The Boston Celtics are going to win on Friday.
Despite losing six straight and 11 of their last 12 overall, we can say this about the Celtics with great confidence. The folks in Vegas agree, pegging Boston as a 10-point favorite, which no team with a 23-52 record should seemingly ever be. But it won't surprise anyone considering the opponent.
The Philadelphia 76ers are going to lose on Friday.
That's what Philadelphia has done almost exclusively over the past two months. Since Evan Turner's buzzer-beater lifted the 76ers to 95-94 triumph in Boston on Jan. 29, Philadelphia has won just one game and it stopped the team from making history after losing 26 straight games (tying an NBA record). The 76ers are 1-28 since that win in Boston; Turner no longer plays for Philadelphia.
When the Celtics defeat the 76ers on Friday, the fans in Philadelphia will be more excited than those in Boston. Yep, transition years are brutal.
The Celtics are currently tied with the Utah Jazz for the fourth-worst record in basketball, so every victory is a bit counterproductive considering that it might diminish their potential for a high draft pick. With two of Boston's final seven games against these tanking 76ers, some have worried that Boston might elevate a bit too much (maybe even enough to leapfrog the rival Los Angeles Lakers in the final standings).
Yes, things were a lot more fun when we spent April lamenting how the Celtics were in cruise control while waiting for the playoffs rather than pondering the negative effects of winning.
Here's the part that makes it even worse: The Celtics deserve a win. Wednesday's lopsided loss in Washington notwithstanding, Boston has routinely been competitive despite its ugly record and has seen a number of close games slip away in the final moments recently. Since Celtics coaches and players don't subscribe to the idea of all-out tanking, they take those losses hard, yearning for progress over ping-pong balls.
And, if we're being honest, a win Friday won't do much good for Boston's psyche. It's one thing to top the playoff-bound Heat; it's another to beat a team that desires to be beaten. Sure, there's a value in young players performing well and tasting victory, but a win over Philadelphia comes with the sort of asterisk that diminishes the performance.
Someday, probably sooner than later, the league will safeguard against tanking by reworking the lottery system. Teams that put the season on cruise control by February's trade deadline won't necessarily improve their lottery odds by losing games. There has to be a way to incentivize winning for all 30 teams from season's start to end without fear of jeopardizing draft position.
For now, there's no other way to say it. Celtics fans are left in a no-win situation. There's virtually no result that is positive -- except maybe finding a way to lose to a team that loses better than any other. Otherwise, it's the usual quest for silver linings. Fans can take solace in the fact that a win will help Brad Stevens' racing mind, the one that won't stop replaying all those narrow losses that wake him up at night.
The past six seasons helped Boston fans forget what a drag navigating this sort of transition season is. A high draft pick is supposed to help ease those six months of tough-to-watch basketball and that's why some fans are lamenting the idea that a couple late-season wins could hinder that. After all, the higher the draft pick, the higher the probability of avoiding another loss-filled season moving forward.
Honestly, there's no good answer here. It's a rotten place to be for a fan. Boston got spoiled a bit during the Big Three era and no matter how ready most fans said they were for the transition process, it has not been easy to endure. Just remember that, unless you're a summer league junkie, there will be no Boston basketball to feast on for six months after the regular season ends on April 16, so maybe just maybe try to savor the last seven games.
But good luck trying to find anything to root for.