With the playoffs approaching and the Boston Celtics all but assured a spot in the dance (let's face it; they're in), it's time to start looking at potential first-round matchups and determining who the Celtics would want to see and who they would not want to see early on.
If 100 Boston fans came up with lists ranking who they'd prefer to face from least to most, they would probably look very similar. Sure, there would be some minor discrepancies here and there, but for the most part, we would probably all be able to agree on who the most dangerous ballclubs are.
With 20 games left, we are starting to get a general idea of where the C's are going to be seeded. Barring a spectacular run coupled with a catastrophic collapse by the New York Knicks, the Atlantic Division title is probably out of the question, so we can all but rule out the chance of getting a top-three seed (although stranger things have happened).
That means the Celtics will likely be seeded anywhere from fourth through eighth, and it's also hard to imagine Boston ending up below the Milwaukee Bucks in the standings (even though they are currently only separated by a game-and-a-half). So, if you want to go even deeper, the C's are likely looking at no worse than a seven seed.
All things considered, it's worth exploring every possible matchup the Celtics could find themselves in when the first round comes.
Why don't you come up with your own lists in the comments section? Rank who you would want to see in the first round from least to most.
All statistics in this article are accurate as of March 11, 2013.
Unless the Celtics really stumble down the stretch, chances are that they will not be facing the Miami Heat—who are all but guaranteed the No. 1 seed—in the first round. However, the slim possibility still remains.
Many feel that Boston would actually be better off facing the Heat early rather than later on in the playoffs. The logic behind that is that the C's will be fresher, having not played any long, drawn out series beforehand. This would give Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce the legs they need to potentially pull off the upset.
The only problem behind that rationale is that, you know, Miami will be rested, too.
Remember what happened last year? Chris Bosh went down in the second round, and he was forced to miss the first four games of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics.
The feeling here is that Boston would be better served playing the Heat later. Plus, shouldn't we want the C's to advance as far as they possibly could? Facing Miami in the first round would greatly diminish the chances of them moving on.
The Heat are the last team the Celtics should want to see in round one.
The belief here is that the Celtics would beat the Indiana Pacers should they happen to see them in the playoffs (which is a strong possibility). They have the edge in experience, and the Pacers still lack a go-to guy who can consistently get them buckets down the stretch. Paul George may be a budding star, but he is not a closer yet.
That being said, if Boston can somehow avoid facing Indiana in the first round, it would be nice.
The Pacers are the best rebounding team in the league while the C's are near the bottom. Guys like Roy Hibbert and David West could end up having a field day on the boards against the Celtics over the course of a seven-game series, and even if Boston is more talented overall, something like that can take its toll.
Despite not having any stars, Indiana is rather deep, having numerous guys who can come off of the bench and contribute. Think of the Pacers as a defensive-minded version of the Denver Nuggets in that sense.
Again, the Celtics would probably beat Indiana, and the fact that they are 2-0 against them this season adds some credence to that notion. However, seeing them as soon as the postseason kicks off would not be ideal.
The Knicks got off to an 18-5 start. Since then, they have gone 20-17, as their defense has fallen off a cliff since the beginning of the year. They will also be without Amar'e Stoudemire for at least the next six weeks as he undergoes a debridement on his right knee, and there is always a chance that Stoudemire could be done for the year.
Due to all of these things, New York's prospects as a legitimate title contender have all but gone by the wayside. Without Stoudemire, the Knicks have no offensive threat in the frontcourt, and their only truly reliable offensive player period is Carmelo Anthony. Say what you will about J.R. Smith and his ability to explode at times, but he is hardly dependable.
Should the Celtics get matched up against New York in the first round, expect to see Boston come out on top. That isn't to say that the Knicks won't be tough, as Anthony can single-handedly win them a game and Tyson Chandler is one of the most ferocious defenders around, but there just doesn't seem to be enough consistent supporting talent on New York to topple the C's.
Of course, there are still plenty of teams in the East whom the Celtics would rather face in the first round than the Knicks, but that doesn't mean New York is all that formidable.
