Celtics’ Reign Atop Atlantic Division May Not Last Long With Brutal Upcoming Slate of Opponents

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Celtics' Reign Atop Atlantic Division May Not Last Long With Brutal Upcoming Slate of OpponentsIt was fitting that Saturday was a dreary day, because just a day after the Celtics grabbed first place in the Atlantic Division, it was already time to rain on their parade.

The Celtics, winners of four straight and six of their last seven games, defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 100-79 on Friday to overtake the formerly first-place Philadelphia 76ers, who received a 21-point drubbing at the hands of the hapless Wizards. The Celtics' post-All-Star break surge has vaulted them into the division lead for the first time all season, eliciting doubt as to whether this team really is past its prime, as some observers had ventured earlier in the season.

The Celtics' 14-5 record since the midway point of the season has moved them into the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. If the playoffs began Saturday, Boston would host the Indiana Pacers in a best-of-seven series in the first round.

In fact, taking a look at the upcoming schedule, it probably would be better for the Celtics if the playoffs started Saturday.

Beginning with Sunday's game against the Miami Heat, the Celtics play seven straight games against not only solid competition, but high-quality playoff contenders. The Celtics face the toughest remaining schedule in terms of win percentage of any team in the NBA, and eight of their next 13 games are on the road.

"Every team is tough," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after Wednesday's game against the Utah Jazz, which kicked off this current span in which the Celtics play nine straight games against teams in playoff contention. "The way we look at it, every team's a playoff team because we make them that way, or they are. So we just have to stay focused each game. This has to be one game at a time."

The Celtics' next seven opponents have a combined record of 135-103, counting Miami (who the Celtics play twice) only once. The "worst" team they face is the Sixers, who resoundingly beat the Celtics in both previous meetings this season.

This is not the first time the Celtics have faced a make-or-break portion of the schedule. A two-week, eight-game road trip in mid-March was supposed to bury them, but they went 4-4 on that trip and have won all four games since then.

Something like a 4-3 record in these next seven games would be a realistic way for the Celtics to maintain pace with the Sixers. Anything better than that would be a bonus, while anything worse could drop them back down to the bottom of the East standings.

Getting into first place was an accomplishment for the Celtics. Staying there will be an even taller order.

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

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