The Eastern Conference Swamp Race for 7th and 8th

Our beloved Celtics are now a young team. Stalwarts Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green are in Dallas and Memphis, making waves in the Western Conference playoff race, while the Celtics play better-than-expected basketball in the wake of the two impact trades and about a dozen very small trades since mid-December. A surprise win over the exhausted Atlanta Hawks (Korver and Teague especially) has the Celtics at 20-31, in the thick of things at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. The question of whether or not to pursue one of the final two playoff spots (six teams fighting for 7th and 8th seeds) is a legitimate one. The win over Atlanta is bound to give Celtics fans more hope that a 1 vs 8 series versus Atlanta would be competitive. The standings currently look like this:

Eastern Conference Swamp (Fight for 7th and 8th)

Let’s figure this out by sorting through each team.

Charlotte began the year with high hopes and promptly fell on their face, with zero ball movement and Lance Stephenson showing how badly he needs spacing around him to operate with the ball. Since MKG has gotten healthy, their defense has been excellent and they’re eeking out wins over mediocre opponents (many of whom they’ll see in the final two months, as 21 of their final 30 games are against the East. Mo Williams to the rescue, should give them much needed scoring.

Home games left: 13. East games left: 21 Hollinger playoff odds: 34.7%

Miami is a new team since Hassan Whiteside reinvented himself and became the next Tyson Chandler. When the aging Dwyane Wade is healthy, they have a very legit group of four (Bosh, Wade, Deng, and Whiteside). Expect Miami to run off a nice streak and ease in to the 7th spot and feast upon the East.

Home games left: 17. East games left: 21. Hollinger playoff odds: 42.5%

Brooklyn is a cool, if over-priced, place to visit (in the Spring and Fall), but the team is currently a fucking mess. No way they back in to the playoffs, even if Deron Williams finds a way to stay healthy. Time for KG to retire…or get traded to Golden State for one more title run…

Home games left: 16. East games left: 18. Hollinger playoff odds: 21.9%

Boston faces a crucial stretch of winnable road games to start the second-half (Sacramento, Lakers, Phoenix) and then an even-more winnable home game (Knicks). If the Celtics take 3 of 4, the playoff talk will warm. Unfortunately, an equally grueling schedule awaits in March, including five back-to-backs and some tough Western Conference playoff teams. Optimistically, the Celtics can hope to stay afloat for a few weeks, and then play meaningful March games against Indiana, Miami, Brooklyn and Charlotte, as they all claw for positioning. In reality, an 8th or 9th pick in the draft would be better than a 13th pick and a likely early playoff exit. If they stay afloat, the games still mean something in late March, which can only help the young Celtics get real experience. Another caveat: Brandon Bass and Marcus Thornton are on the block, which would diminish their offensive balance.

Home games left: 14. East games left: 21. Hollinger playoff odds: 39.4%

Detroit had their stretch of briliiance after cutting ties with Josh Smith and surrounding their bigs with shooters. Kyle Singler and Anthony Tolliver have never been so valuable. Not to be lost is the presence of Jodie Meeks. Brandon Jennings was having a torrid stretch, moving the ball, and finding pathways to the basket. Brutally for Jennings and Stan Van Gundy, Jennings’ Achilles went out, and Detroit has been forced to move on with D.J. Augustin. Not the same penetrating ability. The Pistons seem as unlikely as Boston to finish 8th, but they may keep it clogged up for a while.

Home games left: 13. East games left: 21. Hollinger playoff odds: 25.6%

Indiana fans have been through some tough times in the last twelve months. A post ASB free-fall last spring, followed by a gritty playoff run. Then Paul George’s freak injury with the U.S. team this summer. The season was considered a lost cause. Fear of impending free agency (David West, Roy Hibbert). What now? Injuries sent them into a tailspin in November. An insane number of injuries. But now here they are, within shouting distance of an 8th seed, and a potential playoff rematch with Atlanta, now the darlings of the Association, secure in their top seeding in the East. Everyone except for Paul George is back and the offense has returned to its mediocre-level with the infusion of shooting from PG George Hill. Rumors of Paul George healing quickly and making a late-March return are intriguing. The schedule is relatively soft, with the Pacers having played 24 of their 32 games against the superior conference. Stranger things have happened. Goran Dragic is rumored to be on the block. The Pacers would suddenly have even more offense. The early March schedule is kind to Indiana, with weak Eastern opponents dotting the landscape. They will need to fatten themselves on those wins, though. Final three games of the season: vs. OKC, vs. WAS, @ MEM. Yikes.

Home games left: 16. East games left: 22. Hollinger playoff odds: 36.8%

Current Standings

22 30 .423 20.0 13-15 9-15 6-4 16-15 Lost 3
22 30 .423 20.0 9-15 13-15 3-7 15-16 Lost 1
21 31 .404 21.0 10-15 11-16 7-5 14-20 Lost 3
20 31 .392 21.5 12-15 8-16 6-4 12-19 Won 1
21 33 .389 22.0 10-18 11-15 4-6 13-18 Lost 1
21 33 .389 22.0 11-14 10-19 4-5 14-16 Won 1
Darko Index Predicts

7. Miami Heat 37-45
8. Indiana Pacers 36-46
9. Charlotte Hornets 34-48
10. Boston Celtics 33-49
11. Detroit Pistons 31-51
12. Brooklyn Nets 29-53
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