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At 82 games, the NBA regular season is a marathon, especially for an older team like the Boston Celtics. So the big question is, should the Celtics sprint to the finish line, or coast into the postseason allowing their veteran starters to rest?
It’s an interesting question, and not an easy one to answer. The Celtics have eight games remaining on their schedule. They currently sit at 47-27, good enough for them to finish no worse than the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, barring an epic collapse. The Atlanta Hawks, one game ahead of Boston, currently hold the third seed, and the Milwaukee Bucks, the fifth seed, remain six games behind the C’s.
If the Celtics finish the season as the fourth seed, they will most likely match up with the Bucks or the Miami Heat in a first round playoff series. If they finish as the third seed, they will probably match up against the Miami Heat or the Charlotte Bobcats.
If I’m Doc Rivers I want to play the Bobcats. The C’s are 3-0 against Charlotte this season, and they match up well against them. Boston is also 3-0 against the Heat this season, but one of those victories came in OT via a Paul Pierce to Rajon Rondo buzzer-beating alley-oop inbounds pass (wow that was a mouthful). The Heat also have a legitimate superstar in Dwyane Wade. Wade is capable of taking over games, and could pose problems for the Celtics in a seven game series.
The team I do not want to see if I’m Doc is the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks have gone 23-8 over their last 31 games, and 17-3 after acquiring John Salmons from the Bulls. They have one of the best centers in the league in Andrew Bogut, and an explosive playmaker at point guard in Brandon Jennings. What makes the Bucks so scary is the fact that they will enter the playoffs as a team with nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Boston is 1-1 versus the Bucks this season, and the teams meet for a grudge match on April 10.
So, the Celtics should do everything they can to capture the third seed from the Hawks in order to avoid playing the Bucks. I think there is also something to be said for entering the playoffs with momentum. I know what you’re thinking. They need to rest the starters! Ray Allen is 34! Kevin Garnett is 33! But think about this. Remember how poorly the starters played in January when Pierce and Garnett were returning from injuries? From December 27th to January 31st the C’s went a miserable 6-11. It took a longtime for those guys to re-develop chemistry with Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, and Ray Allen. Certainly Doc should give them a little bit more rest than he did in the middle of the season, but I think this team needs to keep their foot on the gas peddle and finish strong.
Again, if I were Doc, I’d give a little extra rest to KG, Pierce, and Allen. I want the Big Three to stay sharp, but I want them entering the postseason with fresh legs. I would continue to give Rondo his regular minutes, and I would slowly add to Perkins’ minutes, allowing him to gradually recover from his knee tendinitis. I would also give the second unit a little extra playing time in order to improve their chemistry. I would focus on getting Marquis Daniels to be more aggressive, helping Nate Robinson find his role in the offense, and figuring out how to get Rasheed Wallace to work more in the post, and stop chucking up so many ill-advised three-pointers.
If the Celtics want to, they could easily finish the season 7-1 (I don’t see them beating the Cavs), and enter the playoffs with the swagger they had at the beginning of the season.
Tags: Andrew Bogut, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brandon Jennings, Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Cavaliers, Doc Rivers, Dwayne Wade, John Salmons, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett, Marquis Daniels, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, Nate Robinson, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Rasheed Wallace, Ray Allen