For the Celtics, they will be scoreboard-watching down the stretch to see who they could be playing in a potential 1-4 matchup.

Dealing with a slew of injuries to their three top players, the Knicks are 3-7 in their last ten games and don’t have definitive timetables on the returns of Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, and OG Anunoby. The same goes for Philadelphia. Who knows what Joel Embiid’s availability will be and if he does return, what he’ll look like post-knee surgery. Orlando, who is currently surging on a 16-3 run, has been a problem for the Celtics over the last two years could be a taxing second round matchup.

And then there’s Miami. With the second easiest remaining schedule (behind only Boston), there’s a very good chance they’re in that 4-5 matchup in Round 1 with and an eye to take down the top seed again. Or, the Heat could even slip into the Play-In, lose and win like they did last year, and be an 8-seed in the end. Wherever Jimmy Butler & Co. lands, the narrative police will be on the watch.

There’s also just the popcorn-crunching entertainment value of watching the Celtics’ rivals take each other out, right? Doc Rivers having to potentially deal with Erik Spoelstra in April? I’m here for it. Atlantic Division foes 76ers and Knicks duking it out with a first round exit for the loser? Perfect. The Bucks and Cavs manhandling and wearing each other down? Yes, please.

As it stands, the Celtics could ideally be looking at a Pacers-Magic-Bucks path to the NBA Finals. Indiana and Orlando have certainly given Boston competitive games this season with their varying playstyles and Milwaukee is Milwaukee, but avoiding Miami, New York, and Philadelphia could prove to be a godsend come May.


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