Celtics Likely Looking At First-Round Playoff Matchup Against Dwyane Wade, Heat

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April 12, 2010

Celtics Likely Looking At First-Round Playoff Matchup Against Dwyane Wade, Heat After countless road trips and 80 grueling games, the Celtics can enjoy one last night of rest before the final two games that will decide their seeding for the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

What do you suppose they're doing?

What do you think Doc Rivers is watching on the TV, holed up in his hotel room in Chicago before Tuesday night's C's-Bulls contest? A little House? 24? Gossip Girl? A nice, long hour of CSI: Miami?

Doubtful.

For the Celtics, Monday night's tilt between Milwaukee and Atlanta at the Bradley Center was just as big as their own two remaining games. A lot was riding on Bucks-Hawks in terms of playoff seeding — and when the Hawks won on the road 104-96 behind 31 points from Joe Johnson, they have come mighty close to locking down the No. 3 playoff seed.

After Monday night, with the Hawks' win and Miami's 107-105 victory over Philadelphia, here's how positions three through six in the Eastern Conference now stand:

3. Atlanta (52-29)
4. Boston (50-30)
5. Miami (46-35)
6. Milwaukee (45-36)

A couple facts to keep in mind:

–The Celtics, by virtue of their Atlantic division crown, own the tiebreaker over any non-division winner, meaning they need only a tie with the Hawks to leapfrog them in the standings.

–The Bucks, who won their season series with the Heat 3-1, have that tiebreaker.

So what does this mean? It means Atlanta's win over Milwaukee on Monday was absolutely huge. The Hawks needed it to remain ahead of the Celtics in the loss column, because their schedule only gets tougher with Wednesday's finale against the mighty Cavaliers. And the Bucks, who were in fifth thanks to their tiebreaker, have fallen down the ladder. Their backs are up against the wall, with their own finale looming on Wednesday at Boston.

Statistically, the Hawks are now the favorites to lock up that No. 3; the Celtics would need a perfect storm of a win at Chicago, a win home against Milwaukee and an Atlanta loss to Cleveland to overtake them. In a vacuum, any one of those events is fairly likely, but all three?

As for the Bucks, they now need a win at Boston and a Miami loss. At home. To the Nets. Unless pigs fly and hell freezes over, you can expect to see Milwaukee firmly entrenched in the No. 6 spot come playoff time.

So what does this all mean? It means the Celtics might have to prepare for a week and a half of Dwyane Wade and the Heat in round one.

Nervous?

You probably should be. Given the alternative, at least.

Who would you rather play — a Heat team led by the third or fourth best player in the universe, or a Bucks team whose best player is out for the year with an elbow injury?

It's funny. You ask around the Celtics' locker room — Doc, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, anyone — and the answer you get is that no, they don't care who they play in the first round. It's not important, it's not relevant, stop asking.

And yet Doc has always maintained that you never want to enter a playoff series knowing the best player on the floor is on the other team.

Well, with all due respect to Pierce, to KG, to Ray Allen and to Rajon Rondo, the best player on the floor in a hypothetical Celtics-Heat series would not be suiting up in green. He'd be the six-time All-Star who's already got a ring and a Finals MVP on his resume.

Wade's a sleeping giant. He's had a rough go of it since capturing Finals glory in 2006 — swept in the first round in '07, a titanically bad '08 season that sent them deep in the draft lottery, knocked out early again in '09. But he's still in his prime, and he's itching to bring the Heat back into contention in the East. He's the one guy you don't want to mess with.

As for the Bucks, they're missing Andrew Bogut, and they've got nothing left but a core group of inexperienced guys that still look a year or two away from being a serious threat.

No matter who they face, the Celtics will be the favorites to advance past the first round. But Wade and the Heat can't be overlooked — the road through Miami will be a tough one. After Monday night, it looks like that's the road the Celtics are taking.

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