NEW YORK (AP) — Big games in Boston have been part of so many NBA spring times, and the Celtics are about to host the next one.
Beat Cleveland on Wednesday and the Celtics will take the Eastern Conference lead into the final week of the regular season. They would also even the season series, preventing the Cavaliers from clinching the first tiebreaker if they finish with the same record.
Only Golden State has a better home record than Boston’s 20-4 mark in 2017, so the Celtics would love to have home-court advantage throughout the East finals. But they also know that doesn’t matter until much later, and their only focus is now.
“The biggest thing right now is that everybody only wants to talk about the end and we’re still in it,” coach Brad Stevens said. “Like, we’re still in the moment. Like, we’re still in the middle of it, so you just stay in that game, that moment. You work on what you need to work on to try to play well against the next opponent. And we’re all going to be asked about standings and seedings and everything else, but it really isn’t applicable yet. It’s about how you play today.”
The Celtics are a half-game ahead of the NBA champions, who host Orlando on Tuesday before coming to Boston for the nationally televised showdown. The Celtics have won 50 games for the first time since 2010-11 and in Stevens’ fourth season have become a championship contender even more quickly than he expected.
The Cavaliers’ miserable March opened the door for the Celtics to take the No. 1 seed that was assumed a certainty for the champions before the season. Boston’s path would be easier with a victory Wednesday, but Stevens won’t get caught up thinking about what a victory in early April could mean for the end of May.
His players are listening.
“Honestly, it’s definitely a big game, but we’re going to treat it like every other game,” All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas said. “I mean it’s the next game, so it’s definitely the most important one, but we’ll be ready.”
Other things to watch in the last full week of the regular season:
WESTBROOK WATCH: Russell Westbrook brings a streak of six straight triple-doubles into the week, giving him 40 for the season and leaving him just one behind Oscar Robertson’s single-season record set in 1961-62. Oklahoma City hosts Milwaukee on Tuesday before finishing the week with a three-game road trip.
MONDAY MAKEUP: With all eyes on the NCAA Tournament championship game, Monday was scheduled to be the last of the three days during the NBA regular season when there are no games, following Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. But Portland will travel to Minnesota to make up a March 6 game that was postponed by unsafe court conditions.
WINNING WARRIORS: Closing in on home-court advantage throughout the postseason, Golden State has won 11 in a row, one off its season-best winning streak from Nov. 7-28.
BLAZING BLAZERS: Portland has seized control of the race for the only available playoff spot in the West by running off six straight wins to improve to 38-38. The Trail Blazers take a two-game lead over Denver into their game Tuesday at Utah.
SURGING TO SEVENTH: Chicago has won four straight games to vault into seventh place in the East, with Miami and Indiana tied for the final spot.
PLAYOFF PREVIEW: With the Spurs second in the West and the Grizzlies sitting in seventh, their game Tuesday in San Antonio could be a preview of a first-round series. The Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol has missed four straight games with a left foot strain.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK
LeBron James, Cleveland: 41 points, 16 rebounds, 11 assists in the Cavaliers’ 135-130 victory over Indiana on Sunday. James’ career-best 11th triple-double of the season came in 52 minutes — his most in more than four years — as he played all but six minutes of the double-overtime game.
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