BOSTON -- Ray Allen still had a bandage above his eye two days after catching an elbow against the New York Knicks. It wasnt the first blow hes taken this season, and with the playoffs just a month away, he doesnt expect it will be the last.
Its getting down to crunch time in the NBA. Teams around the league are amping up for the postseason - leaving it all on the court and playing each game like its their last, knowing if they dont get it done, they could be packing up in April.
As the Celtics (50-20) battle for home court in the Eastern Conference, they will face a lineup of competitors fighting to stay on top - or stay in it altogether.
What I dont want to do is just make a mistake and take that mindset, like that team is not as good as we are, Allen said. Never, because for any level of sport, for any sport, youve got to respect your opponent by doing your job every single night. And I think thats where you end up losing games because you dont measure up to the competition and play them the way they should be played.
Take Wednesdays loss to the Rudy Gay-less Memphis Grizzlies as an example. The Grizzlies needed a win to maintain a two-game lead over the Houston Rockets for the final spot in the West. They got the victory and moved within half a game of the New Orleans Hornets for the seventh seed.
The Celtics, on the other hand, fell one game behind the Chicago Bulls in conference standings.
Every game means a lot to us right now, Glen Davis said after the upset. Were trying to get as many wins as possible to finish out the year strong. We want to achieve one of our goals and thats winning the Eastern Conference and having home-court advantage. Right now, were losing games and were losing time. So weve got to get it together as soon as possible.
The Celtics have 12 games left in the regular season, and the majority of their remaining opponents will be fighting for playoff seeding just like the Cs.
March 25 vs. Charlotte Bobcats
The Bobcats (28-42) have lost 8 of their last 10 games, dropping three games out of the eighth seed in the East. They will be desperate for a win in Boston on Friday.
March 27 at Indiana Pacers
The Pacers (32-40) are currently clinging to a three-game lead over the final spot in the Eastern Conference. Each contest could make a difference between the postseason and end of the season for this inconsistent team.
March 31 at San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs (57-14) sit atop the Western Conference, six games ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers. Home-court advantage is critical for the Spurs, and this veteran club won't let up against a team like the Celtics.
April 1 at Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks (40-32) have been plummeting, dropping seven of their last 10 games. They are in risk of losing their fifth seed to the Philadelphia 76ers, who are gaining ground, making this April game critical for their postseason ranking.
April 5 vs. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers (37-34) have been one of the hottest teams in the second half. They are inching their way up the Eastern Conference standings, and have already proven they can beat the Celtics this season.
April 7 at Chicago Bulls
The Bulls (51-19) currently have a one-game lead over the Celtics for first place in the East. After going 9-1 in their last 10 contests, they are challenging the Cs for the highly coveted home-court advantage.
April 10 at Miami Heat
The Heat (49-22) have won three straight to pull within 1 12 games of the Celtics. While they are currently ranked third in the East, expect LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to attempt a last-minute push to improve their position in the standings.
April 13 vs. New York Knicks
Theres no doubt the Knicks (35-36) will have Mondays collapse against the Celtics on their minds when they meet for the final game of the regular season. This is a potential first round match up, and neither team will go easy on the other.
Jessica Camerato is on Twitter athttp:twitter.comjcameratoNBA