Diving beyond Hollinger odds: Celtics' playoff chances

Celtics Life's Cup of Joe for this morning included the Hollinger odds and the remaining schedules of the Eastern Conference's Playoff hopefuls. Here's how things look now:

Brooklyn (36-41, 78.2%): ATL, WAS, @MIL, CHI, ORL

Boston (35-42, 39.4%): @DET, @CLE, CLE, TOR, @MIL

Miami (34-43, 43.7%): CHA, CHI, TOR, ORL, @PHI

Indiana (34-43, 33.2%): @NYK, @DET, OKC, WAS, @MEM

However, there are two limitations with the picture the Hollinger model presents us. The first one is merely a technicality: It looks like there will be very complicated tiebreaker scenarios at play for the Eastern Conference, and the model's current projected number of wins and final rankings are seemingly at odds with the reality: If Indiana, Miami and Boston are tied at 37 wins, Indiana would make the Playoffs. The discrepancy occurs because the model does the rankings according to the odds, not the projected W-L: That the most likely scenario is three teams ending up at 37 wins does not affect Indiana's overall chances given other scenarios. But anyway, I don't want to focus on that for now.

The second limitation, I believe, is more important nonetheless and is what I want to focus on: Off-the-court or non-number factors. (Phantom) injuries, resting players, motivation... I will try to briefly explain how these might affect each team's chances, and then conclude by assessing the "realer" Playoff odds for these teams.

Brooklyn Nets: A few nights ago, Brooklyn's chances of making the Playoffs were around 50-50. What happened? Well, Brook Lopez has been playing out of his mind lately, and the Nets have nothing to lose at all by making the Playoffs because they have traded away their future anyways. Oh, and they have already started benefiting from the "rest before the Playoffs" scenarios as Portland rested three key players last night. What's more, Paul Millsap is nursing an injury for the Hawks and as coach Budenholzer is a graduate of the Spurs school, they tend to rest their players during the regular season anyways.

It is almost guaranteed that the Nets will grab two more wins for the rest of the season against the sad Washington Wittmans and Orlando Tankers, and one more win would put them over the top. Given the state of the Hawks and the Wizards, I would say the Hollinger odds actually underrepresent their chances of making the Playoffs. You can count them in already unless something crazy happens.

Here's a fun picture to look at before reading my predictions.
Boston Celtics: Well, our schedule is really, I mean really tough. Both games we played against the Pistons this year went to overtime, Cleveland demolished us in our latest game, the Raptors always find a way to beat us (except a few nights ago thanks to the miracle-ish play by Smart) and the Bucks have beaten us twice already this season. What's more, Toronto will likely be fighting for the 4th seed for home court advantage and the Bucks might still be motivated to play to avoid the 7th seed come game 82.

Alright, here are the good news: When Detroit beat us, Marcus Smart was suspended and Reggie Jackson had a field day against us. It won't happen this time, and the Pistons have no reason to win that game, so that should help too. LeBron wants to rest before the Playoffs begin, and Kevin Love's back has been bothering him all season so he's should logically get some rest too. The Cavs have basically clinched the 2nd seed and they're not chasing any records, so there is no extra motivation at stake: If anything, the Celtics should be really motivated to beat them after their last game. If the Bucks will have clinched their seeding by the last game, they might prefer to loosen up a little bit too.

However, it is not looking great for us. The Celtics will need to play some great basketball if they truly want to make the Playoffs, and they will probably have to win more than 2 games to do that.

Miami Heat: Here's their injury chart for tonight per Sports Network:

The Heat have been battling injuries all season, and it is really hard to predict how they will fare at all at any given game. On paper, they should comfortably beat Orlando and Philly, but they have lost against those teams in better shape this year. Charlotte is in the top 5 for unpredictability this year, coach Thibs doesn't tank and the Raptors will be trying to win some games as explained above.

Health will determine everything for the Heat. On paper, they should end the season with 37 wins, but anything is possible. I would say their chances are lower than the Pacers though, who are coming up next.

Indiana Pacers: ICYMI, Paul George is back and he played well in his debut. Moreover, the Pacers' next two games are against the Knicks and the Pistons, which is as good a schedule a player who is shaking his rust off can ask for. I have already explained Washington Wittman's situations above, so 37 wins are quite likely for them.

The good news for us is that the Thunder are still very motivated to win, and given their recent form and the possible seeding changes, the Grizzlies should be motivated to win too. However, I haven't been able to trust the Grizzlies to win any game for more than a month now. The 37-win projection makes sense for the Pacers, but it would not be crazy for them to win 38.

Can you see the excitement in their faces?
To conclude, here are my "updated" Playoff odds rankings:

1. Brooklyn Nets
2. Indiana Pacers
3. Miami Heat
4. Boston Celtics

See, this is where the 3 team tie becomes important. Miami, Boston and Indiana are all 4-4 against each other, which means the team who won the most games in their conference is going to have the upper hand. That team is Indiana, as I have already mentioned above. If we had not lost against the Wade-less, Whiteside-less Heat on March 25th, we would have been the team with the advantage in that possible tiebreaker. Here's to hoping that loss won't bite us in the end.

Now, all hope is not lost: We hold the tiebreaker against the Pacers, so as long as we win more games than the Heat does, we will get rid of one major obstacle in the journey for the 8th seed. It is always good to have your fate in your hands, which the Celtics do. Yet that journey will not be easy at all, and nothing will be set in stone by the very last day of the season.

Clear your schedules for April 15th. It is going to be a wild ride.
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Photo credits: AP Photo/Matt York, Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today Sports.