By A. Sherrod Blakely
ATLANTA If you do the math, the Boston Celtics are still in the hunt for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, even after Friday's 88-83 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
But they're free-falling, big-time. Friday's loss was their fourth in the last six games.
Doc Rivers has made no secret about wanting the top seed in the East.
Still, you don't get that feeling when you watch the way his team seems to continue to sputter along with stretches of strong play followed by periods of poor play.
"It's important to be healthy," said Rivers, whose team has now slipped to the No. 3 seed behind Chicago and Miami. "We would like to get No. 1 or No. 2. But we'd really like to be healthy."
This week has been vintage Celtics circa 2010-11.
Boston gets great news that Jermaine O'Neal, out since late January, was returning to the lineup following left knee surgery on Feb. 5.
On the night that he returns - Thursday at San Antonio - center Nenad Krstic suffers a right knee injury that kept him out of Friday's game at Atlanta, and will keep him sidelined for at least Sunday's game against Detroit.
Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, said that Krstic will have an MRI performed Saturday afternoon to better determine just how long Krstic will be out of action.
Boston is also hopeful that Shaquille O'Neal, out with an assortment of right leg injuries for weeks, will be able to play as early as Sunday.
The Celtics have not used the team's assortment of injuries as an excuse for them not achieving all that they want to this season.
And even with the playoffs around the corner and the missing bodies seemingly starting to impact their play in a negative sense, players remain committed to simply trying to work through their struggles and keep the blame for their poor play squarely upon their own shoulders.
"Either we can quit and go home, or we can continue to get better," said Kevin Garnett. "There's no history of quitting in this team, so we'll just move forward."
And if that means getting on a run that lands them the top seed in the East, great.
If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen.
Because if the tradeoff for not having the No. 1 seed is a healthy roster, the C's like their chances.
"With us, it comes down to just being healthy," Glen Davis told CSNNE.com in an interview earlier this week. "That's it. We know when we're healthy, we're good enough to beat anybody, with or without home-court advantage."