The Race for #1 down the Stretch

lexrageorge

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SoSH Member
Jul 31, 2007
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I would argue that the #1 seed would be tremendously helpful to the Celtics this season. Assuming that the Cavs finish 3rd, it would push off any matchup with them until the Conference Finals. If there's a downside, it's that the opening round would be a potentially difficult series with either the 76'ers or the Pistons. Although finishing 2nd seed could put the Celtics in a matchup against the Heat, who were 2-1 against the Green this season. Either way, I'd much rather see a 7th game happening in Boston, no matter the opponent, so I do think the #1 seed is worth fighting for to some extent.

Realistically, the only competition is Toronto, although the Cavs cannot be completed counted out. At the very least, they could be a threat to unseat the runner-up for the #2 seed, so they remain worth watching. I've counted out the Bucks for now. Anyway, taking a look at the upcoming schedule, I've broken out the winning percentage for each of the teams' remaining opponents, both home and away, as well as counting the number of "tough" games. A "tough game" is either a game against an opponent over 0.500, or one on the 2nd day of a back-to-back. So, on to the data:

Celtics: 26 games remaining (0.490 opponents winning percentage).
12 home games (0.480), 14 road games (0.498), 5 back-to-backs.
Division W/L: 9-3
Conference W/L: 25-11

8 of 12 home games against winning opponents or 2nd night of back-to-back (includes tonight's against Indy, and the home finale against the Nets).

10 of 14 road games against winning teams or 2nd night of back-to-back.

Comments: Good news is that the 2nd halves of the back-to-backs are mostly against dreadful opponents (Knicks, Suns, Nets make up 3 of the 5). Beyond those 3 and tonight's game, the other back-to-back is in Toronto; however, Toronto will have played in Cleveland the prior evening, so neither will have much of an edge beyond the home court. The C's still have to travel to Houston, and there will be a difficult stretch in mid-March when the Celtics play 8 of 10 games on the road, which includes a trip to New Orleans, a 2nd west coast trip which is immediately followed by a home game against Toronto, and then the Bucks and Raptors back-to-back on the road. And the other home game in that stretch is against the Thunder. Good news #2: the west coast trip does include games against the Suns and Kings.

Raptors: 28 games remaining (0.488)
14 home (0.495), 14 away (0.480), 6 back-to-backs
Division W/L: 8-3
Conference W/L: 22-7

10 of 14 home games against winning opponents or 2nd night of back-to-back (includes Celtics).
9 of 14 road games against winning opponents or 2nd night of back-to-back.

Comments: While opponent's record is not much different than the Celtics, they do benefit from having a easier road schedule. Beyond Boston, toughest road games are the 2 against the Cavs and a weakened Wizards team. Games against Houston, Boston, and the Bucks are the toughest home ones. No west coast trips.

Cavs: 29 games remaining (0.482)
14 home games (0.512), 15 road games (0.454), 3 back-to-backs
Division W/L: 8-5 (not really relevant here)
Conference W/L: 23-12

10 of 14 home games against winning opponents or 2nd night of back-to-back.
9 of 15 home games against winning opponents or 2nd night of back-to-back.

Comments: Ignoring for the moment the challenge of integrating a bunch of new additions to the roster, the Cavs have the easiest overall schedule. They're in a somewhat difficult stretch now in that they follow Sunday's big game against Boston with a trip to OK City. And the Spurs come to town later in February. That's followed by a 6-game swing through the West Coast in March, but the rest of the schedule after that is fairly soft. Both matches against the Raptors are at home. Interesting that the team with the most games remaining also has the fewest back-to-backs. That coincidentally could mean they have the least practice time among the 3, which could make the integration process more challenging.

Bottom line: The Celtics cannot really expect any favors from the schedule, and probably have the most difficult stretch in that 10 game window that includes their trip out West. And the tiebreakers slightly favor Toronto at this stage. Those 2 head-to-head games remaining likely determine the #1 seed, barring either team undergoing a particularly hot or cold stretch.