While it may seem like the Celtics don't have anything left to play for, a second look tells us that they have plenty to play for over their last 9 games. Several of these teams are possible first round matchups for the Celtics and they need to send the message that they are in control and not give any questions as to whether the Celtics can be beaten.
First up is Chicago who are in the 10th spot and 4.5 games back of the 8th spot. It is possible for them to make it if the other teams have a collapse and they win all of their games so, they will be trying to do their part and beat teams like the Celtics who may be letting up as they look forward to the playoffs. But, it would be a mistake for the Celtics to lose to a team they may face in the first round of the playoffs.
After the Bulls, the Celtics face the Pacers who are tied for the 9th spot and only 3 games back. It is even more possible for them to land in the 8th spot as they just got a boost with Jermaine O'Neal returning after a 2 month absence. The Celtics and the Pacers have had a building rivalry in past years including the Celtics being ousted from their last playoff appearance by the Pacers. The Celtics definitely don't want to give them a foot in the door.
After Indiana, the Celtics face the Bobcats. Charlotte has no hope of making the playoffs, but the Celtics have a score to settle with them. The Bobcats gave the Celtic one of only 2 double digit losses this season as they beat them in the Garden 95-83. They seem to match up with the Celtics very well as the Celtics barely beat them in their first matchup 96-95 and won in another close game 108-100 in their last meeting. The Celtics need to win this one simply to avenge that double digit loss earlier in the season.
The Milwaukee Bucks are the only team that the Celtics don't really have an issue with. They are out of the playoffs and the Celtics have beaten them easily in their earlier games and there could be a let down against them. The Celtics face them twice in their last 9 games.
Then, there is Washington. We won't see them in the first round, but may face them later on. The biggest motivation for the Celtics in beating the Wizards is that they have already beaten the Celtics twice. The Cavs and Magic have also beaten the Celtics twice, but the Wizards did it in back to back games and that seemed to make it sting worse. The Celtics need to send them a message that those wins were a fluke and that the Celtics are definitely the better team going into the playoffs. We don't want to allow a possible playoff matchup to have the mental edge of having beaten us 3 times in the season.
We face Atlanta, New York and New Jersey in our final 3 games. Atlanta is in 8th place now and would be the team we face in the first round if they stay there. Needless to say, if they are still in the 8th spot at this time, we need to beat them. You just don't want to go into the playoffs having just been beaten by the team you are going to face in the first round. New York and New Jersey are division rivals and we need to beat them just for pride's sake in the division.
I expect Doc to give the bench, especially Tony Allen plenty of time to work on their games and chemistry as a unit over these last 9 games. Doc will want to try to rest the starters as much as possible so they will be fresh going into the playoffs, but he also doesn't want to give teams we may face a mental advantage going in either. Doc will have to walk a thin line to try to win the games along with trying to keep his starters fresh. It will be up to the bench to produce in the minutes they get as the players who produce down the stretch will be the ones given minutes in the playoffs.