The NBA playoffs are fast approaching, with the play-in tournament involving the 7-10 seeds scheduled to begin on May 18. With so many teams clustered in the middle of the standings in each conference, there will be plenty of jostling for homecourt advantage.
It remains to be seen how much that will even matter.
NBA arenas remain well below capacity as COVID-19 restrictions are gradually eased. For example, TD Garden has been open at 12 percent capacity for Celtics and Bruins games since March 22. Most arenas continue to pump in fake crowd noise to make up for the lack of the buzz that is usually provided by a packed house.
Coach Brad Stevens remains hopeful that the Celtics will be able to welcome more fans into their building in time for the postseason. But that would be unlikely to happen instantly. Governor Charlie Baker announced the 12 percent rule nearly a month before fans were allowed at games.
So for now, the potential impact of homecourt advantage remains fuzzy.
“It clearly isn’t the same as playing in packed arenas,” Stevens said Thursday. “But it’s still beneficial to play at home. I don’t know what that means from a standpoint of advantage, per se.”
The other benefit of playing at home is the lack of travel and extra comfort that comes from just being at home. But during the playoffs, the travel schedules are essentially the same for each team.
Key players sidelined
Celtics forward Jaylen Brown missed Thursday’s game because of shoulder bursitis. Robert Williams remained out with a sore knee and Evan Fournier remained out because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
“Rob went through a pretty good amount of work yesterday in the hopes that he might be able to practice and play today,” Stevens said. “[He] wasn’t able to do it. Same thing this morning; wasn’t able to do it. He’s still listed as day-to-day but hasn’t shown enough progress to be ready to play. I think Evan will probably play some time this weekend. I don’t know if he’ll be cleared to play by [Friday] night [against the Nets] but I would be hopeful that by Sunday he would be available.”
Vaccine still personal choice
The NBA said last month that COVID-19 protocols would be loosened for teams with 85 percent of their players and staffers who are two weeks removed from receiving their second vaccine shot. But during his weekly appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said the team has not reached that threshold.
Stevens stressed that the decision about whether or not to take the vaccine remains a personal choice.
“Our roles in that are to continue to educate our team, to do everything we can when we are able to get vaccinated,” Stevens said. “And many of us have been now, to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to educate. But we very much respect each and every individual’s personal choice, and some may change over time. Some may just be wanting to see more and learn more and think more about it.”