Celtics Can Clinch Playoff Spot Soon, But Real Focus Is on Avoiding No. 1-Seeded Heat


Paul Pierce, Kenyon Martin,  Raymond FeltonWith just three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Boston Celtics are on the verge of officially guaranteeing their 2012-13 playoff berth. While their NBA odds have fluctuated over the year, anything can happen once they’re finally, officially, in the postseason.

The Celtics are in an interesting position as they sit a handful of games above .500 but firmly entrenched in the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference. As long as they avoid slipping into the eighth seed, they have good chances of playing into the second round.

Should Boston slip behind the eighth-place Milwaukee Bucks, however, they’ll line up against the likely No. 1 seed, the red-hot Miami Heat.

As things stand, the Celtics lead the Bucks by 2 1/2 games — the trend for most of this season. While Boston has occasionally surged higher, climbing as high as fifth seed in the East, the Celtics have managed to avoid falling back behind the Bucks and jeopardizing their playoff potential.

Boston has been one of the most surprising yet consistent clubs since late January, when point guard Rajon Rondo went down with a season-ending injury. The Celtics’ NBA futures, too, have reflected the momentum.

With 33-1 odds of winning the championship in 2013, Boston is just as respected in the sportsbook as the Chicago Bulls or Atlanta Hawks, who are ahead of them in the standings. Simply put, when the sportsbook favorite is the Miami Heat, there isn’t much difference between the rest of the field.

Unfortunately for Celtics fans in the weeks leading up to the postseason, they’ll have to deal with the lingering ankle injury that has limited Kevin Garnett down the final stretch. With Rondo already out, as well as key reserve Jared Sullinger, Boston can’t afford to keep giving up bodies.

Although still expected to return in time for the playoffs, Garnett’s absence puts all the more pressure on 35-year-old Paul Pierce to lead the show. The 14-year vet has only so many triple-double and 25-plus point performances left in him.

Pierce and company may be enough to keep the Bucks at bay as the short-staffed Celtics sail into the postseason, but the question remains whether they’ll have enough to knock off some of the younger, deadlier teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings.

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