If Celtics don't get East's No. 3 seed, might they be better off finishing 6th rather than 4th or 5th?

With 12 games remaining in the regular season, the Celtics are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference standings.  At this point there's no chance Boston will catch the Raptors for the No. 2 seed, and it's also highly unlikely it'll blow a 3.5 game lead over the No. 7 spot and finish out of the top six.  However, the 3-6 positions are wide open--two days ago the C's were sixth in the East, two days before that they were third.  Only 1.5 games separate the Hawks, Heat, Celtics and Hornets in the middle of the conference's playoff race.  Those four clubs are most likely all going to play each other in the 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5 matchups in Round 1 of the playoffs, no matter how it shakes out.

Screenshot from ESPN.com
Clearly the No. 3 seed is the goal.  It would give Boston home-court advantage in the first round, plus the opportunity to take on second-seeded Toronto in Round 2 (of course this whole theory is based on the premise that LeBron James and the Cavs don't blow the No. 1 seed--their lead is down to a single game).

Finishing fourth still gets the Celtics home court in Round 1, but it likely sets them up to play Cleveland in the second round.  The fifth seed means a seventh game in Round 1 would be on the road, and also puts the C's on track to face the Cavs in Round 2 (if Boston gets there).

The No. 6 spot, on the other hand, would have the Celts in line to take on the No. 2 Raptors if Boston can get by the No. 3 team without having home-court advantage.

Usually one of the perks to earning a higher seed is the opportunity to play against an inferior opponent.  For example, in the West the Thunder are third at 48-22, while the 36-35 Trail Blazers are sixth.  However, the East's 3-6 squads may well end up with nearly identical records.

The question is, are the Celtics looking for the best chance to make the second round, or are they thinking bigger?

I can't imagine there's anybody out there who believes Boston might do better against Cleveland than Toronto.  The fourth seed gives the C's greater odds to reach Round 2, but the No. 6 position allows them a higher likelihood of success once they get there.  By this logic, sixth place is almost certainly a better scenario for the Celtics than fifth, which has the same downside as fourth without the benefit of home court.

Knowing Brad Stevens (and based on what happened at the end of last season), Boston will play hard and try to win every game regardless of what the matchups look like.  But if the No. 3 seed isn't an option, falling to sixth could be the next-best thing.

Top photo via NBA.com

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