ESPN.com's John Hollinger offers thoughts on Boston's chances to win the Atlantic Division and shuffle up to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference -- or miss the playoffs all together:
If you look at the standings, you have to like the position of the Boston Celtics. They're only 1½ games behind Philadelphia for first place in the Atlantic Division and two games out of a top-four seed in the East.
It looks doable, right? Especially after Monday's win in Atlanta, which was a classic type of Celtics win. It wasn't pretty, but Boston ground out a defensive battle with lots of woofing and trash-talking, a couple clutch Ray Allen 3s, and culminating in Kevin Garnett describing Jeff Teague as "a nobody" after the game.
With the same key four starters, KG talking smack to the other team's fourth-best player (seriously, has he ever been in an altercation with anybody who was genuinely good?), and Boston ranking third in the league in defensive efficiency, why wouldn't we assume that it's the same old Celtics and that they'll be at least in the East's top six by the time the season ends?
As it turns out, there's one really good reason: The schedule.
Later Hollinger adds:
Boston needs to be looking down, not up. That's especially true given that Atlanta (13 home, seven away) and Indiana (14 home, nine away) both get some serious home cooking the rest of the way. Those clubs are likely to pull away and finish several games ahead of Boston.
In fact, the Celtics' odds of catching any of the four teams ahead of them are pretty dim given this schedule; the Playoff Odds give the Celtics only a 5 percent chance of winning the division, for instance, and those odds don't know that Jermaine O'Neal and Chris Wilcox are out for the season.
Conversely, the odds of Milwaukee or New York -- or both -- catching the Celtics are much stronger than conventionally assumed.
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