The Celtics haven’t had much luck with their treasure trove of draft picks over the past two years. After reaping the rewards from the Nets picks and pick swaps through the 2017 NBA Draft, they have been the victim of some outlier seasons that turned what was expected to be elite picks into simply mediocre ones.
It began with the Kings overachieving during the 2018-19 season with 39 wins, turning a top-5 expected pick into No. 14 overall. That string of bad luck continued into 2019-20 with Ja Morant leading a rebuilding Grizzlies squad ahead of schedule into a likely playoff spot out west.
The creation of the play-in game scenario for the No. 8 seed in both conferences (if the No. 9 team finished within four games in the standings) was a bit of good news for the possibility of Boston salvaging a lottery pick from the Grizz top-7 protected pick this season. Still, the odds looked long when the Orlando restart began that would happen. Memphis was the heavy favorite to finish 8th at the end of the regular season with a 3.5 game cushion in the standings and if that happened, they would only need to win one game in a play-in scenario (as opposed to two games for the No. 9 seed).
The equation has changed quickly in just one week of bubble play for the Grizzlies though. Memphis has dropped their first three games so far, reducing their lead for the No. 8 seed down to two games. Not only has Memphis been losing to teams chasing them for the No. 8 spot (Blazers, Spurs, Pelicans) but these games were the easiest contests on their eight-game bubble schedule. Their final five opponents are all teams that have a winning percentage over .600, (Utah, OKC, Toronto, Boston, Milwaukee) which will put them as clear underdogs in their final five games on a neutral court in Orlando.
Will the Grizzlies lose all of these games? Of course not. The top three East teams (including the Celtics) may not have anything to play for in the final week of the seeding games since it’s entirely possible they could be locked into their seeding. The Bucks are already at No. 1.
With that said, Utah and Oklahoma City will be plenty motivated to improve their seeding so something like a 2-6 finish for the Grizzlies is entirely possible. If that’s the case, what once looked like a long shot is now a distinct possibility: The Grizzlies could fall to the No. 9 seed or even below No. 9 altogether, which would likely give the Celtics a lottery pick in the teens. A closer look at the standings indicates how this could happen.
Games remaining and upcoming schedule
Mem: 5 (Utah, OKC, Toronto, Boston, Milwaukee)
Portland: 6 (HOU, DEN, LAC, PHI, DAL, BKN)
SAS: 5 (DEN, UTA, NO, HOU, UTA)
NOP: 5 (SAC, WAS, SAS, SAC, ORL)
SAC: 5 (NOP, BKN, HOU, NOP, LAL)
PHX: 6 (LAC, IND, MIA, OKC, PHI, DAL)
The fact that most of these teams did not enter bubble play with the same number of games played puts all kinds of finishing scenarios on the table and renders some tiebreakers meaningless. However, the teams the Celtics should be rooting hard for in this scenario are quite clear.
1. New Orleans: After a crucial win over the Grizzlies on Monday night, they have the easiest remaining schedule