MIAMI When the condensed NBA schedule came out in December, Celtics forward Paul Pierce did the same as most NBA players.
He scanned the entire 66-game schedule, trying to get a feel for when the toughest part of the season would kick in.
That would be now. The Celtics are gearing up for seven games in a nine-day span beginning with Tuesday's tilt against the Miami Heat.
"It's tough," Pierce said of the schedule. "Every team in the league has to deal with it. Unfortunately we got to deal with it at the end of the season when teams seem to be winding down, getting tired legs. Maybe it's good for us, because it seems like we are playing our best basketball right now in this crucial stretch."
And because of that, this stretch of challenging games may be just what the C's need heading into the postseason. As we've seen frequently this year with the Celtics, they tend to play up -- or down -- to the level of competition.
In this upcoming stretch of games, Boston has no choice but to play well if they're to avoid getting run out of the gym.
They begin this run with the Heat, one of the best teams at home in the NBA. When you throw in how the C's embarrassed them in last week's 91-72 Celtics win, you can expect a highly motivated, much-improved Miami team on Tuesday.
Boston has quite a bit of motivation as well.
Sunday's 103-79 win over Philadelphia pushed the C's lead in the Atlantic Division over the Sixers to three games. Even if the Celtics win the division, it doesn't guarantee they'll have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
If the playoffs were today, Boston (32-24) would be the fourth-seed and face the Atlanta Hawks (34-23) who would be the No. 5 seed. The Hawks would actually have home court advantage because they have the better record. Moving past the Hawks and grabbing home court could be huge in Boston's quest for another deep playoff run, especially when you consider the Celtics have won 10 of their last 11 at home with the lone loss being an 87-86 defeat at the hands of San Antonio on Wednesday.
Although it's unlikely, the Celtics are still in the hunt for the No. 3 seed as well. The Indiana Pacers (34-22) are now just two games ahead of Boston.
Playoff position and division standings are indeed important for the Celtics. But with the most brutal part of their schedule awaiting, the focus has to be about one thing only -- winning games.
"We're just trying to get better every game, that's all," said C's guard Avery Bradley. "Of course we want to get the best playoff seed we can, but we're not thinking about that. We're just trying to get better and win games. We do that and we'll be alright."