Celtics determined as playoff seeding comes into focus

Celtics determined as playoff seeding comes into focus
March 4, 2013, 4:00 pm
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WALTHAM, Mass. — The Celtics have been in full-blown one-day-at-a-time mode for weeks, focusing more on the task at hand rather than its impact on the big picture.

But with just a couple of months left in the regular season and the C's playoff picture beginning to take shape, the Celtics (31-27) find themselves in the thick of achieving what so few thought was possible -- acquiring home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

While the C's currently sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings, they are just two games behind Atlanta, Brooklyn and Chicago who are all locked into a three-way tie for the fourth-best record in the East.

The flip side to the Celtics' position is that the Milwaukee Bucks, winners of three in a row, are just 1.5 games behind them in the eighth (and final) playoff spot.

"We're just trying to play, win as many games as possible," said Boston's Paul Pierce. "The seeding is going to be what it's going to be at the end of the year. If we get too caught up in it, you tend to lose focus."

And focus should not be an issue for the Celtics at this point in the season. One of the reasons Boston has been among the better playoff teams in recent years is because they tend to hit their stride right after the all-star break.

During last season's lockout-shortened season, Boston was 24-10 after the break with a winning percentage of 70.6 percent which was the league's third-highest after the break.

"Defense has definitely been the key to our success in the second half of seasons since I've been here," said Boston's Kevin Garnett. "We talk, the more we communicate with each other, everyone understanding what's at stake the second half of the season. Those things, some of the things that stand out right away that's made us decent, if not successful, the second half of the seasons since I've been here."

Although Wednesday night's opponent, Philadelphia, has fallen well off the playoff race and currently stands six games behind the Bucks for the eighth playoff spot, the C's are in no position to take them, or any opponent, lightly.

"We understand this is the stretch run of the season," Pierce said. "Every game at this point is a huge game for us. It could be the difference between the eighth seed or the fourth seed."

A big part of the Celtics finishing off the regular season playing well has to do with keeping their core veterans - Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry - as fresh as possible.

Doc Rivers gave all three veterans the day off on Sunday while the rest of the team had an open practice.

"It's good for the veteran guys, just to get off their legs a bit," Pierce said.  "We got 50, 60 games into the season, so rest is always good for us."

But too much rest can throw their rhythm off, something veterans such as Pierce are quite aware of.

"It's a fine balance," Pierce said. "Doc understands, especially with the older guys who got a lot more miles under their belt, that know the things you need to do even on the off days and coming back here the next day, to be ready."

That preparation in games, Pierce hopes, will better equip the C's to do the only thing that truly matters this time of year: win games.

"With the stretch run," Pierce said, "it's important that we play the best basketball possible with a sense of urgency."