Yes, the Atlanta Hawks have essentially been a play-toy for the Celtics over the years. Boston has ousted them in the playoffs twice since Garnett arrived in 2007, and whenever the two teams match up, the Hawks always play the C's close, but then ultimately get out-executed by them down the stretch.
All of that being said, the Celtics may want to avoid them this time around.
You know the concept of familiarity. Sometimes, playing a team after beating them so many times is a dangerous thing. It's like an NFL squad not wanting to face a division rival in the playoffs whom they defeated twice during the regular season.
This isn't to say that Boston isn't a better team than Atlanta, because they are. However, the Hawks are tough. They have a couple of very good players in Al Horford and Josh Smith, an underrated point guard who always seems to be a thorn in the C's' side in Jeff Teague, and a deadly sharpshooter in Kyle Korver who basically single-handedly beat the Celtics back on Jan. 25.
The point? Atlanta is a solid ballclub, and there are quite a few teams Boston would rather face than them in the first round.
If these two teams do clash in the postseason, smart money is on the C's to win, but do we really want to go down that road?
The Brooklyn Nets are a solid ballclub. They have a guy in Deron Williams—who, even if he is not even close to the player he once was, can take over a game at moment's notice—and an offensively gifted center who is finally staying healthy in Brook Lopez. Still, they pose little, if any, threat to the Celtics in a seven-game series.
Gerald Wallace is a mere shell of the player he used to be, and we all know what happens to Joe Johnson once the playoffs roll around. The Nets just don't have enough depth overall to overcome Wallace's offensive struggles (he is averaging only 8.4 points per game on 40.8 percent shooting this season) and Johnson's tendency to disappear in the postseason. Who is going to give them the punch they need off the bench? MarShon Brooks? C.J. Watson?
Boston wouldn't walk all over Brooklyn. The series would probably go six games, but it's difficult to imagine it going any further than that.
The C's are just too deep and too battle-tested for the Nets.
Okay. So the Chicago Bulls play the Celtics tough during the regular season. That point is completely understood.
However, a seven-game series is an entirely different animal, and the Bulls just do not have the firepower to beat Boston in such a situation, especially considering that it's beginning to look more and more like Derrick Rose will not be back for the playoffs. Heck, even if Rose does come back, just how effective is he going to be? After all, he hasn't played since last April, and he still isn't confident that he can return.
My prediction? Rose isn't coming back. I think it would actually be silly for him to do so at this stage, as Chicago isn't winning a title this year with or without him.
Anyway, back to the point.
The Bulls are a very good rebounding and defensive team. They have a lot of size up front with the likes of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson and have considerable depth. However, sans Rose, Chicago just does not pose any sort of a threat on the offensive end.
Chicago would likely play the C's close in an ugly series that would probably feature a lot of games similar to the 71-69 victory the Celtics claimed over them right before the All-Star break, but they would ultimately fall short.
It's hard to envision this Bulls club taking the Celtics past six games.
The chances of the Celtics seeing the Bucks in the first round are slim-to-none, as Milwaukee currently sits in the eighth spot of the East playoff hunt. Unless the Bucks go on some ridiculous run over the final month-and-change and get something like a No. 4 or 5 seed, an early postseason meeting between these two ballclubs isn't happening.
Still, there is a remote, remote possibility, so it's kind of worth discussing.
Milwaukee is an odd team. Their home and road records are nearly identical (16-14 at home, 16-15 on the road), and they have actually handed Boston two of their nine home losses this season. So, as harmless as they may look, they are actually a collection of rather tough nuts to crack.
The Bucks have a ton of depth up front with the likes of Larry Sanders, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Samuel Dalembert, Ersan Ilyasova, and youngsters Ekpe Udoh and John Henson, and that could wear on the C's' thin front line. They also have two explosive guards in Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, both of whom could either win you a game or lose you one.
Regardless, if the Celtics somehow see these Bucks in the first round, it would be pretty convenient. It wouldn't be a cakewalk, as Milwaukee is feisty and would certainly take a game or two in the series, but be honest; can you seriously see K.G. and The Truth falling to the Bucks in the postseason?