NBA playoff picture: Can the Celtics catch up with Bucks and fend off the 76ers in the East?

NBA playoff picture: Why the week ahead is crucial for Celtics originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Celtics are only 5-5 in their last 10 games. But if there’s ever a time to break her spark, it’s now.

Despite their recent slip, the Celtics are still No. 2 in the Eastern Conference going forward Friday, 48-22 with 12 games remaining in the regular season. The Philadelphia 76ers, however, are breathing down Boston’s neck while the No. 1 is still in play for the C’s after the Milwaukee Bucks’ loss to the Indiana Pacers on Thursday.

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What are the odds of Boston catching Milwaukee for first place, repelling the Sixers to retain second place, or slipping behind Philly into the postseason? As part of our Celtics Playoff Push series, we’ll be resetting the current East rankings and examining the upcoming game schedules and near-term prospects for all three teams.

Eastern Conference Status (as of March 13)

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (50-20)

  2. Boston Celtics (48-22) – 2 games down

  3. Philadelphia 76ers (46-22) – 3GB

  4. Cleveland Cavaliers (44-28) – 7.0GB

  5. New York Knicks (41-30) – 9.5GB

  6. Brooklyn Nets (39-31) – 11GB

  7. Miami Heat (38-33) – 12.5GB

  8. Atlanta Hawks (34-35) – 15.5GB

  9. Toronto Raptors (34-36) – 16.0GB

The Celtics’ upcoming schedule

The next five games: at Trail Blazers, at Jazz, at Kings, vs. Pacers, vs. Spurs

Win Percentage of Remaining Opponents: .504 (13th toughest schedule in the NBA)

First round matchup if the season ended today: intense heat

Short term outlook: The good news: Five of the Celtics’ next six opponents have losing records. The bad news: Eight of the Celtics’ 22 losses have come against teams with losing records.

However, if Boston can take care of business in this soft part of the schedule, Joe Mazzullas The club could come within striking distance of the Bucks, who are in the teams’ March 30 matchup. The season series is tied 1-1, so if the Celtics are within a game of going into this matchup from the Milwaukee, they would catapult the Bucks into the standings with a win.

Bucks upcoming schedule

The next five games: against Raptors, against Spurs, at Jazz, at Nuggets, at Pistons

Win Percentage of Remaining Opponents: .495 (17th toughest schedule in the NBA)

First round matchup if the season ended today: Atlanta Hawks

Short term outlook: The Bucks left the door open for the Celtics by falling to the Pacers Thursday night, their third loss in eight games after tearing off a 16-game winning streak. Unfortunately for Boston, Milwaukee has a relatively easy schedule ahead, barring a matchup with the Western Conference No. 1 Denver Nuggets.

As noted above, the Celtics only need to win one game against the Bucks by March 30 to give themselves an opportunity to overtake Milwaukee.

The 76ers’ upcoming schedule

The next five games: at Hornets, at Pacers, vs. Bulls, at Bulls, at Warriors

Win Percentage of Remaining Opponents: .527 (The sixth toughest schedule in the NBA)

First round matchup if the season ended today: Brooklyn Networks

Short term outlook: The Celtics should keep a close eye on the Sixers in the rearview mirror. Philly is on a six-game winning streak and has a short-term cupcake plan of a matchup against the lottery-bound Hornets and back-to-back games against the mediocre Bulls. If Boston loses a game or two of its next four games, it could look up to the Sixers overall.

However, the Celtics own the season tiebreaker against Philly (3-0) and clinch the Sixers one more time on April 4. The C’s finishing the season sweep would go a long way in keeping them ahead of Philly in the standings.

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