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Celtics knocking on door of Eastern Conference playoff picture

Photo Credit: MassLive.com

Photo Credit: MassLive.com

The Boston Celtics, for all intents and purposes, gave up on this season when they traded Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green. The Celtics have made some other smaller moves as well, and conventional wisdom had them missing the playoffs again and having an opportunity at another high pick. (To go along with a crazy stash of other first-round picks acquired in trades.)

But thanks to the terrible Eastern Conference and a recent hot streak, Boston is just 1½ games behind the Charlotte Hornets for the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference despite a record of 20-31. The Miami Heat share the same record as the Hornets and hold the No. 8 seed, while the Brooklyn Nets are ninth with a record of 21-31.

The Celtics reached a season-worst 14 games under .500 less than two weeks ago after an ugly 83-75 loss at home to the Heat, but Boston has won four of five games since to reach that 20-31 mark. Three of those four wins were against some of the worst teams in the league, but the latest victory was an improbable 89-88 triumph over the East-leading Atlanta Hawks.

The Celtics fell behind by 18 points against the Hawks and trailed by 14 in the fourth quarter, but a late charge had Boston in position to win the game in the final seconds. Down one with the ball, Evan Turner played the hero, dropping in a tough floater to stun Atlanta.

The Celtics aren’t particularly good at anything, ranking in the bottom third of the league in offensive efficiency and right in the middle in defensive efficiency. Boston doesn’t shoot threes well, doesn’t get to the line much and isn’t prolific rebounding the ball.

However, the Celtics have been pretty darn competitive, especially on the road. Boston is 16-8 against the spread on the road this season, which is the third-best road mark against the spread in the NBA, per VegasInsider.com. The home record against the spread isn’t nearly as good, but the Celtics are still 29-22 overall against the spread on the year. That’s the fourth-best record against the spread in the league.

In addition to all the teams already mentioned battling for those last two seeds in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons are in the mix as well, a half-game behind Boston. The Pacers have been playing much better of late and could get Paul George back in March, and the Pistons remain a dangerous team even with Brandon Jennings out for the season.

But all of these teams have their warts, so this truly is a wide open race, and the Celtics have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. You could argue that missing the playoffs and getting in the lottery again would be better for the franchise in the long term, but making the playoffs would be quite the feat for second-year head coach Brad Stevens, even if it’s only done because the East stinks.



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