The NBA schedule-maker has provided the Boston Celtics with a rather soft touch to close out the regular season. The Celtics will play just one team with a winning record in the final 10 games and probably just two teams who will be advancing to the playoffs.
The NBA schedule-maker has provided the Boston Celtics with a rather soft touch to close out the regular season.
The Celtics will play just one team with a winning record in the final 10 games and probably just two teams who will be advancing to the playoffs.
With a 57-15 record, the Celtics will have no difficulty climbing above the 60-win mark for the first time since 1985-86 -- the last championship season-- and 12th time in franchise history.
The easy stretch drive begins tonight when the Celtics conclude a four-game homestand by facing the woeful Miami Heat.
The only team above .500 the Celtics will see between now and the playoffs is the Washington Wizards on the road a week from Wednesday.
They have a road game against the Atlanta Hawks, a possible first-round opponent for Boston, and have games with the New Jersey Nets and Indiana Pacers, who are still in range of getting the eighth spot in the playoffs.
The Celtics, who entered Saturday night with a magic number of four to clinch the best overall record, don't figure to play another meaningful game until the weekend of April 19-20 when the playoffs get under way.
For now, the Celtics will be motivated by the fact that they still need to nail down home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
After that, they will be tested by some teams in desperate need of victories as they try to get into the playoffs.
"We're still trying to play for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, so it's going to be easy (to stay motivated),'' Paul Pierce said. "But at the same time, you know these teams that are scrapping for the seventh and eighth spots are going to give it their all.
"We've got to be up for the challenge, mentally and physically, and not have any letdowns. We want to be playing well.
"It doesn't matter who comes into our building, it doesn't matter where we are. We want to be playing well when the playoffs start.''
The Celtics have been playing well in their past two games, roaring past the Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Hornets by 20 points to finish 25-5 against the Western Conference.
Coach Doc Rivers said he has paid little attention to the upcoming schedule, choosing to look only at what is next on the agenda.
"As far as I'm concerned, we play Sunday,'' Rivers said. "Sometimes, the opponent in our mind is division-less. We say we're our own opponent.
"That doesn't matter to us what other people are doing. We've got to keep working on us and getting ready.''
There will probably come a point in the next two weeks when the Celtics start getting players like Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen some rest, but Rivers wants to keep them as sharp as possible.
The players would like to keep the same routine, which has been a smashing success through five months.
"We said at the beginning of the year we wanted to take care of each game one at a time, and I feel consistently we've done that,'' Garnett said.
"When you touch the floor, you want to be consistent, be dominant and play as a team and we've done that.''
In addition to getting over the 60-win barrier and clinching the best record, there is something else the Celtics are playing for.
They are in position to claim the best turnaround in NBA history, a mark held by the San Antonio Spurs, who went from 20 wins in 1996-97 to 56 a year later when Tim Duncan arrived.
The 1989-90 Spurs are second with a 35-win improvement, going from 21 to 56 victories.
The Celtics have won 33 more games than a year ago, breaking the team record of 32 set by the 1979-80 squad that had a rookie named Larry Bird and went from 29 to 61 wins.