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Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Celtics fend off Nets, hold sole possession of No. 1 seed 04.11.17 at 3:00 am ET
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Apr 10, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) reacts during the third quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden.  The Celtics won 114-105. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

A win against the Bucks on Wednesday will give the Celtics a 53-29 record on the season and the No. 1 seed. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today)

The Celtics are one win away from entering the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

After Boston cruised to a 114-105 win over the Nets, the Heat did their part in fighting for the final playoff spot by beating the Cavaliers in overtime — giving the Celtics a one-game lead for first place in the east. All the C’s have to do now is beat the Bucks in Wednesday’s regular season finale at TD Garden in order to clinch the top spot. 

With the win, the Heat — who are now tied with the Bulls for eighth — kept their playoff hopes alive. Now, the Cavaliers not only need to beat the Raptors on Wednesday but also need the Celtics to lose in order to regain the No. 1 seed. 

Isaiah Thomas’ 27 points led six Celtics in double figures, Al Horford finished with 19 points, 8 rebounds, Avery Bradley poured in 18 points and Marcus Smart led the bench with 13 points. 

Celtics ended the first quarter with a 15-point lead (28-13) and held a double-digit lead throughout most of the first half. Celtics kicked off the third quarter with an 11-0 run to give them a 27-point lead — their largest one of the night. 

The Nets responded with a 12-0 run before the start of the final frame and eventually pulled to within 11 points. Jeremy Lin led with a double-double (26 points, 12 rebounds) and Brook Lopez added 25 points. 

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Celtics Pregame: Brad Stevens does not plan on resting players in last two games 04.10.17 at 7:52 pm ET
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Mar 31, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens during the second half against the Orlando Magic at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Stevens will not rest his starters against Nets on Monday at TD Garden (Bob DeChiara/USA Today)

Don’t expect to see Brad Stevens rest his guys in the final games of the regular season. Celtics head coach has no plans of sitting his players if they’re healthy and it could pay dividends depending on what happens Monday.  

With two games left, the Celtics (51-29) find themselves tied with the Cavaliers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. After surrendering a 26-point fourth-quarter lead in a 126-125 overtime loss to the Hawks on Sunday, the Cavs are giving the Celtics another chance to grab the top playoff spot in the east. 

A Celtics win and a loss by the Cavaliers at Miami will give Boston a one game lead ahead of the Cavs for first place. The Cavs have to beat the Heat in order to clinch No.1 but will have to do so without LeBron James and Kyrie Irving — coach Tyronn Lue has decided to rest both — and Tristian Thompson (thumb), who is out nursing a hand injury. 

Meanwhile, the Heat (39-41), who are currently tied with the Bulls for the eighth and final playoff spot, are fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive. If the Heat knock off the Cavaliers while the C’s top the Nets on Monday, the Celtics can then decide their fate in Wednesday’s regular season finale against the Bucks — a win gives them first, a loss will lock Boston into second (CLE owns tiebreaker). 

Although Stevens isn’t going to rest up his guys before the postseason, he’s also not up late at night tossing and turning thinking about first place.

“The most important thing is tonight’s game (against Brooklyn). That’s the way I’m looking at it,” Stevens said. “Whatever seed we get, we get. That’ll be the result of an 82-game schedule, not the result of one or two games. It is what it is. We’ve had a pretty consistent year with regard to performance. We’ve also had moments where we haven’t played as well. I’m literally not talking about it with the team nor am I losing one second of sleep over it.”

Despite clinching the league’s worst record of the season, the Nets enter Monday’s game winners of four of their last five. Brooklyn has been playing the “spoiler” role lately, beating teams like the Hawks and Bulls, respectively — two clubs lobbying for playoff position. 

The Nets now will attempt to spoil the Celtics’ final chance at locking in the No. 1 seed.

Read More: Boston, Brad Stevens, Brooklyn Nets, Celtics
Celtics lose to Hawks, which may end up helping them in playoffs 04.06.17 at 11:27 pm ET
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Hawks forward Taurean Prince (12) dunks against the Celtics Thursday. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

Hawks forward Taurean Prince (12) dunks against the Celtics Thursday. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics don’t seem to like sitting atop the Eastern Conference.

One night after getting blown out by the Cavaliers in a showdown for the No. 1 seed, the Celtics journeyed to Atlanta and played like a team that’s forgotten what got it here.

