NBA playoff picture: Can Celtics benefit from 76ers' 'insane' schedule?
Can the Celtics benefit from Sixers' 'insane' stretch of schedule? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Boston Celtics are looking up at the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference standings for the first time this season.
The Celtics' loss to the Utah Jazz on Saturday night coupled with the Sixers' rout of the Indiana Pacers vaulted Philly to 48-22 and percentage points ahead of Boston for the No. 2 seed in the East. The Sixers have now won eight straight and 14 of their last 17 as arguably the NBA's hottest team since mid-February.
But Philly's on-court success didn't stop head coach Doc Rivers from griping about the team's schedule. After Saturday's win in Indiana, Rivers lamented what he called an "insane" stretch that included three straight road games late last week, one home game Monday night against the Chicago Bulls, and then another four-game road trip with stops in Chicago, Golden State, Phoenix and Denver.
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"This flying home from here (Indiana) to play one game to go back on the road for four is just insane," Rivers told reporters, via Sports Illustrated. "But it is what it is, and there's nothing you can do about it."
In fact, Rivers said he doesn't even view Monday as a true home game, since his players will only sleep in their own beds for one night.
"The one game is still a road game," Rivers said. "You know, our crowd will give us support, and that only be the reason we know that we're at home. But we're literally coming home to do laundry. Then we go back on the road."
Rivers has a point: Seven road games in an eight-game stretch is quite the grind. But lest you feel too much sympathy for Rivers' squad, only one of the Sixers' last seven opponents currently has a winning record, so they haven't exactly faced stiff competition.
That will change later this week, however: After back-to-back games against the middling Bulls, the Sixers will face the Warriors (who are 27-9 at home), a Suns team that could have Kevin Durant back in the lineup and the Western Conference No. 1 seed Nuggets.
If that "insane" schedule succeeds in cooling Philly off, the Celtics have an opportunity to take advantage: After a matchup with the West No. 2 seed Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, the C's have three winnable games against the Pacers, San Antonio Spurs and Washington Wizards.
Boston can't afford to overlook any opponent right now, however. Joe Mazzulla's squad is 4-5 in its last nine games and has blown multiple double-digit leads in that span, so the Celtics need to cure what ails them if they want any chance of regaining the No. 2 seed.
Here's a look at the current NBA standings entering Monday night, followed by the Celtics' and Sixers' upcoming schedules:
Eastern Conference Standings (as of March 20)
Milwaukee Bucks (51-20)
Philadelphia 76ers (48-22) -- 2.5 games back
Boston Celtics (49-23) -- 2.5 GB
Cleveland Cavaliers (45-28) -- 7.0 GB
New York Knicks (42-30) -- 9.5 GB
Brooklyn Nets (39-32) -- 12 GB
Miami Heat (39-34) -- 13 GB
Atlanta Hawks (35-36) -- 16.0 GB
Toronto Raptors (35-37) -- 16.6 GB
Celtics' upcoming schedule
Next five games: at Kings, vs. Pacers, vs. Spurs, at Wizards, at Bucks
Winning percentage of remaining opponents: .513 (9th-toughest schedule in NBA)
First-round matchup if season ended today: Brooklyn Nets
76ers' upcoming schedule
Next five games: vs. Bulls, at Bulls, at Warriors, at Suns, at Nuggets
Winning percentage of remaining opponents: .551 (Toughest schedule in NBA)
First-round matchup if season ended today: Miami Heat