After Tuesday night’s loss to the Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics seem destined for the new NBA Play-In Tournament. They currently sit three games back of the Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, and New York Knicks. Baring a miracle, they will be forced into a Play-In game against either the Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers, or Washington Wizards. Each of these teams will present a different challenge for the Celtics, especially with Monday’s loss of Jaylen Brown for the season. If the Celtics want to make a deep run to the Eastern Conference finals like last year, they will need luck on their side. Here are the teams that they should hope to face when the Play-In Tournament starts on May 18th.
1) Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers are the worst of the three teams that the Celtics could possibly face in the first round of the NBA Play-In tournament. Halfway through this season, they traded the face of their franchise, Victor Oladipo, for Caris LeVert in the James Harden trade. Directly following the trade, LeVert was found to have a mass on his kidney and was forced out indefinitely. The Pacers subsequently fell from fourth in the East at the time of the trade to their current position of ninth.
The reason for this slide has been that the Pacers’ star power does not compare to other NBA teams. Bubble breakout star T.J. Warren only played four games this season before going down with a broken foot. Caris LeVert has come back from his surgery but is only starting to look like the player he used to be. Starters Oshae Brissett and Edmond Sumner are fringe NBA players, more suited for a rebuilding team. The two bright spots this year have been Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon. Sabonis was named to his second consecutive All-Star team and Brogdon is averaging a career-high 21.2 points per game. If Marcus Smart can lock up Brogdan and Rob Williams holds his own on Sabonis, the Celtics should have no issue getting past Indiana and advancing to the playoffs.
2) Charlotte Hornets
Celtics fans don’t have to use much of their memory to remember what happened in the last Celtics vs Hornets game. On National TV, the Hornets dominated the game beating the Celtics 125-104. Since that day, the Celtics are 3-5, and have cemented themselves in the NBA Play-In Tournament. LaMelo Ball has since returned from injury, making the Hornets even more dangerous. Even as a rookie, Ball can break any game wide-open Steph Curry style. While this should make Celtics fans nervous, the rest of the team is where Boston has the advantage.
Beyond LaMelo, the Hornets’ other star Gordon Hayward has been out since early April. His status for a potential Play-In game is unknown but the Celtics know him well as he spent four years in Boston. The Hornets also consist of two other former Celtics, Terry Rozier and Brad Wannamaker. Rozier, the team’s leading scorer, should be neutralized by Kemba Walker. Rozier also doesn’t have a height advantage so he can’t take advantage of Kemba’s defensive struggles. Miles Bridges, who is having a breakout year, and Bismack Biyombo should be able to take advantage of the Celtics athleticism and rebounding issues but Celtics fans still should feel confident if they get matched up against the Hornets in the NBA Play-In Tournament.
3) Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards are the last team Celtics fans would want to see in the NBA Play-In Tournament. Even though they currently occupy the ten seed, they have two superstars in Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook. Beal is currently second in the NBA in scoring while Westbrook is going to average a triple-double for the fourth time in his career. These two single-handedly could give the Celtics nightmares in a one-and-done scenario.
The rest of the Wizards roster leaves something to be desired. Raul Neto, Rui Hacimura, and Alex Len are all below-average NBA starters. They also give up the most points per game as a team at 118.8. In the past few weeks, the Celtics have shown they can win shootouts but it might be harder without Jaylen Brown. The Celtics second unit also overmatches the Wizards since the breakout of Aaron Nesmith. While these are all positives, the Celtics should not feel comfortable as they are well aware of what Beal and Westbrook can do. These two together could easily send the Celtics to an early offseason.