By A.Sherrod Blakely
WASHINGTON Lately, the Boston Celtics have had this nasty habit of making things much harder on themselves than needed.
Keeping true to form, that goes for their playoff fortunes as well.
Boston's 95-94 overtime loss to the Washington Wizards, coupled with a win by Miami and a loss by Philadelphia -- all on Monday -- have the Celtics locked in as the No. 3 seed against the No. 6 seed New York Knicks, one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now.
While the two teams will face each other in the regular-season finale on Wednesday, there's no point in trying to glean too much information from that game.
"We're going to rest guys on Wednesday and get ready," said coach Doc Rivers, who held Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett out of action on Monday and will likely keep them out on Wednesday, along with Jermaine O'Neal. "I'm sure they'll do the same."
In other words, for those looking for a preview of the Pierce-Carmelo Anthony matchup, chances are very good that you won't see either on the floor on Wednesday.
While there may not be a lot to gain from Wednesday's matchup, there are benefits to knowing who they'll face in the first round right now.
"That's not a bad thing," Rivers said.
What has been bad in spurts lately, is the Celtics' play.
They come into their regular-season finale having lost three of their last four games, the kind of late-season slump no team that's seriously thinking about winning a title, should be riding as they gear up for the postseason.
Despite the struggles, players sound convinced that it won't be an issue once the playoffs arrive.
"The playoffs are a different level," said Celtics forward Jeff Green. "Every possession counts. We just have to continue to move forward. We can't look back to what we did in the past. We have to put that behind us and continue to get better."
Added Glen Davis: "Everyone is ready, so I'm not worried about losing three of the last four games," he said. "We still have one more game and then it's a new season. That's how we see the playoffs. We're ready to play at that level."
In New York, Boston faces one of the more explosive trios in the NBA.
Amar'e Stoudemire has been joined by Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, forming their own Gotham version of the Big Three.
While New York has had its share of ups and downs this season, they seem to be figuring out how to get wins at just the right time.
The Knicks have won seven in a row, which is currently tied with top-seeded Chicago for the longest current winning streak in the NBA.
"They're going to be challenging," Green said.
Which is why many within Celtics Nation were hoping that the Celtics would avoid facing a red-hot New York Knicks team, and instead square off against a Philadelphia 76ers club that's high on athleticism but lacking playoff experience.
While the Celtics have a number of players with a decent postseason resume, the majority of this Celtics team wasn't around last season. So for many, this is their first go-around with a team like Boston where competing for a championship isn't something that's desired - it's an expectation.
"We are taking the same intensity and focus into these playoffs as we always do," said Ray Allen. "We don't have the same team and it is going to be great experience for our new additions to play at the playoff level. You can't expect anything going into the playoffs. You just have to go in full force and make it happen. It's not something to be comfortable about; you have to go in with an attitude and play your best."