Celtics’ NBA Draft Lottery Odds Hardly Damaged By Recent Wins

Jerryd Bayless, Phil Pressey, Kelly OlynykLast week, sports talk radio was at Rajon Rondo’s throat. This week, the two parties are virtually in lockstep.

Now that the furor over Birthday-gate has worn off, the Boston Celtics’ two-game winning streak has the players thinking playoffs, while some outside observers have the same worry. Yes, in the Celtics’ minds, the playoffs are a hopeful goal. From a different perspective, the playoffs are cause for concern.

“We still have a long shot,” Rajon Rondo said after Boston’s 118-111 win over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday. “We’re just a couple wins away. We’re starting to feel good about ourselves, but obviously we’re never too high, never too low.”

To anyone who has a problem with Rondo’s mindset or believes there is a strong possibility of the Celtics achieving their goal, allow us to inject a dose of reality.

The supposedly too-good Celtics are 22-41, fourth from the bottom of the lowly Eastern Conference and tied for the fifth-worst record in the NBA. Their recent run of “success” — winning three of their last five games — has had barely the slightest impact on their draft odds. In the last week, their chances of winning the draft lottery fell from about 7 percent to 5.6 percent, according to Basketball Reference. They remain closer to a top-three pick than they do to a playoff spot, trailing the Atlanta Hawks for eighth place in the East but just 3 1/2 games back of the Orlando Magic, who hold the league’s third-worst record at 19-45.

In other words, for those worried about the Celtics’ shrinking lottery odds, settle down. No matter what the casual — or clueless — sect declared entering the season, the Celtics are just about where most informed observers assumed they would be. Once Rondo got healthy, the Celtics figured to be on the fringes of the playoff conversation. But being in the conversation is different from being in the hunt.

This is not meant to denigrate the job Rondo, his teammates or coach Brad Stevens have done. Their effort and commitment to competing despite the reality of their situation is laudable. Fans ultimately want to see their team play to win, regardless of the widely accepted logic that claims otherwise. If the Celtics do something they’ve only done once all season and reel off more than three wins in a row, maybe the playoff talk will be warranted. Until then, it’s fodder for a slow sports news day.

The Celtics have played better of late, and their best player is getting healthy, but the road ahead is grueling. The Indiana Pacers are eyeing a season series sweep on Tuesday, while the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks are ahead of Boston in the standings and — allegedly — still trying to win games.

Given the Celtics’ performance to this point, the bar for success is low, so it’s understandable that a modest win streak might spark outcry from the pro-tank crowd. Let’s just keep in mind that this is a team that hasn’t played an above-.500 month all season and is giving three undrafted players regular burn. Credit the Celtics for continuing to give their all despite their circumstances. But, also, don’t get carried away.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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