Predicting Celtics’ Remaining Schedule Based On NBA’s Return Plan

The Boston Celtics clinched a playoff berth even before the NBA shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They’re firmly entrenched in the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference with a 43-21 record, three games behind the Toronto Raptors (46-18) and 2 1/2 games ahead of the Miami Heat (41-24).

The eight regular-season games each team will play as part of the NBA’s 22-team return format — approved Thursday by the league’s board of governors and Friday by the players association — ultimately might not mean all that much for the C’s, although their first-round postseason matchup could depend on how the Indiana Pacers (39-26) and Philadelphia 76ers (39-26) finish.

That said, there’s still an outside chance the Celtics move up or down, and the home stretch, if nothing else, will provide Boston — and everyone else — with an opportunity to find its stride before the competition ramps up.

So, who will the Celtics play when the 2019-20 season resumes?

Right now, we don’t know. And quite honestly, it’s probably low on the list of priorities as the NBA continues to jump through logistical hoops with an eye toward (safely) returning July 31 in Orlando, Fla. But there are some clues as to which way the league might be leaning.

Yahoo! Sports’ Vincent Goodwill reported Wednesday, citing league sources, the general plan calls for the 22 teams participating in the NBA’s return to continue their schedules, as originally mapped out, with the next eight games. If a team is scheduled to play one of the eight teams not involved in the season restart, it reportedly moves on to the next game.

Goodwill subsequently clarified the schedule will not be an exact science. For instance, no team will play more than eight regular-season games — the potential play-in tournament for the No. 8 seed in each conference doesn’t count as the regular season — and some sort of algorithm likely will be used to compensate for imbalances, etc.

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Still, looking at the Celtics’ original schedule offers a glimpse of what could be coming down the pike.

First, let’s eliminate the eight non-participating teams from the discussion: the Golden State Warriors (15-50), Cleveland Cavaliers (19-46), Minnesota Timberwolves (19-45), Atlanta Hawks (20-47), Detroit Pistons (20-46), New York Knicks (21-45), Chicago Bulls (22-43) and Charlotte Hornets (23-42).

Here would be the Celtics’ next eight opponents, according to Boston’s original schedule, with those eight non-participating teams excluded:

Milwaukee Bucks
Washington Wizards
Toronto Raptors
Brooklyn Nets
Washington Wizards
Memphis Grizzlies
Portland Trail Blazers
Miami Heat

(That stretch excludes originally scheduled games against the Bulls, Knicks and T-Wolves.)

Again, the NBA will need to make tweaks. Multiple teams’ schedules don’t line up perfectly.

For example, the Orlando Magic’s next four originally scheduled opponents — Bulls, Hornets, Pistons and Cavs — all fall outside the 22-team format. The Magic actually would face the Celtics twice if you apply the above formula to Orlando’s schedule.

Same goes for the Heat, although as outlined above, Boston can reach its own eight-game mark without playing Miami twice.

Confused? You’re not alone.

All told, don’t be surprised if the Celtics play the Bucks, Wizards, Raptors, Nets, Grizzlies, Blazers, Heat and Magic in some combination. That’s just a guess, of course, as one or more of those opponents could be dropped in favor of a double-up or an entirely different opponent. But hey, why not try to read between the lines?

The important thing, of course, is basketball will be here soon enough, provided the NBA continues down its current path without any major issues. And when the dust settles, the schedules produced for the Pacers and Sixers — two of Boston’s potential first-round opponents — actually might be of greater importance than the Celtics’ own schedule.

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