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Irish Coffee: Examining Celtics’ post-All-Star success

A day after John Hollinger’s NBA playoff odds [1] indicated the Celtics [2] would be the odd team out of the Eastern Conference playoff race, the C’s are statistically entrenched in his top eight thanks to a 100-91 win over the Bucks in Milwaukee. Now, if only they could make the 76ers’ odds of winning the Atlantic Division similarly vanish.

The 76ers have an 80.6 percent chance of winning the division, according to Hollinger. The Celtics? 11.9 percent. That could change in Philadelphia on Friday as the C’s (25-21) trail the Sixers by just one game in the win column.

If history is any indication, Friday in Philly won’t be pretty. The Celtics are 0-6 when they have to travel for the second night of a back-to-back (they did beat the Clippers a night after losing to the Lakers in the same Los Angeles arena), including a 32-point loss to the 76ers earlier this month.

However, the Celtics are 10-4 since the All-Star Game, owners of the league’s second-best record since the break — behind only the NBA’s No. 1 overall seed Bulls (12-2) and one win better than the surging Lakers (9-4). Who would have seen that coming with eight straight away games spread out over 6,000 miles looming?

But the Celtics will emerge from the season’s longest road trip no worse than 4-4, including hard-fought losses to the Lakers and Nuggets (the Western Conference’s current third and seventh seeds, respectively).

As colleague Paul Flannery noted in his most recent must-read column [3]: “In April, 12 of [the C’s] 15 games are against teams that are either in the playoffs or competing for a spot. The other three? All on the road in their only back-to-back-to-back of the season. They also have six sets of regular back-to-backs in the final weeks.”

Despite the losses of Chris Wilcox [4] and Jermaine O’Neal [5], the Celtics appear more equipped now to handle the rigors of that schedule than prior to the All-Star break, if only because they’re playing better.

Since playing in the All-Star Game, Rajon Rondo [6] is averaging averaging a league-best 12.0 assists per game while the remaining Celtics starters all rank among the NBA’s 100 most efficient players after the break, according to Hoop Stats [7] (10. Kevin Garnett [8], 48. Paul Pierce [9], 91. Ray Allen [10], 97. Brandon Bass [11]).

Maybe this was the plan all along. Should the Celtics make the playoffs, and even win the Atlantic Division, it will be via a different route than previous years. In the last two seasons, the C’s have totaled 37 more victories prior to the All-Star Game than after, it, but this lockout-shortened season was always going to be different.

Garnett and Pierce, in particular, have both elevated their games over the past month, raising their combined scoring average from 32.0 to 37.0 points while each shooting significantly better from the floor. Remember, the Big Three as players and Doc Rivers [12] as an analyst all had front row seats to the 1999 lockout-shortened season, so they were in a unique position to realize the best way to attack this year.

In the end, as always, the Celtics will go as far as Rondo, Garnett, Pierce and Allen take them, and it just so happens those four are playing their best as a group at what appears to be the right time.

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’€™s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach [13] on Twitter.)