By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It seems like we’re getting closer and closer to a return by the NBA. The league is eyeing Walt Disney World to host whatever will be the rest of the 2019-20 season, and there are rumblings about potential playoff seedings if they jump right into the postseason.
As much as Boston fans love seeing replays of the glory days from the ’80s, we’d all prefer to see the current Celtics take the floor once again and have their shot at raising Banner 18. However, the potential seedings that are being discussed would be an absolute nightmare for Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and company.
The NBA could do away with conferences and just have a 16-team tournament when play resumes. If that’s the case, the Celtics wouldn’t have any gimmes along the way.
If (IF IF IF) the NBA went 1-16 seeds for playoffs, here are the current matchups:
1 Bucks vs 16 Magic
2 Lakers vs 15 Nets
3 Raptors vs 14 Grizzlies
4 Clippers vs 13 Mavericks
5 Celtics vs 12 76ers
6 Nuggets vs 11 Pacers
7 Jazz vs 10 Rockets
8 Heat vs 9 Thunder
— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) May 25, 2020
Under the current 1-16 standings, the Celtics slot in fifth. That would pit them against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round, which would be their same opponent if the NBA went with its traditional conference matchups. (Boston is the three-seed in the East with Philadelphia sitting as the six-seed.) Either way, that’s not a great matchup for Boston, with Philly taking three of the four regular season matchups this season. Joel Embiid bullied Boston in his three games against them, averaging 21.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. That included a 38-point, 13-rebound explosion in a win in Boston. Ben Simmons should be completely healthy whenever play resumes, making the matchup all the more difficult.
Add in the fact that there’d be no home-court advantage if the NBA opts for a one-site host, and Philadelphia’s dismal 10-24 road record may not mean much when the playoffs tip off.
But again, that likely would have happened anyways. It’s the next round that things would get even more difficult for Boston.
If the Celtics do get by Philadelphia in this theoretical postseason, which is still entirely possible despite their regular season struggles against the team, they’d be rewarded with a second-round matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers. A meeting with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George is as tough as they get, though it would be hard to argue with a best-of-seven set between the two teams. Both regular season matchups between the Celtics and Clippers were thrillers that went to overtime, so really, we won’t complain too much for what would be a nice bonus series.
In the regular playoff format, the Celtics would match up with the Toronto Raptors in the second round. Not as daunting as the Clippers but still pretty difficult, even if the C’s were 2-1 against the Raptors in the regular season.
From there, should the Celtics beat the Clippers, the playoffs would be business as usual for Boston. If all top seeds advance along the way, they’d have to get by the Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks to reach a finals matchup against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the L.A. Lakers. Overall, that is a difficult path of formidable foes for the Celtics with no gimmes of easy layups along the way.
One benefit of the now-two month hiatus is the Celtics will, theoretically, be much healthier than they were when play was suspended back in March. Kemba Walker’s knee has had plenty of time to heal up, and everyone else has been given an opportunity to rest their various bumps and bruises that go along with the NBA’s schedule. There’s always the concern for rust carrying over from the layoff, but every team will be dealing with that aspect.
Still, if the NBA adopts this no-conferences approach to the playoffs, it will pose a monumental challenge for the C’s in their quest to win a title. Winning a championship isn’t supposed to be easy, but it would be a lot more difficult for Boston.