Time, as a woman once sang, is the revelator.
The NBA season is so long, it’s not really one season. It’s more like three. The first two months are when teams try and settle in and figure out who they are, the months of January and February are when they try and find a groove and cement where they are going, and the final two months — which are basically an extended game of “Survivor” — are where you’re just trying to not get kicked off the log, or you’re just killing time until vacation.
With how long it is, in the start of the year, we tend to ignore the end of the schedule. Schedule analysis always focuses on who will open where, what the Christmas games are, and who has back to backs and hard schedules.
But the final closing stretch can determine a lot about who will reach the playoffs. The Jazz had a tougher finishing schedule than Houston last season; the Rockets secured the eighth seed and the Jazz landed ninth. When you know, to open the year, who will roughly be in the playoff conversation, which teams will not be scrapping for a seed (Golden State, Cleveland, San Antonio), and which teams will be out, those closing schedules are important from the get go.
Hardwood Houdini, a Fansided Celtics blog, took a look at the closing schedule of Boston, and it gives you a sense of something to remember as the Celtics’ season progresses: If they are in a battle for home court in the first or second round, or for a particular seed, they have an extremely easy finishing run.
This year, Boston is set up for a very successful stretch run. The team completes its final trip out West in early March. After the trip concludes with a game against the Denver Nuggets, there will be 16 games remaining in the regular season. Luckily for Boston, 11 of those final 16 will be at the TD Garden. Not only will Boston enjoy some home-cooking at the end of the season, but they’ll also have some favorable opponents.
In those final 16 games, only five will come against playoff teams from last season. Sure, Boston will face teams like the New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves, who have seemingly improved from last year. However, they will also face teams like the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat – playoff teams from last year, who had some significant losses this offseason and are expected to regress a little.
Of the 14 teams Boston will face, more than half finished last season with a winning percentage under .500. The Celtics sported a 31-17 record against these teams last season, playoffs not included. Only one team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, finished with a better record than Boston did last year.
Of the 10 teams Boston will face at home, only one had a winning record on the road last year. Combined, these 10 teams had a road record of 151-259.
Sure, there are going to be games that look easier now which could be harder later, like if the Knicks emerge as a playoff team, or if the Wolves make “The Leap,” and some which could be easier, like if the Heat suffer injuries and are playing out the string. The Celtics themselves could be suffering through the end of a disappointing year.
But the more likely scenario is that Boston will be competing with a handful of teams for the 2-seed and the ability to avoid Cleveland until the Conference Finals. In that kind of scenario, having an easy schedule to finish like this could really give Boston an edge. Think of it as something to remember as the season goes along, and remind yourself. “Oh, Boston’s three games back of homecourt here on March 1st, but they have such an easy finishing schedule.”
This is also where Brad Stevens’ little bit of genius comes into play. Stevens has emphasized back to backs with his team, making what is largely assumed to be a “schedule” loss into a priority, which gives the Celtics an advantage on other teams. So by picking up those wins going into the stretch run, it gives them some wiggle room, and the easy finish only helps with that.
So if the Celtics are battling for the 2 seed, or dragging a bit behind where you thought they would headed into those last few weeks of the season, remember, they get to coast for much of the stretch run.
Source: CBS Sports / Celtics’ late-season schedule could benefit them down the stretch