- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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With nine games remaining in their respective regular seasons, the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks have matching 47-26 records, leaving them neck-and-neck as they jockey for position in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
If it comes down to a photo finish and both teams are still tied when regular-season play ends in the middle of April, the Celtics will get the higher seed based on the NBA's division-winner tiebreaker.
But regardless of how it all plays out, does playoff position really matter to Boston?
"These last few games, they mean something, but they don't mean nothing -- if you get what I'm saying," Rasheed Wallace offered after Sunday's loss to the San Antonio Spurs, suggesting that it was more important for the Celtics to use these games to get players like Kendrick Perkins (left knee tendinitis) healthy and to develop some cohesion on the court.
Wallace said the team's focus is on finishing up strong and healthy. The Celtics will let the chips fall where they may from there.
"You always want to finish out strong," said Wallace. "We're not a team that sits back and says, 'We made the playoffs, cool, we're good. Let's throw the last dozen games away.' Nah, we're still trying to win all [nine]. No matter how many, we're trying to win them all."
Here's a look at the remaining schedule for both the Celtics and Hawks:
Who has the edge? Both teams play five home games and four on the road (maybe that's an advantage for the Hawks considering Boston's lackluster 23-13 home mark this season).
The Hawks appear to have a slightly tougher schedule with five playoff teams, including two matchups with East-leading Cleveland and another against the West-leading Lakers.
But Boston's remaining schedule is intriguing because of two matchups against Milwaukee.
Consider this: In this fight for the No. 3 seed, one of the "prizes" could be avoiding the upstart, athletic Bucks, who currently sit fifth in the East and would project to meet the No. 4 seed in the opening round.
But if the Celtics beat Milwaukee twice over these final three weeks, then the Bucks could slip to No. 6 (particularly if Miami continues to surge).
So by winning the battle for the No. 3 spot, the Celtics might finish matched up against a team they'd rather avoid.
Not that any Celtics players would admit as much publicly. Whether feigning ignorance or being truly indifferent, most contend they haven't checked out the playoff projections.
Ray Allen said earlier this month that he looked at the standings for the first time this year when the Celtics traveled to Milwaukee, and only to see how his former team was faring.
Rajon Rondo said last week he didn't even know Boston's record.
Perkins, perhaps the most forthcoming player in the locker room, didn't hide that he'd heard rumblings about how the Celtics could draw the Cavaliers in the second round should the Green slip to the fourth seed. His thoughts?
"We both have to get there first," he said last week.
Needless to say, even with a playoff berth and the Atlantic Division title in hand, the final two weeks will feature some drama for the Green.
In a way, an inconsistent season has left them at the mercy of watching how others fare to determine which playoff path they'll encounter. That's not ideal, but the Celtics have no one to blame but themselves for ending up in this spot.
And maybe that's why the Celtics are resigned to the fact that it really doesn't matter how the seedings play out. After all, it won't matter a lick unless the team is healthy and peaking by April 14.
"Our main thing is to get Perk healthy," Wallace said. "Take a couple games off, lay off them knees for a minute, and come back with fresh legs."
So seedings don't matter?
"No, as long as we make the playoffs," Wallace said. "I don't care if we're the first, eighth or fifth. It doesn't matter -- just to be a playoff-caliber team."
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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