Previewing the Celtics Potential Playoff Path

As the 2024 NBA regular season enters its final week, the Boston Celtics are the only team in the league with nothing to play for. 

Boston has been firmly locked into the overall #1 seed for a few weeks now, as they sit at 62-16 with four games left to play. 

With an astounding 15-game lead in the Eastern Conference, let's look at the teams most likely to match up with the C's on their path to raise Banner 18.
Eastern Conference First Round: Miami Heat Or Chicago Bulls
The Celtics will have to wait until the conclusion of the play-in tournament to know their opening-round opponent, but it will probably be either Chicago or Miami.

The Heat have been one of the league's biggest disappointments in the 2023-24 regular season, but if last year says anything, they can't be counted out. Miami holds the #8 seed in the East, sitting at 43-35 with four games remaining. Holding the NBA's 4th-best defensive rating, Miami earns their wins the hard way, as they have just the #21 ranked offense and are 16th in net rating this season. Boston defeated Miami in all three meetings this season, with two wins in South Beach. As much trouble as the Heat have given the C's in previous postseasons, this Heat team would not give Boston much trouble. Too many mismatches for Miami gives the Celtics a decisive opening-round victory. 
Verdict: Celtics in 5

Currently in 9th in the Eastern Conference at 37-41 is the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls are a team that have been a constant disappointment ever since Demar Derozan arrived in town, just never reaching the expectations that the fans had for them. Chicago ranks 19th in offensive rating and #21 on the defensive end, which is good for 21st in the net rating. I genuinely believe that Coby White has the potential to be an All-Star caliber player for the Bulls, but they need to blow up their core and allow him to take the reigns before they make any sort of mark in the East. Boston swept Chicago 3-0 in the regular season, and I wouldn't expect anything different in a playoff meeting. 
Verdict: Celtics in 4
Eastern Conference Semifinals: Orlando Magic or Cleveland Cavaliers
With just 1.5 games separating the 3rd and 6th seeds in the East, this could end up being a number of different teams. However, based on the remaining schedule and tiebreakers, I expect the Orlando Magic or Cleveland Cavs to be the Celtics 2nd round opponent. 

Orlando has had a terrific season compared to where they were projected to finish in the standings in the preseason. Their young core, led by Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, has been fantastic all year, leading the Magic to a 46-32 record and on the cusp of their first playoff appearance since 2020. Orlando is similar to Miami in that both teams are led by their defense, as the Magic rank 3rd in defensive rating. Their offense holds them back as they are ranked in the bottom third of the league, but a net rating of 2.5 is on pace to be their best since the 2010-11 season. Boston got the best of Orlando in two of their three meetings during the regular season, but the teams last played on December 17th. If Orlando found their way into this spot against the C's, a combination of the talent and experience that the Celtics possess would be way too much for the young Magic, making for a relatively easy series.
Verdict: Celtics in 5 

Cleveland is a very tricky team to try and figure out. The star power is there with Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland, but various injuries have caused the Cavs to go through some significant lulls during the season. A 22-4 stretch starting in mid-December made it seem like the Cavs could potentially be the biggest threat to Boston in the East, but an 11-17 record since then has Cleveland facing some major questions entering the playoffs. Cleveland possesses the NBA's 7th best defense and can cause problems with their length inside. A 16th-ranked offensive unit can sometimes let them down, but Mitchell and Garland have the ability to take over when needed. Boston took two of three from the Cavs this season, with Cleveland winning the most recent game by 1. I wouldn't mind playing the Cavs in this spot because as good as Mitchell and Garland are, they are both defensive liabilities due to their lack of size on the perimeter. Brown and Tatum would have a field day picking apart switches in this series, giving Boston another excellent opportunity to advance. 
Verdict: Celtics in 5
Eastern Conference Finals: Milwaukee Bucks
Now I know that the Bucks have lost 4 straight and haven't looked like a team on the same page for quite some time, but the talent is still there. Giannis is the best player in the East, and Damian Lillard is one of the most clutch players in the league, and that's enough to get them to the Conference Finals. Milwaukee is different than the majority of the other threats in the East in that their offense carries them for the most part. They have the 5th ranked offense in the entire league and are 9th in net rating, but their defense is all the way down at #19. The initial thought from Bucks fans was that Doc Rivers would fix their defense and get them back on track, but to this point, that isn't the case. There's a world where Milwaukee goes out in the 1st or 2nd round this postseason, but if I had to put money on it, I still think they have enough to beat anyone in the East not named Boston. In a potential ECF series, I don't think Milwaukee would have much of a chance. Lillard, Connaughton, and Middleton are three guys who get big minutes, and not a single one of them can sit down and guard their yard. This is another series where Brown and Tatum would cause a lot of problems with switches and forcing double teams.
Verdict: Celtics in 5
NBA Finals: Denver Nuggets
To say anyone else is the favorite to come out of the West at this point would be a lie; Denver will be an extremely tough team to beat 4 times in 7 games. Nikola Jokic is about to win his third MVP award and has the Nuggets in position to make a run at back-to-back titles. Here's the thing: Denver isn't necessarily elite at anything this year, ranking 6th in offense and 9th in defense, but they don't do anything poorly. Their starting five can rival the Celtics in terms of who the better unit is, but their bench has taken a considerable hit compared to last year's championship team. In a playoff series, I'm not sure the Nuggets are more than 6 or 7 deep, which could cause fatigue against an elite team like the Celtics. Even though Denver knows how to get it done and had two victories over the Celtics in the regular season, Boston still holds a slight advantage in this potential title fight. I've got the C's.
Verdict: Celtics in 7
Celtics fans have been waiting a long time for another title in Beantown and I believe that the time is now. 

Jayson and Jaylen are prepared for the moment, Porzingis and Holiday were the perfect additions, White has been terrific, and the bench players all know their roles. 

This team can end the drought. Let's go Celtics.