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Celtics move up Eastern Conference standings, enter crucial phase


The Celtics got a boost from old friends.

The Celtics moved up the standings on Wednesday night. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Is March late enough for the Celtics to start looking at the Eastern Conference standings?

We hope so, because the ranking is getting really interesting. On Tuesday, the Celtics rallied to beat the Hawks and maintain their six-seeded position. On Wednesday, the fifth-place Cavaliers were eliminated by the Hornets (led by Terry Rozier, who posted a 29-7-7 stat line). While the Cavaliers maintain their grip on fifth place East by a few percentage points, the Celtics and Cavaliers are just 4.5 games out of first place. The Celtics have the tiebreaker of the season after going 2-1 against the Cavaliers.

Meanwhile, first place also got a little closer: the Heat melted against the Bucks and lost after a 21-6 run that was capped by Jrue Holiday’s float. If the Heat had held off the Bucks, the Celtics would have been only one game behind the Bucks. They hold a 2-1 advantage over the Bucks in the season series with one game remaining on April 7.

The gap between the Celtics and Heat would be hard to close in a month, but only three games separate the No. 2 Bulls and the Celtics. The eighth place team (Brooklyn) remains the betting favorite to win the conference. The East is chaos. Mars should be a lot of fun.

Some other notes from Wednesday’s Celtics:

Isaiah Thomas scored 10 points in his Hornets debut

Terry Rozier wasn’t the only former Celtic to help against the Cavaliers. Isaiah Thomas signed a 10-day contract with the Hornets, and he provided a punch off the bench with 10 points including eight in the third quarter. Thomas missed his first three shots but went 5 for 8 the rest of the way with five rebounds and three assists.

“He can do this in his sleep,” Rozier said. after the game.

Jaylen Brown will not play against the Grizzlies

Brown sprained his ankle against the Hawks on Tuesday.

“He had a bit of swelling but also pain, obviously, more than last night,” Ime Udoka said after Celtics practice on Wednesday. “Get yourself assessed over the next few days. Unlikely tomorrow but unless something happens overnight, you never know. But it will be an everyday affair.

“It’s really about pain tolerance and getting rid of swelling and flexibility,” Udoka added. “So like I said the ankle is an ankle and it’s pretty self-explanatory in terms of when he can come back more than a muscle injury.”

Jayson Tatum is getting more vocal

With the Celtics ahead by four in the fourth quarter on Tuesday, Al Horford conceded a 3-pointer on a pass from Jayson Tatum. Tatum raised his fists and roared, a reaction Horford appreciated. When Tatum is happy, his teammates seem to notice.

“For him, at a time like that, I was excited, but you could tell how excited he was and how much that fuels our team,” Horford said. “He’s one of those guys who took a step forward in that regard. He is more vocal. He lets us know what he thinks, what he feels. For me, it gives me a lot of confidence, and it’s encouraging to know that he has my back. He’s obviously really trying to win, he’s trying to do things the right way.

“I know exactly what you’re talking about and it was a huge change of momentum I felt when that happened. To see him so excited, so committed, it’s a good sign for our group.

Everybody loves Ja Morant

When asked about the Grizzlies’ electrifying point guard on Tuesday, Grant Williams said he thought Morant was the league’s MVP to date. On Wednesday, Horford was equally complimentary.

“A huge fan of his,” Horford said. “Just so impressive how relentless he is and how he’s improved. You see him get to the basket which is impressive but also shoot the ball, he shoots the ball quite well from the 3-point line and is just very aggressive, very free.

“Their team in general, they play the right way, they move the ball around, everyone seems to know their role, they’re a really fun team to watch.”

The Celtics and Grizzlies kick off at 7:30 p.m. on TNT.


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