At 42-25 on the season, the Boston Celtics currently trail the 43-21 Cleveland Cavaliers by 2.5 games in the race for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
However, with 15 games remaining for the Celtics, there’s a chance the Cavaliers’ stranglehold on the top spot could be taken away.
The stars are aligning for Boston to make a run at home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, so here are the three biggest reasons Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics can snag the No. 1 spot from the Cavaliers.
With 15 games remaining on their regular-season schedule, the Celtics will get to play 10 of them at the TD Garden. Sporting a 22-9 home record this season (compared to 20-16 on the road), the Celtics are sure to play some of their best basketball in front of their home fans down the stretch.
When the Celtics do travel for their five remaining road games, they’ll only face one team (the Atlanta Hawks on April 6) that is currently in the playoff mix. Other road contests will be against the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets, all of whom sport sub-.500 records.
Granted, with recent road losses to the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings in the past month or so, coach Brad Stevens and his squad will need to make sure they don’t take any of their road opponents lightly. Anything other than a 5-0 or 4-1 road record from here on out will likely kill the Celtics’ hopes of getting the No. 1 seed.
Of Cleveland’s remaining 18 games, 10 of them (including Sunday night’s matchup against the red-hot Houston Rockets) are on the road. Included in the 10 remaining road contests is a long West Coast swing to play the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets before flying to Charlotte to end the trip with a game against the Hornets.
If the Cavaliers, who are only 17-14 on the road, can’t take care of business, Boston will be waiting to pounce.
Happy and healthy
Unlike the Cavaliers, the Boston Celtics are firing on all cylinders now and have all of their contributing players healthy.
Getting Avery Bradley back after the All-Star break has been hugely important for Boston, as he is the guy who will be tasked with guarding LeBron James should the two teams meet in the postseason.
Cleveland, meanwhile, is struggling to work guard J.R. Smith back into the rotation after a lengthy recovery from a hand injury. Star forward Kevin Love will likely be out for a few more weeks with a knee injury, and to make matters worse, sharpshooter Kyle Korver has missed the last few games with a foot injury.
If the hobbled Cavaliers squad can get all their important pieces back on the court before the playoffs, that will be bad news for the Celtics. But, at this rate, it looks as if Cleveland will not be at 100 percent by the end of the regular season, which could lead to some on-court chemistry issues come playoff time.
The heavy lifting is done
Boston’s 15 remaining opponents have a dismal .432 winning percentage, giving the Celtics the easiest remaining schedule in the league.
Take out the games against the Cavaliers and Wizards and Boston’s opponents have an even-worse winning percentage of just .398.
Against a host of teams that only win four out of every 10 games, the Celtics have an excellent chance to move up in the standings. Two games against the lowly Brooklyn Nets should be easy wins (though not even the Nets should be overlooked).
Even if the Cavaliers do get Love and Korver back and start playing well again, it might not be enough to hold off the Celtics, who have the perfect storm of favorable circumstances that should lead to the road to the Eastern Conference title going through Boston.