The C’s looked tight from the start, fell behind by double digits early, and never recovered in a 123-116 loss.

Marcus Smart led the Celtics with 18 points, including 5-of-8 on 3-pointers, seven assists and six steals. But the C’s had no answer for the Atlanta backcourt of Tim Hardaway Jr. (23 points) and Dennis Schroder (18). Big man Paul Millsap led the way with 26 points and 12 rebounds.

The Celtics launched 43 3-pointers, but made only 15 (34.9 percent). They tried to make a game of it in the final three minutes, trimming a 13-point deficit to five, with the ball, but they got no closer.

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 35 and Jae Crowder added 24, but the Celtics were outrebounded 52-38.

The loss isn’t all bad. It kept the Hawks in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, which means the second-seeded Celtics could avoid them in the second round. That wouldn’t be a bad thing for Boston (50-29), which fell to 1-2 vs. the Hawks this year after being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by them last year in six games.

As things stand now, if the seedings hold and the Celtics beat the Bulls in the first round, they’d get the winner of Milwaukee and Toronto in the conference semifinals.

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LeBron James (36), Cavaliers pummel Celtics to claim first place in Eastern Conference 04.05.17 at 11:18 pm ET
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Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) works the ball against Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) on Wednesday. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) works the ball against Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) on Wednesday. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics arrived at the Garden on Wednesday believing they could claim sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference. They left licking their wounds after being routed by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Behind 36 points from LeBron James and a suffocating defensive effort — not to mention a domination of the boards — the Cavaliers cruised to a 114-91 victory that gave them first place in the East with four games left to play.

The Celtics led 20-19 after one, but Cleveland (51-27) took control with a 38-point second quarter to open a 57-42 halftime lead and the C’s never seriously threatened.

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics (50-28) with 26 points on 9-of-19 shooting, but he got absolutely no help from his supporting cast. The C’s shot just 7-for-33 on 3-pointers (.212) and put only three other players in double figures, led by Jae Crowder’s 13.

The Celtics were outrebounded 51-38 and allowed Kevin Love to grab 16 boards alongside his 15 points.

For more on the game, including how badly it exposed the Celtics as playoff pretenders, check out this column.

Read More: Cavaliers, Celtics, Eastern Conference standings, Isaiah Thomas
Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley return to lineup for Celtics against Cavaliers, who will be without big man Tristan Thompson 04.05.17 at 8:01 pm ET
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LeBron James is always a challenge.  (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

LeBron James is always a challenge. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

For most, Wednesday’s showdown between the Celtics and Cavaliers is considered Boston’s most important game of the season. 

But for Celtics coach Brad Stevens, this battle for the top seed in the Eastern Conference is just another game. 

With Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder both expected to start, Stevens’ starting five will be at full strength against the champion Cavaliers, who will be playing without big man Tristan Thompson (sprained thumb). But according to Stevens, preparation for taking on the champs is no different than any other opponent. Both squads are 50-27.

“We don’t talk big game/small game, we talk about the next game and trying to do the best that we can against our opponent,” Stevens said. “I know that sounds really boring but that’s the way I look at it — the way I go about it. These have all grown up playing big games their whole lives.”

After some speculation of whether coach Ty Lue would rest his guys, the Cavaliers are expected to start all of their big three members in LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. However, Stevens says Cleveland’s second unit — which has been plagued by injuries since the All-Star break — is often overlooked.

“Those guys are great players,” Stevens said. “No one talks about it, but when we beat them, they didn’t have [J.R.] Smith. They’re going to continue to round in form as those guys are back playing together and now their getting fully healthier with [Kyle] Korver back and everyone else. It’s a really tough team to play against.”

Having Crowder back definitely helps.

“I just think Jae’s really important in general because he allows us what we just talked about with Cleveland,” Stevens explained. “Cleveland is — obviously Golden State, maybe a couple of others — the best at being able to play a bunch of different ways and Jae allows us to play different ways because of his ability to play both the 3 and swing to the 4.”

When asked about the possibility of resting his guys before the start of the postseason, Stevens said he’s given it very little thought, but will continue to check in with his medical staff and make sure his team is at full strength come playoff time.

