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Irish Coffee: Why Celtics should earn No. 1 seed

Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Rest up, Celtics, because it doesn’t get any easier than this. The C’s are midway through their most relaxing regular-season stretch of the New Big Three Era in terms of travel.

And never have they needed it more. Seven members of the team’s 15-man roster are battling known injuries as the All-Star break looms, and that doesn’t include Glen Davis [1]‘ bruised noggin, Kevin Garnett [2]‘s rehabbed knee or Rajon Rondo [3]‘s feet.

The good news: The Celtics are in the midst of a 15-day stretch between road games. They played in Charlotte on Feb. 7 and travel to Oakland on Feb. 22. In between, they’ll have played just three home games, all three days apart. Sure, there’s an All-Star Game in between (in Los Angeles) but that’s hardly heavy lifting for Garnett, Rondo, Ray Allen [4] and Paul Pierce [5] (depending on Pierce’s MRI results), especially since Doc Rivers [6] is manning their minutes.

In the previous three seasons, the Celtics’ longest stretch between road games around the All-Star break was seven days. And in the last two seasons, the NBA has sandwiched a pair of road games for the C’s around the All-Star Game — hardly the mini vacation players desire.

The bad news: Since 2007, the Celtics have had three stretches of 15 days or more between road games. This current span is one. The other two have come at an even more ideal time — days before season’s end. Two years ago, the C’ss played five straight home games from March 27 to April 12. Last season, they had six consecutive home contests from March 22 to April 6.

This season, they’ll have no such luck. Starting with a four-game West Coast road trip after the All-Star Game, the Celtics play 17 of their final 28 games on the road, including 10-of-16 to close out the season. However, only 10 of those 28 games come against teams above .500.

With a half-game lead for first place, the Celtics are battling the Heat — and perhaps the Bulls — for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. In all likelihood, nobody will catch the Spurs (45-9) for the league’s best overall record, so we’ll only include the Lakers out West as we take a look at how many of these teams’ post-All-Star break games are against teams above .500:

And here are the winning percentages of those teams’ opponents after the All-Star Game:

At 7.5 games behind the Spurs, with 17 of their final 25 games against winning teams, the Lakers will in all likelihood not have homecourt advantage against either San Antonio or the Celtics should they meet those teams in the Western Conference or NBA finals [7].

Based on the schedule to close out the season, the Celtics have the best shot at clinching homecourt advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, considering the Bulls would have to close the current 2.5-game gap between them in the process.

However, consider this: From Feb. 27 to March 19, the Heat face a stretch of 11 games against teams above .500 before playing 10 of their final 12 regular-season games (including a span of nine straight) versus teams below .500. Meanwhile, the Celtics play only two of their 13 games between now and March 19 against teams above .500.

Translation: If the Celtics don’t create some considerable distance between themselves and the Heat prior to March 19, they can probably kiss the No. 1 seed goodbye.

HEAT’S DWYANE WADE [8] CALLS CELTICS THEIR ‘BIGGER BROTHERS’

It’s not quite Pedro Martinez [9] calling the Yankees [10] his daddy, but Dwyane Wade called the Celtics the Heat’s “bigger brothers” when it comes to the Eastern Conference roadmap. Here’s what he told [11] the Miami Herald following the Heat’s 85-82 loss to the C’s on Sunday:

‘€œThis is classic, typical, bigger brothers — you got to get over it. I’€™ve been through it before; LeBron [James] has been through it before with the Pistons. You look down the line, everyone has been through it. [Michael Jordan [12]] went through it with the Pistons back in the day. You got to get over the hump, and we’€™re getting closer and closer but we’€™re not there yet.’€

You’d think the Heat might begin to lack some confidence against the Celtics, considering their 0-3 record against them this season, but Wade certainly doesn’t. As he told [13] the Sporting News, “The breakthough eventually will come. For us, it’€™s not if it will come, it’€™s when it will come.’€

Wade continued [14] his thought in a separate conversation with CBS Sports:

“It’s going to be a rivalry no matter whether we eventually meet in the playoffs. This is a team that has a lot of pride, that over the last couple of years have control over the Eastern Conference. And we’re the one coming up, the young team coming up to take that from them.”

Considering the current hammer and nail corollary between the Celtics and Heat, James wasn’t quite ready to side with his teammate in the same story on whether this is a rivalry quite yet:

“Regular-season games don’t create a rivalry. You’ve got to go through playoff series, like I did with Detroit in Cleveland and like we did against Boston — and like we had against Washington my first few years in the league. Those are the ones where you know every play that’s coming, you know everything about that opposing player that you’re going against, and you still have to execute down the stretch to get wins. And that creates rivalries.”

Big brothers often pick on younger siblings, and Kevin Garnett is no different. In the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Heat players described [15] how they deal with Garnett’s constant taunts:

Chris Bosh: “My thing is, if you get caught up in talking to him and wondering what you’re going to say next and if that’s what you’re thinking about, then you’re already beat, instead of thinking about your game. He frustrates guys and then they’re still thinking about it after the game and he’s probably chillin’ out, cracking jokes, having a good meal.”

Eddie House [16]: “He’s very passionate about the game, passionate about winning. If you’re on his team, you love him. And if you never had a chance to play with him, you’re definitely going to hate him. At the end of the day, I don’t think he cares either way.”

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY FROM THE CELTICS

Four Celtics responded [17] to the question “Which of your teammates most needs a hug?” for a Valentine’s Day themed article on ESPN.com. Here are their responses:

BILL RUSSELL [21]: MEDAL OF FREEDOM ‘A CLOSE SECOND’

Celtics legend Bill Russell will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama on Tuesday, but that honor will rank second among Russell’s personal achievements. Here’s what Russell told [22] New York Times writer George Vecsey ranks first:

“When he was about 77, my father and I were talking, and he said: ‘€˜You know, you’€™re all grown up now, and I want to tell you something. I am very proud of the way you turned out as my son, and I’€™m proud of you as a father.’€™ My father is my hero, OK, and I cannot perceive of anything topping that — while I am very, very flattered by this honor.”

In an emotional interview that covered basketball, marriage and everything in between, Russell shared details that you don’t often hear from the man:

As I’ve often said, I would listen to Russell’s wisdom all day, every day, for as long as I could. No athlete deserves this national honor more than him.

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’€™s Irish Coffee or a future mailbag? Send an e-mail to brohrbach@weei.com [24] or a Twitter message to @brohrbach [25].)