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Celtics playoff race comes into focus

04.15.12 at 11:46 pm ET
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The Celtics may be seeing a lot more of Josh Smith and the Hawks soon. (AP)

With five games left to play and their dreaded back-to-back-to-back behind them, the Celtics are in decent shape as they head down the home stretch of the regular season.

They have a four-game lead on Philadelphia for first place in the Atlantic Division and their magic number to clinch is down to three. Assuming the Celtics are able to win the division, they will get the four seed and will likely play either Atlanta or Orlando in the first round of the playoffs.

Winning the division does not guarantee homecourt advantage and all three teams have 25 losses, but as division winners the Celtics would own the tiebreaker if they finish in a tie, regardless of head-to-head matchups.

Catching Indiana for the third seed, which would have been a longshot when the weekend began, was essentially put out of reach when the C’s lost to the Raptors on Friday. The Pacers are up three in the loss column and have five of their remaining six games at home.

That leaves the Celtics on the Bulls’ side of the bracket, but that’s a problem for another day. Here’s how the Celtics, Hawks and Magic finish the season:

CELTICS (36-25)

Tuesday: At New York
Wednesday: Orlando
Friday: At Atlanta
Tue. April 24: Miami
Thur. April 26: Milwaukee

Comment: The hard part is almost over, but the C’s have big games with the Magic and Hawks this week. There’s no doubt Celtics’ coach Doc Rivers would like to be able to give his players some rest heading into the playoffs, which makes those games even more important. Of particular concern is Ray Allen (ankle) and Paul Pierce, who tweaked his foot in the fourth quarter against the Nets on Saturday.

HAWKS (35-25)

Monday: At Toronto
Wednesday: Detroit
Friday: Boston
Sunday: New York
Tue. April 24: Clippers
Thur. April 26 Dallas

Comment: The big question for Atlanta is the health of center Al Horford, who has been out since January after he underwent pectoral surgery. “The last thing we want to do is think that he’s coming back and then have him not come back,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said last week when the team was in Boston. “Our mindset is that he will not return.”

ORLANDO (35-25)

Mon: Philly
Wed: at Boston
Sat: at Utah
Sun: at Denver
Wed, April 25: Charlotte
Thur. April 26: At Memphis

Comment: The Magic have by far the toughest slate of games remaining and their finish will be even harder without Dwight Howard, who has a herniated disk in his back. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said on Sunday that the team is expecting to finish the season without their superstar center.

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