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Celtics' guard Kemba Walker faces off against Toronto's Fred Van Fleet back in October. Photo via Michael Dwyer
The Boston Celtics have hit their groove as we get closer to the start of the playoffs in April. Currently, they have won 7 straight games and 10 out of their last 11 all while dealing with significant off and on injuries to a lot of their best players. Jayson Tatum has been consistently scorching his opponents and has played a major role in gaining some impressive wins in this stretch over teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Miami Heat. Kemba Walker continues to grow in comfort in his influential leadership position and "1B" scoring option on this team, while Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown carve out their consistent presence in the team's offense. And Marcus Smart just keeps playing Marcus Smart basketball.

However, with all these great things going on for the Celtics there continues to be one pretty substantial obstacle in our way: the Toronto Raptors. Now, of course, the #1 seed is always the goal but with the somewhat quietly historic season Giannis Antetukompo and the Milwaukee Bucks (45-7) are having they just seem untouchable in terms of seeding at the moment. The Celtics are currently in third with a record of 37-15 and are 8 games out of the top seed in the conference. They have managed in the last month or so to start to pull away from the middle seeded teams that had all been competing for a top-three slot as well, such as Miami, Philadelphia, and Indiana, but the teams ahead of them continue to stand in the way, one of which being the Toronto Raptors.

The Eastern Conference seedings as of February 9th, 2020. 
Now, if anyone tells you they saw this season coming out of the Toronto Raptors, there is a very good chance that they are lying. Toronto is the defending NBA champion, but after the departure of Kawhi Leonard I do not think anyone expected them to be in contention once again to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. I'll admit, I for one assumed they would still make the playoffs (Leonard was a key piece of their championship but it takes a whole team, many of which they still have) but in a much lower seed that did not threaten the likes of the Bucks, the 76ers, or the Celtics in any way. Nonetheless, here we are more than halfway through the season and despite the fact that Boston has been on fire, the Raptors still sit 1.5 games ahead of us at the #2 seed having won their last 14 games.

While it may not appear as big a deal right now, getting to the second seed in the playoffs would be a huge win for us. If the top three seedings remain in the possession of these three teams, then we are presumably set to play both the Raptors and the Bucks in order to advance to the Finals and it is not ideal to have to beat both of them without home-court advantage. Of course, this is all assuming that there are no major injuries on any of these teams or any significant upsets in the first round that would drastically change the fate of these contenders. While I'm not saying it is impossible to beat Toronto and Milwaukee as the away team in back to back series, having a home-court advantage over the Raptors in the second round would be huge in avoiding another disappointing second-round exit.

So the question becomes: is it possible to catch them before then? The simple answer is: yes, but it will be a very close race. 

After the all-star break, the Raptors have 29 games left in their regular season, while the Celtics will have 30. Out of those 29 games for Toronto, 14 are against teams that currently have winning records. In addition, 14 of those games are at home in the Scotiabank Arena. Meanwhile, 15 of Boston's final 30 games will be against winning teams and they will also have 14 of those games at home. However, in all of this, the biggest statistics to keep in mind are that the Raptors are just 9-12 against teams with a winning record, while Boston is nearly opposite at 12-8. Also, the Celtics currently boast an 81.5% winning percentage in the TD Garden (22-5), while the Raptors have a worse 74.1% up in Canada (20-7). The two teams also will play each other one more time after the break, and if this race for the #2 seed continues as is that matchup could be a crucial win for the C's (Celtics are currently winning the season series 2-1).


Now, of course, any team in the NBA could come back from the all-star break looking completely different than they did before for better or for worse. The Raptors might start to look like the team many expected prior to the season. Perhaps the Celtics let some of their play dip in quality and fall out of reach of a top-two seed. Maybe even Milwaukee starts to cool off and the #1 seed could be up for grabs in the mix. Who knows??? It's all so unpredictable. But one thing is for sure: if the Celtics really want to move up in the rankings before the start of the playoffs than they have to keep this focused and winning mentality through the all-star break and beyond. I think they can catch them, but we will just have to wait and see.

What do you think? What is the Celtics' ceiling in terms of the playoff seedings? Can they keep up their winning ways? Can Toronto and Milwaukee? Let us know in the comments down below.

You can follow Thomas Desmond on Twitter @td_654





Thomas Desmond 2/10/2020 04:44:00 PM Edit
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