Boston Celtics: Playoffs2012
1. What will you be focused on in Game 1 of Celtics vs. Hawks?
Payne: Kevin Garnett's offensive production. He'll be as reliable as ever on the defensive end, but given the loss of Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia not being 100 percent, he can be a real difference-maker on the offensive side of the ball. I'll be looking to see if KG posts up routinely, and then works to stretch his game out and incorporate his customary jump shots. Garnett should average right around 20 shots per game in this series.
Forsberg: Early on, I'll be looking to see how the newer faces on the Celtics roster respond in the postseason. Can second-year guard Avery Bradley continue to thrive when the intensity jumps up a notch (he didn't get any postseason experience last year)? Will Brandon Bass be able to maintain his regular-season production (his last two playoffs series with Orlando saw his numbers dive hard in the postseason)? Can Mickael Pietrus play like he did during Orlando's run to the NBA Finals during the 2009 season? What do the Celtics get from rookie center Greg Stiemsma in his first taste of postseason basketball? Yes, Boston has its veteran core -- though Ray Allen is the biggest question mark of the series -- but the Celtics need contributions from their role players in order to have a legitimate chance to succeed in the second season.
A glance at the updated standings:
The Celtics have a chance Tuesday to snag the Atlantic Division title in New York (a win and a Philadelphia loss seals it). In the race to determine Boston's first-round opponent (and home-court advantage for that series), here's a look at each team's remaining schedule:
Boston: at Knicks, Magic, at Hawks, Heat, Bucks
Atlanta: Pistons, Celtics, Knicks, Clippers, Mavericks
Orlando: at Celtics, at Jazz, at Nuggets, Bobcats, at Grizzlies
The Hawks have the benefit of five home games (but the competition is somewhat strong), while the Magic will be well-rested before Wednesday's visit to TD Garden.
But here's a more sobering view, particularly for an inconsistent Boston squad with a daunting schedule ahead: The Bucks team they visit Thursday has won six in a row and is a mere three games back of Boston for a playoff berth. Meanwhile, the Knicks have won five in a row and are only two games back of the Celtics as well. According to John Hollinger's computerized playoff odds, the Celtics are currently projected to miss the postseason:
Yep, the Celtics are one step forward from being a top 4 seed and one step back from missing the postseason. That's this insane 2011-12 season in a nutshell.
Now, there's no need to get overly worried quite yet, Celtics fans, because Boston can put some space between itself and the teams below it if it takes care of business with two head-to-head matchups remaining against the Bucks (including the final day of the regular season) and one with the Knicks. And as John Hollinger examined earlier this week, it's hard to imagine the Knicks and Bucks both maintaing their recent success without coming back to Earth a bit. Alas, every game remains important for Boston, especially the next two nights.
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