Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here... highlighting the big storyline. Because there's nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
With 10 days remaining in the NBA regular season, the playoff picture is slowly coming into focus. On the heels of a 2-1 performance in this weekend's back-to-back-to-back, the Boston Celtics have essentially cemented their position as the No. 4 seed. The Celtics have a four-game lead over the Philadelphia 76ers (and 4½ over the Knicks) and can essentially seal the division with their next victory. Boston is three games behind Indiana in the loss column, making it hard to imagine the Celtics can make up the 2½ games needed to catch the Pacers for the No. 3 seed.
Now here's where it gets interesting. With the Celtics playing inspired ball in the second half of the season, they might actually be perceived as the tougher draw than Indiana at No. 3. All of which makes you wonder if the Hawks or Magic would prefer slip back to the No. 6 seed in order to avoid Boston.
What's more, an upset by the No. 6 seed would likely mean the Heat instead of the Bulls in the conference semifinals — what some would consider an easier draw given Miami's inconsistent play lately. But here's one more thing to consider: Home-court advantage in the 4-5 matchup will be determined by better overall record. The Celtics have a ½-game edge over both Atlanta and Orlando at the moment, but four of Boston's five final matchups come against playoff-bound teams (yes, including the Hawks and Magic), which might make it difficult for the Celtics to finish with the best mark.
Barring a Red Sox-esque collapse, the Celtics are going to win the Atlantic division (applause).
I'm confident the C's can handle both the Hawks and Magic, home court or not. If I was able to cherry-pick the opponent, I would go with the Magic. Not only are they a dysfunctional bunch, but Dwight Howard has a herniated disc.
Atlanta scares me a tiny bit. They have some weapons (Joe Johnson, Josh Smith) and will play physical (Zaza Pachulia). It's a long shot that Al Horford (torn pectoral) returns for the 1st round.
My prediction: The Celtics will beat out Atlanta for home court and face the Hawks in Round 1.
Related link: WEEI – Celtics playoff race comes into focus
On Page 2, Rondo was shooting to play 48 minutes.
Rondo, typically droll, said, “I didn’t want to come out. I just wanted to win and get it over with. I tried for 48 minutes. I wanted to see where I was conditioning wise.”
He was a little more animated when it was time to lobby for those minutes.
“Yesterday Rondo said, ‘Hey, I’m ready for 48,’ and I said, ‘Oh, you’re going to play 48,’ ” Rivers said. “There’s no doubt about that. There were times we allowed Keyon (Dooling) and Avery to bring the ball up to take the pressure off of him. He played (43) minutes, and it was probably 38 minutes of hard basketball.
“It was terrific. When you don’t play those three guys, that’s 60 points out of your offense. I thought Rondo was sensational. He led it. He didn’t want to come out of the game. Him, Avery and Brandon are the three guys we said before the game we had to get points out of, and everybody else just filled their role. (Mickael) Pietrus is struggling and then he makes a big 3. Greg (Stiemsma) defensively is a force. He’s a great shot-blocker, and I don’t think the officials even know that yet. He goes after it.
Rajon ended up playing 43 minutes. For his standards, that's not a back-breaking amount of time.
I thought Keyon Dooling was playing well and working his way into Doc's good graces. Apparently not, or Rondo wouldn't have to go 40+ minutes against the league's worst team.
The rest of the links:
CSNNE – Bradley expanding game with clutch shooting | Celtics/Bobcats review: What we saw | Former Celtic Dwayne Schintzius dead at 43 | Globe – Celtics pick up slack with Big 3 out | Crucial decision on nights off rested with Rivers | Howard may miss playoffs for Magic | Herald – Trio sits vs Bobcats | WEEI – What about Bob? Celtics face worst team ever |