Recent weeks have been difficult for the Boston Celtics. After being the best team in the NBA for the majority of the season, they’ve seemed to hit a bit of a road bump. They experienced heart-breaking losses in contentious games to the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers, blew massive leads, and this week suffered perhaps the worst loss of the season against the bottom-feeding Houston Rockets.

Their struggles have shifted the balance of power in the eastern conference. What was once a substantial lead in the standings for the Celtics is now nothing of what it was before. They trail the Milwaukee Bucks by 2 games and are only 1 game ahead of the 3rd-place Philadelphia 76ers.

Race to June

The aforementioned Bucks have taken advantage of the Celtics’ losses. After a 16-game win streak that was finally snapped at the hands of Philly, the Bucks have remained hot. Vegas seemed to really like their recent play, as well, as the Bucks are now +290 favorites to win the NBA championship, just ahead of the Celtics at +320, followed by the Suns at +650.

Heavyweight MVPs

Not only does this series of events change the outlook on the playoffs, but it also has catapulted Giannis Antetokounmpo back into a legitimate conversation for MVP. The powerful forward has been a candidate all season, but there has not been a better time to make a case for him than now.

That being said, he’s got tough competition. Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets is once again dominating the league with his clever playmaking and creative scoring. Many see him as the favorite to win the award, which would be his third straight. Joel Embiid, the center for the Philadelphia 76ers, also has a strong case. Some say it’s a two-person race between him and Jokic, but there’s no denying Giannis’ candidacy either.

Green Teams

Back to the standings. What does all this mean for the playoffs? Easily the most notable change is that the Bucks, if the playoffs started today, would have home-court advantage over the Celtics. Many believe that will be the conference finals matchup, so one team securing a higher seed than the other right now is important.

You simply can’t understate the importance of the home-court advantage in the NBA playoffs. Last year, the Celtics held that advantage over the Bucks, an eastern conference second-round series which saw Boston winning in 7. For the Bucks to have that edge this time around would be huge and greatly increase their chances of winning the east and going to the Finals.

Despite the shifting of power in the conference, Boston should not be forgotten about. Just because they’re struggling recently doesn’t mean they’ll be doing so in a month when the playoffs officially begin. They’ve been the best team in basketball for most of the season, so they warrant at least some respect.

It’s also important to note the two games Milwaukee and Boston have played against each other this season. On Christmas Day, the Celtics bludgeoned the Bucks in a 139-118 home win. On Valentine’s Day, Boston visited the Bucks without Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Al Horford and Robert Williams– their entire starting 5– and forced Milwaukee to overtime. Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon led the way for the Celtics, who proved just how deep they really are.