The 2017 Playoff race is a tight one. We’re at the season’s last leg, and in the East, it looks like the top seed is up for grabs. A vast majority of analysts and fans pegged the Cleveland Cavaliers to grab the number one seed in the standings, and right now, they hold it. However, the Boston Celtics are hot on their heels. And they’re only one game behind them.
Could the Celtics pull off an upset and grab that top spot? Let’s break it down.
Catching Up To The King
The Cavaliers now sit at 46-24, with 12 games remaining. Those include relatively tough match-ups against a collection of Eastern rivals jockeying for Playoff position: the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, and Atlanta Hawks. They also visit both the San Antonio Spurs, who are playing like a championship team (as usual.) They also make a trip to LeBron’s old friends, the Miami Heat. That team is white-hot, and have beaten them twice this year.
The Boston Celtics are below the Cavs at 46-26, with 10 games remaining. However, here’s the rub that could get Celtics fans hoping: their schedule is a lot easier than the Cavs. Seven of those last ten are to be played at home. Six of them are versus teams with sub-.500 records.
One date to circle on your calendar: April 5, which is when LeBron and the Cavaliers visit the Boston Celtics one more time this season. That game could ultimately be the decider in terms of standings.
Realistically, if Boston goes 8-2 the rest of the way, and Cleveland goes 7-5, then the Celtics could claim the top spot.
Any less than that, however, and Cleveland will hang on to that number 1 seed. If they wind up with a tied record, then we’d go to head-to-head match-ups to confirm the tiebreaker (Cavs currently lead 2-1). If the Boston Celtics win on April 5 and they wind up jammed, then we’d go to Conference records (Cavs lead here by a game as well.)
Poised for the Postseason
Aside from the numbers, there are some other variables to consider as well. One is simply the type of basketball both teams have been playing as of late. The Celtics have proven mighty in that regard: they’re peaking in health at the right time, with all players looking primed (except for maybe Jonas Jerebko, still reeling from a minor face injury). With their full starting line-up intact (Thomas, Bradley, Crowder, Horford, Johnson), they’re 23-7.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, have struggled as of late. The early return of Kevin Love was a welcome sight for fans, but minor injuries to Kyle Korver and JR Smith have hampered recent efforts. The injury to Andrew Bogut shortly after the hopeful signing was a blow, as well. The Cavaliers are 4-6 in their last ten games.
The Celtics can indeed stay hopeful for that number one seed. They’ll need a bit of luck to get there, of course (and bad luck on the part of the Cavs), but that spot remains a realistic target.
Whether that plays a role once Playoffs-level LeBron James is unleashed, however, remains a different story.