A Good Team with a .500 Record: Celtics Navigating Injuries and Road-Heavy Schedule
Eighty-two games. Forgive me for beating a dead horse (who killed that horse? Is it a Westworld horse?), but perspective is important. The NBA season is 82 games long. And none of those games matter once April 13th arrives. So here we are at holiday time. The NBA’s 5-game Christmas Day slate signals the start of the season for many folks. Those that enjoy the NFL. Those that don’t love a particular team, or a particular player. Not for me, and perhaps not for you. But…82 games is still a lot, and perspective is needed from time to time. Maybe in a decade everyone will realize that 70 games makes more sense for all involved. But for now, 82.
By Christmas Day, the Boston Celtics will be playing Game #31. The calendar leading up to the All-Star Break (February 17th-19th) and then the trade deadline (February 23) includes a stretch of home cooking where the Celtics will play 14 of 18 games at the Garden from December 30-February 5. While we’re at it, Boston finishes the year with 9 of its last 12 at home.
As of December 16th, Boston has played more road games (15) than any team in the East other than Detroit. Without the full complement of rotation players for most of the season, losing Smart, Horford, Crowder, and now Isaiah for stretches. Mercifully, Isaiah should return from the groin injury tonight. The Celtics face a likely competitor for home court this April, Charlotte.
Why am I so focused on the schedule?
It’s a way to bring some solace after a few brutal losses. One-point loss in Houston. Three-point loss in OKC. Without Isaiah, Stevens got to see what Rozier, Smart and Jaylen could do. We saw many positives from all three. If only they were each one year older…
Current East Standings: Crowded Elevator
Only Brooklyn and Philadelphia are clearly not capable of making a run at the bottom of the East’s playoff bracket. That leaves every team not named the Cavs, Raptors, Nets and Sixers as possible 3rd through 8th seeds. Eleven teams for six spots. The Wizards and Heat are getting healthier and are capable of warming up.
What’s that you say? It’s way too early to care about seeding? You’re right. But as an NBA obsessive, I reserve the right to emphasize some of the 82 games more than others.
Fri, 12/16, vs. Charlotte (14–12)
I would expect Charlotte to be a good test. They will be in the 44–52 win swamp with Boston. Kemba Walker has been magical. However, Kemba is sitting out tonight, due to a personal issue. Celtics expect Isaiah back tonight. This win would keep them over .500 as they head into a three-game trip.
Sun, 12/18, @ Miami (9–17)
The Heat without Chris Bosh are Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic and not nearly enough perimeter defense or depth. Still, Whiteside is dominant and has wings attached to his shoulders. Boston’s lack of height was an issue in late November. Miami had no depth due to injuries in that game. Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington provide shooting and athleticism. Justise Winslow provides defense. Miami is closer to a 38–40 win team than their record indicates.
Tue, 12/20, @ Memphis (18–9)
Goodness. Mike Conley goes down and Marc Gasol becomes even more of a force. The Grizzlies refuse to feel bad for themselves. They just keep winning close games, going 7–2 in Conley’s absence. Incredible stretch. Coach David Fizdale clearly has everyone in his corner. Conley is slated to return on Friday, so this will be an even tougher test for Boston at the Grindhouse. Marcus Smart is definitely fouling out of this one. Jae Crowder is undoubtedly going to be in someone’s grill late in the game.
Thu, 12/22, @ Indiana (13–14)
Paul George, Myles Turner and Jeff Teague, with Thaddeus Young finding his role. These Pacers were supposed to be a 45–50 win resurgent bunch, but as with any new situation, they are still sorting themselves out. They’ve struggled to rebound (29th in rebound rate, Boston is 28th), but get a ton of steals, thanks to Paul George and swarming perimeter d. The Pacers have logged wins over Cleveland, OKC, and beaten the Clippers twice. They’ve also lost to Dallas, Phoenix, Philly, and Brooklyn. Bipolar Pacers.
Fri, 12/23, vs OKC (15–11)
That 99–96 loss on Sunday was absolutely brutal. Without Isaiah, the guards stepped up. Marcus Smart quietly had another great game in OKC, putting up 11/9/6 with efficient numbers, steady passing, and clogged things up for Westbrook in the first half. Boston couldn’t stop OKC in the 4th. Westbrook ended up with 23 of his 37 in the 2nd half, taking advantage of the moments Smart sat out.
Sat, 12/25, @ NYK (14–12)
The Knicks have been hot lately, winning 6 of 7 (no real surprises, though) before running out of steam in Phoenix, dropping an OT game and then resting Carmelo and Derrick Rose at the end of their road trip. Rose is once-again battling just to stay on the floor (back issues), while Carmelo has struggled with a shoulder. Christmas Day matinee.