Celtics Games That Will Determine 2021 NBA Playoff Seeding

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 15, 2021

Celtics Games That Will Determine 2021 NBA Playoff Seeding

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    A frustrating 2020-21 season for the Boston Celtics has the chance to end on a high note.

    It's too early to say that it will, and this team has experienced one letdown after another since losing the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat last season. But there are enough arrows pointing up for Shamrocks fans to conjure some cautious optimism.

    Since March's NBA trade deadline, when the Celtics acquired Evan Fournier and promoted Robert Williams III to the starting five, this group has gone 8-3 with the league's fourth-best net rating, per NBA.com. They have climbed back to fifth in the conference standings, and they are only a game out of fourth.

    But they are also only a game up on the eighth seed and three ahead of the ninth. Considering the congestion, the C's need all the W's they can get.

    While every contest will be critical, the following three could have an outsized impact on their playoff position.

Sunday, April 25: At Charlotte Hornets

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Five teams sit within two games of one another, stretching from the fourth seed to the eighth. The top of that group will host a first-round series; the bottom two will battle it out at the Play-In Tournament.

    The more wins the Celtics can stack up against this group, the better. This Sunday afternoon clash with the seventh-seeded Charlotte Hornets is one they will want to get.

    For starters, Boston is simply a better team on paper, especially with LaMelo Ball stuck on the injury report with a fractured wrist. These clubs met up earlier in April, and the Celtics erupted for a 30-point victory. While Gordon Hayward missed the game, the Hornets were more than a Gordon Hayward away from changing the result.

    Plus, this game follows a brutal back-to-back that sees the Celtics host the Phoenix Suns and then travel to face the Brooklyn Nets. There's a decent chance Boston drops both of those games, so it will especially want this one to avoid any significant skid.

Tuesday, May 11: Vs. Miami Heat

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The Celtics are surely surprised to find themselves jostling with the likes of the Hornets, Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks. Those teams weren't guaranteed so much as a playoff spot. Boston, which has been a conference finalist in three of the past four seasons, held legitimate championship hopes.

    Boston expected to battle with the Miami Heat, though, the same squad that bounced the C's out of the bubble last season. Miami has encountered an equally frustrating season, but it sits almost gridlocked with Boston as both teams try to claw their way to the No. 4 seed—or at least stay above No. 7.

    If either of these teams can get to No. 4, they will need to go through the other. This will be the second consecutive game between them, as they are also set to tussle in South Beach that Sunday.

    A sweep could be enormous in a race as close as this.

Sunday, May 16: At New York Knicks

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Credit the NBA's schedule-makers. They always save some goodies for the end.

    Any time New York and Boston lock horns, it's worth a watch—no matter the sport. Attach some stakes to it, though, and now you might be talking about an instant classic.

    The eighth-seeded Knicks are a game back of the Celtics. These clubs could be in direct competition for a playoff seed when this tips. It's even possible the winner gets to escape the Play-In Tournament, while the loser falls right into it.

    This game is on the last day of the regular season. The Celtics play the night before (in Minnesota). So do the Knicks (home against the Hornets). Add in Madison Square Garden as the venue, and this could be basketball theater.