By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Monday’s win over the Washington Wizards helped the Celtics attain somewhat of a reasonable lock on the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Wednesday’s win over the Indiana Pacers may have done even more.
According to the data site FiveThirtyEight, the Boston Celtics now have the best chance of any team at finishing the regular season as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Yes, that means they have a better chance than LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.
As far as the standings go, the Celtics (46-26) still trail the Cavaliers (46-24) by 1 game. But FiveThirtyEight gives the Celtics a 54 percent chance of earning that No. 1 seed, while estimating Cleveland has a 45 percent chance.
It’s razor-thin, of course, and much of it will come down to real life, when the Celtics and Cavaliers square off head-to-head on April 5. If the Cavs win that game, they’ll own the head-to-head series on the year, thus giving them the all-important tiebreaker.
Yet the Celtics have been a darling of sorts for the FiveThirtyEight since the start of the season, and with a schedule made up largely of teams that are roughly .500 or worse, the top seed in the East will be there for the taking if the Celtics want it.
For the players’ part, they’re dedicated to their game on the floor and not their place in the standings.
“This time of year, the teams that are ready to make runs in the playoffs, they’re trying to figure out how they can get better,” Al Horford said. “They’re not worrying about who’s winning, who’s losing. It’s like, you just want to play good basketball. You want to do the things that you feel like you need to improve. And we’ve been working on trying to rebound the ball better and pushing the pace of the game a little more. Just working on the little things to be the best we can when the playoffs start.”
The clinching of a postseason berth was treated as a mere formality among the players.
“We’re looking for bigger things than,” Isaiah Thomas said. “It feels good to clinch, especially 10 or 11 games before the season’s over. But we’ve got a bigger goal. We want to advance in the playoffs. And that’s our goal for now, and we’ll go from there.
For those interested, FiveThirtyEight explains the methodology behind the predictions:
This forecast is based on 50,000 simulations of the season and accounts for team fatigue, travel distance to games, and home courts with higher altitudes. Elo ratings are a measure of team strength based on head-to-head results and quality of opponent, while our CARMELO projections estimate a player’s future performance based on the trajectory of other, similar NBA players. Our CARM-Elo ratings, which power the forecast model, blend these two metrics to measure a team’s quality based on both its game results and its roster.
FiveThirtyEight also gives the Celtics a 7 percent chance of winning the NBA title. Those odds may seem low, but they are the best in the Eastern Conference, as the website gives Cleveland just a 4 percent chance of winning for the second straight year. The Celtics’ chances are third-best in the NBA, behind the heavily favored Warriors (50 percent) and Spurs (19 percent).
The Celtics have it going pretty well on both ends, too, as they are owners of the first-round pick of the Brooklyn Nets. With a 14-56 record and a 5.5-game cushion from the next-worst team (Los Angeles Lakers), the Nets are on track to secure the best odds (25 percent) of that selection being the No. 1 overall pick.
The Celtics’ upcoming schedule has them facing Phoenix (22-49), Miami (35-36), Milwaukee (36-35) and Orlando (26-46) at home over the coming week.