The Celtics are locked in a tight race for the third seed in the Eastern Conference, as they currently stand half a game behind the Hawks and tied with the Heat for fourth. But even as the C's face the stretch run, they, and especially their fans, are keeping an eye on another three-way battle for third place, specifically for the third-worst record in the league.
Boston owns Brooklyn's first-round pick in this year's draft, and the Nets will be jostling for position with the Suns and Timberwolves over the last three weeks of the regular season. The 9-63 76ers and the 15-57 Lakers look to be locked in to the bottom two spots, and as of this writing Brooklyn and Phoenix are neck and neck, at 20-51 and 20-52 respectively, while Minnesota has pulled ahead at 24-48. In an attempt to determine where the C's will stand on draft lottery day, we took a look at the remaining schedules for the three teams in question:
Minnesota: The good news for the Celtics is that the Wolves, with their roster made up of experienced veterans and promising young stars led by Karl-Anthony Towns, are playing fairly well recently. Minnesota is 5-5 over its last 10 games and coming off a double-overtime victory in Washington on Thursday night. Their next three games are at home, and besides a near-certain loss at Golden State, they will face four Western Conference playoff bubble teams (Dallas, Houston, Portland and Utah) and the lottery-bound Kings and Pelicans. With the Nets and Suns playing as poorly as they are, it seems unlikely that either of those teams will catch the Wolves.
Brooklyn: The Nets are 3-8 in March so far, but scored an unlikely home win over the Cavaliers on Thursday. They have a tough schedule ahead, though, with only three of their remaining 11 games against teams that are virtually eliminated from the playoff race (Knicks, Magic and Pelicans). After a home matchup against the Pacers on Saturday, they go on a four-game road trip to Miami, Orlando, Cleveland and New York. Their last five games will be particularly difficult, as they will face the Wizards twice, the Hornets, the Pacers again and finally the Raptors, all teams who will be playing for seeding or even for a spot in the postseason.
Phoenix: The Suns have been one of the most disappointing teams of this NBA season, but they have already won more games in March (five) than they did in January and February combined (three). Their next opponent, on Saturday night, are the Celtics, and after that they will have four straight games against teams that are currently outside of the playoff picture: Minnesota, Milwaukee, Washington and Utah. They will then visit Atlanta and Houston, play two more against lottery-bound teams (Pelicans and Kings) and finish against the Clippers at home.
Prediction: Barring an unexpected surge, neither the Nets nor the Suns will catch up to the Timberwolves, who should end up with the fifth-worst record in the league, so it will come down to Brooklyn vs. Phoenix for third and fourth. The schedule favors the Celtics' interests, as the Suns have a much easier stretch run than the Nets. Phoenix should be able to do just enough to finish ahead of Brooklyn, leaving Boston with the third-best chance at the number one pick in the draft. At the May 17 lottery, it will take some awful luck to keep the Celtics out of the draft's top five.
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Photo credit: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images Nick García 3/26/2016 04:15:00 PM Tweet Edit