By Brad Thompson–
Chicago holds a two game lead over Boston for the top spot in the Eastern Conference with eight games remaining, and the Bulls should stay ahead considering the Celtics’ injury problems.
Last night Nenad Krstic, Boston’s starting center, left the game and didn’t return because of a knee injury. And even though Boston beat the team with the best record in the NBA, San Antonio, the loss of Krstic will hurt. Krstic is scheduled for an MRI on Saturday and will miss at least the next two games.
Luckily for the Celtics, center Jermaine O’Neal returned to action on Thursday for the first time since January 12. He scored five points in 11 minutes and admitted to being winded at times during his limited action.
The Celtics are still missing Shaquille O’Neal. Boston hopes he’ll be ready by next week, but there’s only two weeks left in the season. Shaq has been recovering from an injury to his right foot and has played in only 36 games this season.
Boston put itself in this position when they traded beloved Celtic Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City earlier this season. It was a shocking and questionable move by the Celtics. Krstic came to Boston in the deal and has been their starting center ever since. And while Krstic isn’t a dominant player, averaging only 9.9 points and 5.9 rebounds since joining the Celtics, he is a presence on the inside for an already depleted frontcourt. For the time being the Celtics will probably start forward Glen Davis in Krstic’s place.
What does this all mean for the Bulls? It means the Celtics will have to do a lot of gelling as a team in the next two weeks. Obviously, every team wants to be playing their best basketball heading into the playoffs. The Celtics are heading in the opposite direction. Even with the win over the Spurs, the Celtics were a mediocre 9-7 in March.
Depending on the severity of Krstic’s injury, the Celtics could have a revolving door at the center position throughout the rest of the regular season. It’s hard to believe that Shaq will ever be healthy enough to play starter minutes and Jermaine O’Neal, at this point in his career, is only a veteran role player.
I realize that Boston is the most experienced team in the East and Doc Rivers is a terrific coach. If any team can deal with injury problems and a new starting lineup it is the Celtics. Last season Boston was 27-27 after Christmas and still advanced to the Finals.
I’m not saying Boston isn’t still the favorite to go to the Finals, my point is that while the Celtics are trying to overcome injuries and mesh as a team, the Bulls should be able to secure home court advantage throughout the playoffs. This doesn’t guarantee that the Bulls will make it to the Finals, but being the top seed will be crucial to the Bulls’ success come playoff time.
Boston might very well get it together in time for the playoffs, but in the meantime the Bulls have an opportunity to lock up the No. 1 seed.