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NBA East Top 5: Celtics Drop Two in Atlanta in Potential First-Round Preview

The Eastern Conference looks a lot like it did last week and the week before that and the week before that. One team running away with things and seven others separated by six or seven games. But that’s not the whole story, of course, and this NBA basketball update will provide you with a little more background to assist in any upcoming wagers.


NBA East Top 5: Ominous Signs for Celtics
Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics-Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/AFP

1. Boston Celtics

They’ve clinched the No. 1 seed. They’ll reach the 60-win mark. It’s all about staying healthy and not getting too bored, bogged down or caught in bad habits over the final two weeks.

That doesn’t make for a super exciting update, but there is this one nugget. They dropped two straight at Atlanta this week, one in which they blew a huge lead and another in which they fell in overtime.

It’s somewhat likely that those two games were a preview of a first-round matchup. The Hawks are the last play-in team and would – with two wins in that mini tournament – gain the last playoff spot in the East. And Atlanta has that dangerous vibe going on right now as they’ve started to play some pretty good basketball with superstar Trae Young on the sidelines (not to mention Jalen Johnson and Onyeka Okongwu).

That may be read as an indictment on Young, and perhaps his eventual return from a finger injury won’t necessarily yield anything special. But there are many occasions when that superstar (and others) can rejoin a much more confident crew and make it that much better, and if that happens in Atlanta then we might have something here.

OK, this is a Celtics capsule, we know. But remember that the Hawks actually gave Boston plenty of fits in a first-round matchup a season ago. That went six games and the way things are coming together (and potentially getting even better) in Atlanta, it’s not far-fetched to see a pretty charged rematch in April.

Oh, by the way, Boston did bounce back from the two losses to the Hawks to post an impressive 104-92 win at New Orleans. The Celtics are 19-4 over their last 23 games. No real issues on their end.




2. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks’ next three games are against Washington, Memphis and Toronto. That gives them a great chance to take another big step toward the No. 2 seed. Whether they ever find a concrete identity or some sort of consistency before then remains to be seen.

Since putting together a six-game winning streak out of the All-Star break that had most of us thinking it was locking in, Milwaukee is 6-6. A couple losses by more than 30 points, as well as a huge collapse in a home setback against the Lakers, are mixed into that stretch.

The see-saw that is the Bucks experience this season may be heading back up after a solid road win over the Hawks on Saturday. Giannis Antetokounmpo looked like himself with a 36-point, 16-rebound effort as Milwaukee won for the first time in six tries while playing without Damian Lillard (personal).


3. New York Knicks

They’ve fallen behind Cleveland in the race for the No. 3 spot and it’s looking more and more like two key players may not return at all, but we’re holding out for at least one more week with the Knicks in this spot. Like Atlanta with Young, the Knicks have had several guys step up with Julius Randle and OG Anunoby sidelined, and it’s made their foundation a bit more solid.

That will yield dividends at some point, either as a support system in the playoffs or even in terms of building a roster for next season. Maybe that’s not the most exciting idea for Knicks fans, but we see some positives in the negatives.

Now, if Anunoby and Randle are indeed done for the season, is there enough here to challenge a Milwaukee or a Boston over seven games? Probably not. Jalen Brunson would put the team on his back for a win or two but there isn’t always enough help. Heck, he scored 61 points in a loss at San Antonio the other night.

As we’ve said for the past few weeks, keep an eye on the NBA news cycle for injury updates with this team. The Knicks recently won seven of eight before the OT setback to the Spurs and a one-point loss to Oklahoma City on a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander shot in the closing seconds. A play or two away from a 9-1 stretch. They also got Mitchell Robinson back from a long layoff and that can’t hurt.


But will it be enough without a couple more reinforcements?


4. Cleveland Cavaliers

They’re coming off a 29-point loss at Denver in a game that featured one of their healthiest lineups in quite some time. Donovan Mitchell was 3 for 12 from the floor and what is usually a sound defensive unit offered up no resistance.

So while the Cavs are healthy again and ahead of the Knicks in the standings, the product on the floor just isn’t doing much to impress us. They’re 10-14 over the last 24 games and are one of six teams that are under .500 against the NBA spreads at home and on the road.

Cleveland has four more games on their current road trip. We expect New York and maybe even Orlando to pass them unless Mitchell finds his groove real quick. If he does, there’s enough there for a strong postseason run. But it’s been awhile since this team had that dominant run before the break, and if you look at the opponents in that stretch you might see why it was so impressive.


5. Orlando Magic

Three straight home losses put a dent in things for the Magic this past week, but they rebounded with what must’ve been a cathartic 30-point rout of the Grizzlies on Saturday.

The issue that popped up during the slide is the same one that will probably sink this team against the Knicks or Cavaliers in the first round. They just don’t have enough scorers. Defense can win titles but only if you have the ability to simply outscore an opponent in those games where everything breaks down.

Beyond Paolo Banchero and sometimes Franz Wagner, the rest of the squad is so-so but not spectacular on the offensive end. The Magic are 29th in the NBA in 3-pointers per game, 25th in assists and 24th in turnovers.

We love the direction of this crew, but one more outside threat at the deadline would’ve made it a much more dangerous unit, both on the hardwood and at the BetUS sportsbook.




Questions Of The Day

What’s the best NBA matchup on Monday, March 25?

Since we’ve talked plenty about the Hawks, it’s worth noting that they’re in Chicago for what is likely a preview of the 9-10 play-in game. Find our NBA expert prediction for that game and others on our picks page.

Which NBA team outside the Top 5 should we keep an eye on?

This probably sounds like a broken record if you read this piece each week, but Miami is lurking. It has won six of nine and is once again slowly getting back to health.

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