The Celtics are likely to fall short in their quest for the No. 2 seed, although we’ll have a better idea after this week’s games against the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks. Regardless, they really need to begin preparing for the postseason.
The most likely scenario is that the Celtics get the third seed, which would mean a first-round matchup with Indiana or Philadelphia. Those are each winnable series for the Celtics if they are completely healthy and prepared for the challenge.
But they have several question marks entering these final 19 games. Here are the eight things the Celtics need to find out before the playoffs begin:
Is their bench enough?
Team president Danny Ainge has scoffed at the buyout market because every player who remains unsigned has concerns, but the Celtics’ bench has been poor lately and it would be a shameif Ainge built a team with a title-contending starting lineup and a lottery bench. Coach Brad Stevens has to figure out how to use the bench to maximize its potential. Right now, the production has been inconsistent.
Can Enes Kanter play against high-level competition?
Part of the bench’s suffering is the lack of production from Enes Kanter. Kanter provided a lift as a backup to Daniel Theis in January, but he has averaged just 5.1 points per game since, and his minutes have been slashed because teams are playing smaller against the Celtics. If Kanter can’t play, the Celtics’ rebounding suffers. After playing double-digit minutes in all but three games up to Feb. 9, Kanter has played double-digit minutes just five of his past 10 games, including 11 total minutes in the past two losses.
Can Tatum react?
Two weeks ago, Jayson Tatum ascended into the NBA’s Top 10 players and was rewarded with the conference’s player of the month award. Well, that’s changed. Tatum is in a shooting slump, with defenses paying special attention and clogging the lanes to prevent his drives. He’s relying on the 3-point shot, which is dandy for the Celtics if it falls, but when it doesn’t there’s a problem. He’s shooting 39.1 percent from the field in the past four games and looks visibly uncomfortable with physical defenders. He went 15-for-41 shooting in the past two games, scoring under 20 points each time. Can Tatum react? What will be his counter moves? He needs to look at the tape and find out his next plan.
Is Walker going to get better?
The good news for the Celtics is Kemba Walker said he knee is sound after playing two games in three days. But he’s been mired in a shooting slump that’s lasted since January and the Celtics desperately need All-Star-caliber Walker to even win a playoff round. Will the Celtics trust Walker will return to form and give him needed rest? Or do they play him just enough to snap out of his slump? Walker needs to get untracked and he hasn’t been himself for a while.
Is this the Hayward that will be in the playoffs?
Gordon Hayward scored 24 points on Sunday in his return from a two-game absence, so Good Gordon showed up. But the Celtics need Hayward (1) to stay healthy and (2) provide that scoring punch as a third or fourth option. The Celtics are a far better team when Hayward is aggressive offensively and the jump shot is falling. The Celtics are banking that he avoids any more injuries and is able to finish the regular season strong. Remember, he should have the most juice left of any Celtics because he’s already missed 19 games.
Will Edwards ever contribute?
Carsen Edwards could be the answer to the Celtics’ bench scoring woes, but is he prepared for such a large role? So far the answer is no. Edwards went 3-for-14 shooting and 0 for 8 from the 3-point line in Maine’s loss to Windy City on Sunday. He is shooting 27.7 percent from three in his G-League stint. Stevens gave Edwards a chance against Brooklyn on March 3, and he hit two 3-pointers; but he didn’t play the next night against Cleveland and then was sent to the G-League.
Can Waters add a spark?
Tremont Waters has shown that he can boost the offense in his short stints with the Celtics, but just as he seems to look comfortable, he gets sent back to Maine. Stevens said the Celtics want Maine to field the best team for its playoff run, but if he feels Waters will fortify the Celtics’ bench, he’ll get minutes there. The Celtics would have to convert Waters to an NBA contract for him to play in the postseason, however.
Can Brown take one more step forward?
Jaylen Brown is out for Tuesday’s game against the Pacers with a strained right hamstring, and he has been sorely missed the past three games. The Celtics are a more complete team when he’s on the floor attacking the paint, shooting threes, and defending. The Celtics need Brown to return and get into playoff form over the next couple of weeks, and who knows? With a completely healthy team, they might still be able to grab the second seed.
But for now, they just need to figure out how to maximize their roster, which has its faults.