By: Kenny Doyle
Headed into the final day of the NBA regular season, 4 spots still need to be decided in the eastern conference. While the Celtics and Cavaliers fight for the #1 seed (and I use “fight” in the loosest terms possible), at the bottom the Heat, Pacers, and Bulls go into the last day without a playoff spot locked up. There are scenarios for each of these teams to end up in either the 7, 8, or 9 spot at the conclusion of their games tonight. The Celtics could face any of these 3 no matter if they end up at 1 or 2. So, who would you rather face in the 1st round?
The Bulls are by far the most interesting one. On the one hand they came into Boston a little over a month ago and got their doors blown off. The loss of Taj Gibson was extremely evident and the Bulls seemed disinterested right from the tip. However, the Bulls still have an All-Star that the Celtics almost traded for in Jimmy Butler, a champion in Dwyane Wade, and possibly a vengeance seeking playoff Rondo. It’s hard to know which Bulls team you’re going to get. It’s easy to look at the last time the Bulls and Celtics met and want to face them in the 1st round, but their are a lot of scary factors in that series. You shouldn’t want to see the Bulls, especially if any of these games happen to be on TNT, where the Bulls have won 20 straight games. Somehow that isn’t a bad joke, it’s actually real. The Bulls are just so inconsistent, that they are scary. They are 4-0 against the Cavaliers this season. If you play Chicago, there’s too many variables at play to not be at least somewhat concerned. I for one do not want to face Rajon Rondo in the playoffs with a chip on his shoulder. The Bulls still have enough talent to win them at least a couple of playoff games.
As for the Pacers, they’d have Paul George. That’s about all you can say for them. George would be the most talented player on the floor in the series, and while that should be a concern, the Celtics are still 3-0 against the Pacers this season. As great as Paul George is, he just hasn’t been able to make up for the deficiencies of the rest of the roster. And unlike the Bulls, there’s no reason to believe that the likes of Jeff Teague and Myles Turner can turn on another gear come playoff time. The Pacers aren’t the conference finals team they were in 2013 anymore. Though the Pacers have the superstar, they’re just not built to win this year, but the Miami Heat are still the most favorable of the possible matchups.
The Heat have played the Celtics hard, but ultimately they are the only one of these 3 teams without an All-Star. The Celtics are 4-0 against the Heat this season, and unlike the other matchups, it would be undebatable that the Celtics would have the best player in the series. The Heat don’t have the top end talent to win a series in the playoffs, so ultimately they are the perfect matchup for the Celtics. They have gotten to being a fringe playoff team by being well coached and playing hard. But if they run into the Celtics, they’re just running into a better, more polished, more established version of themselves. The Heat are easily the least frightening of the 3 teams.
The Celtics should beat whoever they play, but having the matchup be as easy as possible is always a plus. If you can avoid Jimmy Butler and Paul George in the 1st round, you should want to. And no matter what, you have to avoid playoff Rondo…
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