Celtics may be favorites for No. 2 in East, but let's not put them in Conference Finals just yet
Every August, Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston assembles a Celtics Summer Forecast in which he polls local writers/bloggers about the upcoming season. Today's question: How far will the 2016-17 Celtics go? Five possible choices were given, ranging from NBA Finals to missing the playoffs (champions was not an option, even for us homers). Here are the results:
Celtics Summer Forecast, Day 2: Expectations have been heightened a bit.
Keep in mind, this is a panel made up of Celtics enthusiasts, myself included. Of the 21 votes, only three had Boston falling short of the East Finals (for what it's worth, Forsberg didn't include his own vote, conference semis). I was among the minority:
Conference finals or bust seems to be the mantra within Celtics Nation right now and, while it's definitely a reasonable possibility, I'm not sure it's the most likely scenario for this squad. Making the leap from "good" to "elite" is a lot harder to do than improving from "mediocre" to "good." [Al] Horford was the Hawks' third-leading scorer (13.4 PPG) during last year's postseason, so it's not fair to expect him to be the crunch-time guy who carries Boston this season.
It makes sense for the No. 2 team in the conference to reach its final round and I understand why the poll results are what they are. Like most other local scribes, I believe the C's should be the second-best team in the East behind Cleveland--but I'm still hesitant to mark them down for a Conference Finals appearance.
It's about the math.
The Raptors can also make a fair claim to the No. 2 seed, while the Pacers and Pistons might get there as well. I don't want to completely write off the Hawks, Knicks and Bulls either (New York and Chicago probably won't be good, but who knows if their aging stars mesh perfectly together).
Assuming the Cavs are a lock, here are some hypothetical numbers for the percent chances of each of the remaining teams to face them in the East Finals:
Even if you disagree with the percentages, it's easy to see how the Celtics can be the team most likely to take on Cleveland, while simultaneously not having particularly good odds to do so. My heart says Boston should reach the ECF, but my head sees a second-round exit as a safer bet.