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Robb: Projecting Where Celtics Will Finish In NBA Lottery Race

By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens and president of basketball ops. Danny Ainge watch 2013 Summer League action in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens and president of basketball ops. Danny Ainge watch 2013 Summer League action in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) – There is one month remaining before the start of the NBA postseason and exciting playoff races are in motion in both conferences. Roughly 20 teams will be fighting until the bitter end of the regular season, whether it’s for the final playoff spots in each conference or crucial playoff positioning.

At this juncture, the Boston Celtics are not one of those 20 teams. Incredibly, despite having a 22-43 record, the Celtics are still just seven games out of eighth spot in the East. Despite not being mathematically eliminated that’s just too much ground to make up over the team’s final 17 games.

So if the playoffs are out of reach, what should Celtics fans focus on down the stretch, besides watching how young players like Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger continue to develop?

The answer is simple: continue to keep a close eye on the standings.

With a potentially loaded 2014 NBA Draft on the horizon in June, the positioning at the bottom of the NBA standings could be just as interesting as the playoff battles at the top. Currently, the Celtics are tied with the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers for the fourth-worst record in the NBA.

With 17 games remaining, it’s time to take a closer look at where the Celtics could potentially finish up in the standings amongst a crowded group of bad teams in both conferences.

So without further ado, let’s handicap the final month of the season to get a better idea of what kind of odds the Celtics will have for the NBA’s draft lottery on May 20th.

Current Lottery Standings
1. Bucks 13-52
2. Sixers 15-49
3. Magic 19-47
4. Celtics 22-43
4. Jazz 22-43
4. Lakers 22-43
7. Kings 23-42
8. Cavs 25-40
9. Pistons 25-40
10. Knicks 26-40
11. Pelicans 26-38

I’ll be handicapping the lottery race by weighing a number of factors in the team’s performance down the stretch. How challenging is the team’s schedule? Will they be missing players due to injuries? Will their coach have them playing hard? Does a team stand to gain something by finishing in a certain spot in the standings? (For instance, the Pistons will lose their 2014 first round pick to Charlotte, if they are picking from outside the top 8 picks). I’ll be factoring all of this into play into my projections.

For what it’s worth, you can count on the Celtics not purposefully tanking any of these games. Brad Stevens and the rest of his coaching staff do not operate like that. Talent, not effort will be the reasons Boston loses games the rest of the way. Make no mistake, the same is not true of other teams in this race.

Let’s begin by taking a look at Boston’s remaining slate on the schedule and then compare it to other lottery “contenders.” I labeled particular categories for each team, including possible variables like number of games against teams still in the playoff hunt, aka teams with a lot to play for still. I also tried to pick out the most “winnable” games on the team’s remaining schedule.

Celtics (22-43)
Games remaining: 17 (Home: 7 Away: 10)
Games vs. teams “fighting” for playoff spots: 12
Games against .500+ teams: 10
“Winnable” games: vs. PHX, @NO, VS. PHI, @ DET, @ CLE, @ PHI

Analysis: Not an easy closing stretch for the Celtics. Things lighten up in April, when six of their final eight opponents will come against teams under the .500 mark. Until then though, lots of playoff teams on the docket, including Miami, Brooklyn, Toronto, and Chicago. Rajon Rondo will also be out for at least four of these games (during the second game of back-to-backs) making the final 17 games even more daunting.

Stevens will have these guys playing hard, but let’s be realistic here. This group hasn’t won a road game against a top-28 team since January 22nd in Washington. With 10 of their final 17 games coming away from TD Garden, the final month won’t be pretty.
Projected final record: 27-55

So where will Boston fall amongst other teams near the bottom of the standings? Let’s handicap the rest of the field.

OUT OF REACH

Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Orlando are all at least three games below the Celtics in the standings right now. Unless there is a complete Celtics collapse (1-16 or 2-15 closing record) all of these squads will finish below Boston in the standings.

BATTLING FOR POSITIONING WITH BOSTON

Utah Jazz (22-43)
Games remaining: 17 (Home: 9 Away: 8)
Games vs. teams “fighting” for playoff spots: 10
Games against .500+ teams: 10
Winnable games: vs, ORL, vs. DET, vs. NYK, vs. NO, vs. LAL, @ NO, @ Den

Analysis: Like the Celtics, this is another young team that is still playing hard after a miserable start to the season. They have a strong home court advantage and plenty of winnable games on the docket. Barring injuries, they should finish out the year better than the other bottom-dwellers.
Projected final record: 28-54

LA Lakers (22-43)
Games remaining: 17 (Home: 10 Away: 7)
Games vs. teams “fighting” for playoff spots: 13
Games against .500+ teams: 12
Winnable games: vs. ORL, vs. NYK, @ SAC, @ UTA

Analysis: No Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash for the remainder of the season, plus a brutal final schedule over the last month means slippage in the standings for the Lakers. The 10 home games don’t help much either considering they are just 11-20 at home this year. Look for plenty of blatant tanking here.
Projected final record: 26-56

Sacramento Kings (23-42)
Games remaining: 17 (Home: 9 Away: 8)
Games vs. teams “fighting” for playoff spots: 13
Games against .500+ teams: 13
Winnable games: vs. MIL, VS. NYK, @ NO, VS. LAL, vs. Minn, vs. PHX

Analysis: The Kings have enough talent to squeak in a few wins at home in the midst of an otherwise stacked schedule. They’ve been through the lottery for a few years now, so there’s no serious incentive to take a dive in the standings, as another young player isn’t going to solve their problems. Tanking shouldn’t be an issue in Sacramento.
Projected final record: 28-54

OTHER LOTTERY TEAMS

Cleveland, Detroit and New York are all at least three games up on Boston, as they continue to fight for the eighth seed in the East. That desire to lock up a playoff spot should keep them well ahead of Boston in the standings, but keep an eye on Detroit. They have an incentive to fall into the bottom eight (to keep their draft pick) if they fall out of the playoff picture in the next couple weeks.

FINAL PROJECTED LOTTERY ODDS STANDINGS

1. Philadelphia
2. Milwaukee
3. Orlando
4. LA Lakers
5. Boston
6. Utah + Sacramento (tie)
8. Detroit
9. New Orleans
10. Cleveland

As of now, the Celtics look like they will have some pretty favorable odds heading into the NBA Lottery on May 20th, including a 29.2% chance at a top 3 pick and a 8.8% chance at the number one overall pick. A couple wins or losses in either direction could shift these standings quite a bit though over the season’s final month. Stay tuned.

Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.

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