Celtics in more secure position than most during seeding games

Unlike almost all of the Western Conference and teams competing for the last four spots in the East, the Celtics are relatively stable.

With Milwaukee essentially a lock to hold onto the top seed in the East, the C’s best hope is to bridge the three-game gap between themselves and Toronto and grab the second seed.

They also only hold a two-and-a-half-game lead over one of the hottest teams on the board — Miami — and with a slow start to their eight-game seeding schedule could conceivably fall back to the fourth seed.

The team that figures to be their worst-case draw for a first-round playoff series — sixth-seeded Philadelphia, a proven matchup issue for the C’s — has a real chance of finishing as high as the fourth seed.

The Celtics also have one of the softer schedules in the field. Beyond Milwaukee, Toronto and Miami, their other five opponents are sub-.500 teams. But they start off with the best.

MILWAUKEE (July 31) — Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron be damned, is closing in on his second straight MVP award. Not only has the Bucks star consistently added to his offensive arsenal — he’s also now a top-tier defender on the best defensive team in the NBA. It still seems like a leap for the Celtics to successfully go through Milwaukee and, on the other side, reach the Finals. But Friday night’s opener will provide an intriguing early look.

PORTLAND (Aug. 2) — Don’t overlook the return of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, the former with a 17-point, 13-rebound double during a scrimmage against Toronto on Sunday. Both players bring a much-missed physical element to a Blazers team that has relied a bit too much on finesse. As we all know, the Celtics are vulnerable to opponents with physical interiors.

MIAMI (Aug. 4) — The Celtics have a chance to protect themselves here, though Jimmy Butler is doing his best — in his blunt style — to keep his Heat teammates on edge. Following an 18-point scrimmage loss to Memphis that included surrendering a 41-point first quarter to the Grizzlies, Butler said, “You could be beat by anybody if you’re not playing basketball the right way. We learned a lesson by going through the motions. If it starts bad, we’re probably going to end in the same way.”

BROOKLYN (Aug. 5) — Nets management has worked overtime to sign available free agents to fill spots on its gutted roster. A shell of a team that, were Washington not so far back in ninth, should be poised to slide right out of the top eight.

TORONTO (Aug. 7) — The Raptors were the first team to report to Orlando, and with a healthy and rested Marc Gasol, could now be poised for a deep run. They’re well coached, one of the best defensive teams on the board, and a group that no one wants to draw in a playoff series. But if the Celtics are to make a move on the second seed, this game is obviously vital.

ORLANDO (Aug. 9) — The eighth-seeded Magic should move up a spot, Brooklyn’s state considered. Also, don’t overlook the matchup problems this team has presented to the Celtics in the past.

MEMPHIS (Aug. 11) — Lots of young talent with nowhere to go in the West. By this point, the Grizzlies should be out of the running.

WASHINGTON (Aug. 13) — Bradley Beal makes them a threat offensively, but the Wizards need a miracle to even catch Brooklyn.

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