Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 3/4/13
With Eastern Conference opposition on their heels, the Boston Celtics will look to gear up for the final playoff stretch. Postseason positioning will be up for grabs in a Friday night matchup against the Atlanta Hawks. The veteran C’s know that they have their work cut out for them if they want to continue to beat the NBA odds — especially against a team that’s fast become one of the iconic franchise’s newest rivals. On the heels of a decent showing against Western Conference opponents, the Celtics are in a comfortable position in the East. While they’ll face some competition from bubble teams over the course of the final month of the season, their sights will be set on advancing farther up the bracket, not simply staying put. According to Bovada’s NBA oddsmakers, the Celtics have 30-1 odds of winning the NBA championship. The Hawks, in contrast, have 75-1 odds on those same NBA futures. With Josh Smith now locked in for the rest of the 2012-13 season, though, Atlanta could make one final push in the conference. Given the star’s looming free agency, and the fact that he was nearly dealt at the trade deadline, their next opportunity to do so may be a long time coming. All that means is that Smith and the Hawks will be all the more anxious to make short work of Boston when they get the chance. Atlanta did, after all, lose to the Celtics in the first round of last year’s postseason. With Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce leading the Beantown charge, don’t think that the matchup will be a walk in the park. In 2008, the first time the two teams met in the postseason, it was the young-and-gun Hawks that pushed the then-dominant Celtics to seven games. Since then, age has been more on Atlanta’s side than it has been on Boston’s. Still, after news of Rajon Rondo’s season-ending injury the Celtics were nearly written off altogether — to the point where general manager Danny Ainge was even considering how he might disband the once-proud contender. That Garnett and Pierce have re-energized the franchise and defied the NBA odds is a testament to this team’s character. Bet on the NBA at Bovada.
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