Could the Celtics steal the top seed from the Cleveland Cavaliers?

Don't look now, but the Boston Celtics are in sole possession of the second seed in the Eastern Conference, and are just 2.5 games behind the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

OK, go ahead and look - but try not to get too excited. It won't be easy, because what I'm about to tell you ought to get you pretty excited. Since trading for former Atlanta Hawk Kyle Korver - remember when we were ready to declare the race in the East over? - the Cavs have dropped SEVEN of 13 games, including matches against the lowly Dallas Mavericks (fourth worst record in the league), Sacramento Kings, Portland Trailblazers, and New Orleans Pelicans - the latter three of which are currently out of playoff contention, sub-.500 teams.

It would be unfair to Kyle to pin this on him - the team is a bit of a mess at the moment, trying to find a way to deal with injuries to J.R. Smith (out until at least March), Chris Anderson (out for the year), and now Kevin Love (day-to-day with back injuries, never a good sign for a big man). This has erupted into a public, though for now controlled, feud between Lebron James and owner Dan Gilbert over spending and the need for depth in the backcourt, specifically at the one.

Also, the Cavs have a lot of challenging games left on the schedule; a rematch against the Oklahoma City Thunder looms in February. Then, a murderer's row for any other team in the East follows, seeing Boston, the Houston Rockets, the Utah Jazz, the Los Angeles Clippers, and San Antonio Spurs fill out the rougher matches in March. April, though shorter, still has another matchup against the Celts and a tilt with the Toronto Raptors, too - and every month has several games with plenty of teams capable of being a threat on an off night for the Cavs, something they have had a lot of recently.

Compare this to Boston's situation. Their third best player, Avery Bradley, is likely to return to a team that's finally morphed into the fringe contender many expected them to be at the start of the season, with a roster that seems to have gotten its injury bugs exorcised and is seeing historic numbers from Isaiah Thomas. The bench seems to be getting its act together too, with growing contributions from Jaylen Brown coming up big more and more often.

The schedule may not be a walk in the park, but it's by no means as vicious as what the Cavs have on tap. A winnable battle for the second seed (and maybe All-Star coaching in the East honors) unfolds this week against Toronto to start the month of February, followed by the Clippers and yet another tilt with the Raptors. March comes in like a lion, with matches against the Cavs, the Clippers, and Golden State Warriors early, but then heads out like a lamb, with the bulk of that month's remaining games being against sub .500 teams. Cleveland is the lone tough game in April, though there's plenty of the same good-but-not-great squads facing Boston as well in between.

To recap: Cleveland faces eight teams with a good chance of losing, recent woes notwithstanding. Boston faces seven. The outlook on each team's inside couldn't be further apart, with the advantage clearly in the Celt's corner. Could the Celtics steal the top seed from the Cavs? They most certainly could! But it will be - even in light of the last few weeks - a very big struggle, one which might better be used to maintain the current seed and prepare for the deep playoff run this team needs to be seen as a success. Don't get your hopes up - but don't be surprised, either.

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Photo via AFP Photo/Jason Miller
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