WASHINGTON D.C. — With two games left in the regular season, the Boston Celtics’ playoff picture remains complicated. The Celtics are locked into the No. 2 seed (and have been in essence for quite some time), but they could still face any of three teams in the first round — the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat or the Washington Wizards.
Brad Stevens isn’t particularly worried.
“(The last-minute seeding) is no more than of a stress on our staff than the staff we’re playing against,” Stevens told reporters at shoot around before Tuesday’s pivotal matchup against Washington. “At the end of the day, we’ll work and be ready to play Saturday or Sunday, whenever we play.”
The playoff picture is a confusing jumble — one which Tuesday’s game could help clarify.
Let’s dive in:
– As things currently stand, the Bucks are sixth, the Heat are seventh and the Wizards are eighth. If the regular season ended now, the Celtics would face the Heat.
– The Bucks have a one-game lead over the Heat and a 1.5-game lead over the Wizards, prior to Tuesday. Milwaukee finishes its season against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.
Will the Sixers be resting anyone on Wednesday? Probably not. Philadelphia can clinch the No. 3 seed with wins in its last two games against the Hawks (Tuesday) and Bucks. If the Sixers don’t win both games, they likely drop to fourth — the Cavaliers own the tie-breaker and finish their season against the New York Knicks.
– Miami holds the tiebreaker over both Milwaukee and the Wizards. Miami swept their season series against the Bucks. Meanwhile, the Heat and Wizards split, but they are in the same division, and Miami has clinched the better divisional record. Miami finishes its season against a Toronto Raptors squad with the top seed locked up and nothing left to play for.
– The Wizards close against the Celtics and the Orlando Magic, who are trying to improve their lottery odds. The Celtics will play their starters against Washington.
So what (likely) is decided tonight?
If the Celtics win, the Wizards would be stuck in the eight seed — unable to catch Milwaukee and unable to overcome Miami’s tiebreaker.
If the Celtics lose, Miami and Washington will come down to the last night of the season, and given Washington’s final game against the Magic, the Heat would likely need to beat Toronto to maintain their slot at No. 7.
Things could get even more chaotic. If the Celtics lose to the Wizards and Washington beats Orlando, the Wizards could still climb to No. 7. That would require the Bucks and Heat to both fall in the final game of the season (and both teams are playing higher seeded conference opponents). If the Wizards win on Tuesday and all three teams win on Wednesday, everybody stays put.
So that’s a whole lot to process. As simplified as possible: A Celtics win against the Wizards likely (although not certainly!) locks everyone into their current positions. A Celtics loss makes Wednesday fascinating.
“I think ultimately, it’s gonna be one of three teams,” Stevens said. “We’ll prepare for all three, we’ll have stuff ready for all three, and when that time comes on Wednesday night, we’ll hone in on one.”
Until then, the rest of us may very well be scoreboard watching.