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Playoff picture slowly coming into focus

4/9/2012

BOSTON -- With Sunday's win over the 76ers, the Celtics opened a three-game lead over Philadelphia atop the Atlantic Division. With only 10 games remaining in the regular season, it's going to be tough for the struggling Sixers to close that gap (though certainly not impossible given Boston's daunting slate). That's why Celtics coach Doc Rivers isn't putting too much stock in the victory.

"In the end, we still have a lot of games -- not a lot, but enough that we just have to keep playing," Rivers said. "I can tell you, I never mentioned [the standings] to our team before the game, I didn’t say one word about the conference. I don’t even know where anyone is. Honestly, I truly don’t. So we're going to keep playing and then [Celtics media relations czar] Jeff Twiss will tell us where we are at the end of [the regular season]. I think that’s the smartest thing to do."

Spoiler alert, Doc. The Celtics are in good position so long as there's no egregious stumbles:

http://espn.go.com/nba/standings  

Essentially, if the Celtics can build off the momentum they've built the last two games, they could make a legitimate charge at the No. 3 seed (Boston is now only two games behind the Pacers). Or if the Green trip up a bit, they simply have to stay in front of Philadelphia to earn the No. 4 seed. Either route helps them avoid a potential juggernaut like the Heat or Bulls. At the moment, a first-round matchup with Atlanta or Orlando seems likely for Boston, though both teams could still make their own run at the No. 3 spot.

The Celtics flew to Miami on Sunday night in advance of a brutal five-games-in-six-days-stretch that starts Tuesday with a visit to the Heat. Boston then hosts the Magic on Wednesday night in Boston before embarking on its lone back-to-back-to-back of the season with stops in Toronto, New Jersey and Charlotte starting Friday.

Captain Paul Pierce is well aware of the challenges that loom.

"I’ve looked at this since the schedule came out, it doesn’t get any easier, of course," Pierce said. "You go to Miami, you come home and play Atlanta, then you've got three in a row. It's tough, [but] every team in the league has to deal with it. Unfortunately, we have to deal with it at the end of the season when teams seem to be winding down, getting tired legs. But maybe it's good for us because it seems like we are playing our best basketball right now in this crucial stretch.”