How Celtics stack up with Eastern Conference contenders

Celts

Boston currently holds sixth place, just good enough to avoid the play-in round.

Analytical models assume the Celtics will have a deep playoff run. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Celtics are starting to play how many analysts thought they were going to play earlier in the season.

Boston won nine straight games before falling to Detroit on Wednesday, which gave him a 34-26 record on the All-Star break. With 22 games remaining, the Celtics sit sixth in the Eastern Conference standings — just good enough to avoid a second straight year of the play-in tournament.

Aside from avoiding the play-in, the other top 5 seeds for Boston aren’t too far out of reach. The Celtics are just two games behind from the three-seeded teams currently held by the 76ers, who hold it in a three-way tie against the Cavaliers and Bucks. They are also 4.5 games behind the Heat and Bulls, who are tied for the conference top seed.

However, they don’t have much breathing room to avoid breaking in. The seventh Raptors are just half a game behind and the Nets – who expect Kevin Durant to return and Ben Simmons to make his debut soon – are 2.5 games behind the Celtics.

However, there are a few things that work in the Celtics’ favor. Nets star Kyrie Irving can only play in eight of his team’s last 23 games unless he is vaccinated or New York City changes its indoor vaccination mandate.

The other thing is that many of the teams they compete with for the conference position are on tough schedules. Although the Celtics have the 10th toughest remaining schedule based on remaining opponents’ win percentage (.505), the Bucks (.554) and Bulls (.553) have the toughest remaining schedules. The 76ers (.505), the Nets (.505) and the Heat (.501) are also not all that far behind the Celtics, finishing 12th, 13th and 16th respectively. Only the Cavaliers (.487) and Raptors (.486) have schedules, in which their remaining opponents total 0.500 or less.

Boston’s relatively tough schedule might not be too much of an issue, however, considering how well it’s been playing lately. The Celtics are No. 1 in the league in net ratings over their last 15 games, buoyed largely by their defense – which is also considered the best at this stretch. Their offense isn’t too far behind either, sitting ninth in the league’s offensive standings in their last 15 games – suggesting they may have put their offensive problems from earlier in the season behind them.

After the recent heatwave, the Celtics hold the best net rating in the Eastern Conference (5.4), buoyed by their starting XI, which has finally been healthy of late. The Celtics’ starting lineup of Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Robert Williams has the best net rating (26.5) of any starting lineup in the league. In the 23 games they’ve played together, they’ve gone 17-6, which would give them the second best win ratio (.793).

The Celtics’ starting lineup, with Derrick White, who was their big acquisition at close, in place of Horford, has also done well in a short sample size, posting a 42.7 net rating in two games.

The net rating strength of the Celtics’ starting and ending lineups has led to analytical models predicting them to end their seasons on a strong note. FiveThirtyEight expects they will end the season with a 49-33 record, giving them a better than 99 percent chance of making the playoffs. Because the Celtics have the best overall strength rating in their system, FiveThirtyEight not only gives them the best chance of reaching the NBA Finals (35 percent), but also the best chance of winning it (21 percent). .

ESPN’s NBA Basketball Power Index (which is said to be the “best indicator of a team’s performance for the remainder of the season” by measuring game-to-game efficiency, schedule strength, pace, rest days, venue and the preseason uses expectations) is also very fond of the Celtics. Boston’s 7.2 BPI is second best in the league, behind only Phoenix (7.9).

In terms of predicting the rest of the season, BPI predicts the Celtics will end up with a 48-34 record – giving them a 99 percent chance of making the playoffs. Like FiveThirtyEight, BPI is relatively high in terms of the Celtics’ chances of winning the title. Boston has the second-best odds of winning the title at 14 percent, according to the BPI, behind only Phoenix (17.8 percent).

Sportsbooks don’t estimate the odds of the Celtics as strongly as the analytical models. DraftKing’s Sportsbook lists Boston’s odds of winning the Atlantic Division at +340 (22.7 percent implied probability), behind the 76ers. It also gives the Celtics the fifth best odds of winning the conference (+1100, 8.3 percent implied probability) and the eighth best odds of winning the title (+2500, 3.8 percent implied probability).

Whether the models are right about giving the Celtics a good shot at hanging Banner No. 18 remains to be seen soon, but it’s hard to deny that the Celtics are playing really well at the moment – setting up for an exciting couple of months the regular season.

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