Celtics Coach Joe Mazzulla is not worried yet about who Boston’s opponent in the first round of the playoffs will be, but instead is focused on finishing strong. Aaron Gash/Associated Press

As the Celtics enter the last week of the regular season, Coach Joe Mazzulla, isn’t concerned with future possibilities or hypotheticals.

Next week, the Celtics will learn their playoff opponent, likely from one of the play-in games. With four games left this week, they still have a shot at the No. 1 seed. But Mazzulla isn’t wasting his energy on those things.

“There’s nothing we can do about it,” Mazzulla said. “A lot of it’s out of our control.”

The No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics still have a shot – even if it’s highly unlikely – to catch the Bucks for the top seed. They trail by two games, with a road tilt set for Tuesday against the No. 3 seed 76ers before finishing the regular season at home with a two-game series against the Raptors before Sunday’s season finale with the Hawks. Each of those teams are potential playoff opponents.

The Bucks, meanwhile, finish their regular season against the Wizards, Bulls, Grizzlies and Wizards. The Celtics need to make up two games over this final stretch to jump over the Bucks, because they own the tiebreaker between them that they earned with last Thursday’s 41-point win in Milwaukee.

Mazzulla isn’t worried about those scenarios. Instead, he’s focused on maintaining the level of play the Celtics have showcased over the last month, a stretch in which they’re 8-3 and building good habits on both ends at the right time.


“What we can control is playing the way we played the last 11 games, we’re 8-3, number one in both offense and defense and so we’re doing a lot of good things. We just have to keep that going.

“I felt, over the last 48 hours (in back-to-back wins over the Bucks and Jazz), the first game we were very detailed. We managed the game well. Second game, it was just more of a mindset win. And so we have to put that together as we get ready for the last stretch and into the playoffs.”

The Celtics are mostly healthy right now. Robert Williams III and Al Horford will likely continue sitting the second night of the back-to-back when they return home to face the Raptors on Wednesday. But Mazzulla isn’t necessarily going to rest starters and regulars this week, even if it’s clear they’ll lock up the No. 2 seed. He said he’d map out the week on a game-to-game basis.

“I really want to win,” Mazzulla said. “I like winning.”

WHEN DAMON STOUDAMIRE left Mazzulla’s staff to become the head coach at Georgia Tech in mid-March, it left a void on the Celtics. Stoudamire was Mazzulla’s top assistant whose extensive NBA experience was valuable for the first-time head coach. The Celtics didn’t hire anyone to replace him, so everyone who remained – including now top assistant Ben Sullivan – had to make up for the loss.

Mazzulla said they’ve done an admirable job, as they’ve done all season dating back to training camp when former coach Ime Udoka was suspended. Like then, the coaching staff has handled a difficult situation very well.


“The staff deserves a ton of credit,” Mazzulla said. “The beginning of the year, when all this went down, they had a decision to make about whether they were going to buy in, whether they were going to trust, blind trust, were they going to be empowered and step up? And I think everybody, including Damon at that time, just did a great job of understanding the circumstances and moving on. Each guy has really grown in this situation because of that.

“Damon leaving, it’s a huge void, and I think Ben has done a great job. I really rely on him in the game preparation, the experience that he has. People don’t realize that he’s won two NBA championships with the Spurs and the Bucks, so he’s seen a lot. That’s really helpful. He has stepped up in that department, and our staff, the workload is more, but I trust every one of those guys and really grateful for the mindset they’ve brought to this situation. They’ve made the most of it and credit to the guys for trusting our staff. I appreciate that.”

FOR THE FOURTH and final time this regular season, the Celtics will face a difficult matchup in defending Joel Embiid on Tuesday. They limited the 76ers star in the first two meetings in Boston, but Embiid was dominant in Philadelphia on Feb. 25, when he had 41 points and 12 rebounds and went to the free-throw line 18 times. Over the last several years, Horford has been counted on to be a primary defender for Embiid – a job he’s done well – but Williams stressed it will take more than just him.

“Just got to play as good of defense as you can, playing against a superstar like that,” Williams said. “More of a team effort than putting it on someone individually.”

WILLIAMS CAUGHT SOME of Sunday’s NCAA women’s national championship game as LSU beat Iowa. The Celtics big man, a Louisiana native, was pulling for the Tigers but was also impressed by Hawkeyes star Caitlin Clark, who had an outstanding tournament.

“I watched the beginning of it,” Williams said. “It was my first time seeing the Clark girl. She good, she surprised me. Shout out to LSU for winning, that’s who I was going for, but Clark surprised me.”

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