Read More: Cavaliers, Celtics, Eastern Conference standings, Jae Crowder
LeBron James dismisses matchup against Celtics: ‘I’ve been to six straight NBA Finals’ 04.05.17 at 10:09 am ET
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LeBron James doesn't appear excited about facing the Celtics Wednesday. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

LeBron James doesn’t appear excited about facing the Celtics Wednesday. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics and Cavaliers, who are tied for first place in the Eastern Conference, will match up with each other at T.D. Garden Wednesday. It’s a big game as far as regular season contests are concerned, but don’t tell that to LeBron James.

In an interview following the Cavaliers’ win over the Magic Tuesday, James downplayed the importance of the affair.

“I don’t know, I’ve played in a lot of big games man,” he said. “I don’t … I’m the last person to ask about a big game in the regular season. I’m sorry.” 

It’s understandable if James holds a jaded view about the importance of regular season basketball. The Cavaliers narrowly edged out the Raptors for the No. 1 seed last season, but wound up bulldozing their way through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Cleveland came back from a 3-1 deficit to oust the Warriors in the NBA Finals, largely thanks to an otherworldly effort from James. He averaged 36.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game over the final three games to secure his third title. 

After a fast start this season, the Cavaliers have slumped since the All-Star Break. They’re 9-10 since March 1 and had the worst defense in the league last month as well. James lost his temper earlier this week when he started screaming at forward Tristan Thompson following a defensive lapse in the waning moments of Cleveland’s double overtime win Sunday over the Pacers. 

Though the Cavaliers have taken to resting their stars down the stretch, James played 37 minutes Tuesday against the lowly Magic. So maybe Cleveland wants to finish strongly heading into the playoffs, even if James won’t admit it. 

“Taking nothing from [the Celtics], they’ve been playing some great ball, but like I said, I’m not one to get caught up in regular season big games,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’ve been to six straight [NBA] Finals, man. I’m the last person to ask about a regular season game, dude. Sorry.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James,
LaVar Ball on ‘Dale & Holley with Keefe:’ I would prefer Lonzo Ball play for the Lakers 03.30.17 at 3:18 pm ET
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LaVar Ball said Thursday he would prefer his son play for the Lakers. (Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

LaVar Ball said Thursday he would prefer his son play for the Lakers. (Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

If the Celtics draft UCLA standout Lonzo Ball this spring, his father would probably be disappointed. 

In an interview Thursday on Dale & Holley with Keefe, LaVar Ball said his preference is for Lonzo to wind up with their hometown Lakers. Listen to the full interview on the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

“I want him to be a Laker. But that’s just my opinion,” he said. “It wouldn’t be like, ‘Oh man he gotta go to Boston.’ I’d love him to stay in LA. But that’s just me though.”

LaVar Ball went on to say he wants his son to play for the Lakers, because he wants to keep the family together. 

“It’s not about me liking [the Celtics] or disliking them. It’s just that we’re west coast guys,” he said. “I’d love for him to stay on the west coast where his brothers can see him all of the time. We’re a real big family. That’s just the only difference. But like I said, my son will play for any team on the fact that his goal was to make it to the NBA. So it doesn’t matter what team he plays for.” 

In a recent USA Today feature story, the man who coaches LaVar Ball’s kids at Chino Hills High School, Stephan Gilling, opened up about Daddy Ball’s overbearing personality and tendency to overrule him at every turn. But in the NBA, Ball says that wouldn’t be a problem. 

“You know what you’re getting from my boys when you get them. Anything before that, in high school, you don’t know what you’re getting,” he said. “That’s why I have to mold them into these players. Everybody thought I went to practices and all that stuff with Steve Alford [at UCLA]. No, I never went to one practice. I’m not going to be up there telling [the coach], wherever [Lonzo] goes, ‘Hey man, you need to play my son like this.’ No, Lonzo’s turned into a man. That’s his job.” 

Though LaVar Ball continued to build up Lonzo during the interview –– he stuck by his claim that his eldest son could beat Stephen Curry in a game of one-on-one –– he said he doesn’t think his brash demeanor hurts his kids. In fact, he says he thinks it helps them become better players. 

“If you’re in the NBA, shouldn’t everyone want to dunk on you? Who cares?,” he asked. “If you want to be the best, I don’t want my son going into a situation where [everyone] says, ‘You know what? You’re a great guy, man. We’re not even going to play that hard on you. We want to ease you in nice and gentle to the NBA. We’re not coming after you.’ Man, that’s a bunch of hogwash. I want them all coming after my boy, because that’s how you get to be the greatest.”

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