With their 134-112 blowout of the Timberwolves Sunday and Philadelphia’s loss at Phoenix, the Celtics nosed atop the Eastern Conference standings, with Miami and Milwaukee also within a half-game. In most years, teams would be doing all they can to push toward the No. 1 seed. But with powerful teams such as the Nets likely lurking in the play-in tournament, Boston coach Ime Udoka said he would not be surprised if some squads at the top try to influence their first-round matchups.
“I think teams always, to some extent, try to control something if they can,” Udoka said. “We’re more worried about health and trying to play the right way and continue to do what we’re doing and kind of see where the chips fall as far as that. But as far back as I’ve gone as a player and coach, teams have always tried to manipulate what they can and figure out what’s in their favor.”
This situation remains trickier, however. For example, if Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Brooklyn end up in the play-in tournament, it will not be known whether they are the seventh or eighth seed until after the regular season ends.
Udoka said he doesn’t expect Boston to try to alter its spot.
“At San Antonio, [coach Gregg Popovich] didn’t care about seeding at all,” Udoka said. “It was health and playing the right way going into it. So, we’ve won championships as the 7 seed and lost in the first round as the 1 seed, so it was more about the health and the overall goal of the team going into the playoffs, not as much the opponent.
“We’ve competed well with everybody this year and beat a lot of good teams and had some poor losses, had some big leads and lost to good teams. So for us it’s about playing well, getting healthy, getting rested and getting the other guys ready.”
Al Horford absent against Wolves
Al Horford missed Sunday’s game against Minnesota due to personal reasons, and Udoka said there is a chance the forward could miss Monday’s game against the Raptors, too. Grant Williams started in his place.
Forwards Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown each topped 33 minutes after being listed as probable due to knee soreness. Udoka said he will look for ways to keep both players fresh down the stretch.
“You still want to play them in games to prepare them, but a 28-minute game is not really a night off,” Udoka said. “We’d like to shave them down as much as we can, and help our other guys get acclimated that we got at the trade deadline. I think it’s all beneficial if we can lower that as well as help the other guys. That’s the game-by-game basis, kind of in the flow of the game. We’re not going in predetermining anything but see how the game plays out if other guys are playing well.”
Salute to the small fries
Udoka, who played collegiately at San Francisco and Portland State, has been impressed by the NCAA men’s Elite Eight run by Saint Peter’s. Peacocks coach Shaheen Holloway is just 10 months older than Udoka, and Udoka said he remembered when Holloway was chosen as a McDonald’s All-American in 1996, prior to his freshman season at Seton Hall.
“Happy for him and the lower schools,” Udoka said. “Me coming from the lower level, you always take pride in that stuff. The balance and parity in college is crazy nowadays, so it’s not that unexpected.”