The Cavs want what the Celtics got. A ring. But they're in two very different positions right now.
Barring an historic collapse or catastrophic injury, the Cavs are going to be the #1 seed in the East. They're 1 game ahead of the Lakers for the best overall record in the NBA. So they're in a dilemma. Rest LeBron, and potentially lose out on the best overall record… or keep playing him, and risk him being run down by the later rounds in the playoffs.
…the pressure to get the No. 1 overall seed and the chance to tie the Celtics' all-time record of 40-1 at home could outweigh the long-term planning. Plus, there is James' competitive spirit. With these stakes, he will not want to miss a game.
The Cavs have lost 13 games this year. 12 of them on the road. If home court is important to anyone, it's Cleveland. But they then run the risk of being so dependent on home court, that it messes with their heads. When you go into a series thinking you just have to defend your home court and you'll be fine, you run the risk of relaxing on the road. It's hard to flip a switch like that. And then what happens if you lose a home game? What happens to their psyche then?
The Celtics, meanwhile, are in a different position. Percentage points behind Orlando right now, the C's are settling into the possibility that they might just be the 3rd seed. And just in case you guys start to get all flustered, saying "no way… we need #2 at worst"… just know that there is no difference. The second and third seeds are going to play each other, assuming they advance, no matter what. The only difference is the first round matchup, which in the East right now is either Philly or Chicago. Does it matter to any of you which of those teams we play? And since Orlando scares no one, at home or on the road, the seed no longer matters for the Celtics.
So the Celtics have to decide how THEY are going to get into the playoffs. The Celtics can afford to sit Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett tonight. They can afford to limit Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to 30 minutes so Stephon Marbury can get some more burn. Get Billy Walker some extended run. Get Mikki Moore to figure out how to play without hacking so damn much. The Celtics have a luxury of easing off the gas pedal now, rather than later. Then, with a few games left, ramp it up again and head into the playoffs on a high note. Paul Pierce knows this too:
“It’s important for us to really start playing better basketball. No matter who’s on the floor, we have to start playing better. Whoever we have out there has to focus in and do the job and set the tone that we need to carry into the playoffs.”
So maybe the injuries are a blessing in disguise? They have pushed the Celtics down into a seed that might actually be an easier road into the Conference Finals (no Dwyane Wade to deal with), and a mentality going in that they're going to HAVE to win on the road to win a title. And the Celtics schedule from now on, is in their favor. After tonight's game, they only play four times in two weeks. They have one back-to-back left: the last two games of the season. Then in the playoffs, there's plenty of time to rest between games. KG can ease his way back into things starting Wednesday, take the last game of the season off if he needs to, and be ready for the playoffs.
With all of the ups and downs this season… with all of the injuries that made us wonder what kind of chance we really had at repeating… the Celtics are actually in a pretty good position right now (despite what the LA Times says)
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