The Celtics have been showing signs of life recently. They have won 3 out of their last 4 games and they won their last 3 home games in blow outs. The questions still swirl though because those 3 blowouts were against teams with losing records and the loss was against a contender. But now it's crunch time. Here's a look at what is coming up for the Celtics.
The Celtics have their next 8 games against teams from the West. I'm really sick of hearing how much better the West is. Yes, the teams in the 9th and 10th spots in the West have winning records while the 9th and 10th teams in the East don't. It's time for the Celtics to put up or shut up and prove that they belong at the top.
First up is Houston with a 35-31 record. They are in the 9th spot and 4.5 games out of 8th. We know that they are going to be motivated because they still have hopes of catching Portland and making the playoffs. They improved themselves at the trade deadline by picking up Kevin Martin and are playing good basketball, having won 4 in a row.
The next night, the Celtics face the Mavericks, who may have improved the most of any team at the deadline. The Mavs are in 3rd places and just half a game out of 2nd. They are 9-1 in their last 10 games and are picking up a head of steam heading into the playoffs. The one loss came at the hands of the Knicks, who handed the Mavs a blow out loss on their home court. So, if the Celtics stay focused and play like they are capable of playing, this could be a win, even on the tail end of back to back games.
The Celtics then get a night off and play in Utah on Monday. Utah sits in 4th place with a 44-24 record. The Jazz are 2 games behind the 3rd spot and 2 games ahead of the 5th. They are 7-3 in their last 10 and have won 2 in a row. Those two wins were over Washington and Minnesota so, as with the Celtics wins, need to be taken with a grain of salt. Just like every team the Celtics face in this stretch, the Jazz are playing hard to solidify their playoff spot. The key in this game will be the Rondo/Williams matchup.
After the 3 game road trip that will be very important in proving just where the Celtics are right now, heading to the playoffs, the Celtics come home to a 6 game homestand. The Celtics face Denver, Sacramento, Oklahoma City, Houston and their final meeting with Cleveland. The only team with a losing record over this 9 game stretch will be the Kings, who just happen to be a young and athletic team that could present it's own problems for the Celtics.
Now a look a the Celtics and some key positives to look at. KG has been slowly rounding back into shape. He still isn't the same player that he was 2 years ago, but he is getting closer. Paul Pierce appears to be snapping out of the slump he had been in and is playing his trademark aggressive style of ball again. Rondo is now concentrating on finding the open man and getting his teammates open looks and that is paying dividends.
Perk has struggled with his role since having to change that role with other players injured on a regular basis. In the last couple of games, it is evident that he is settling back into his role as defender and rebounder. I just loved this quote from ESPN Boston. It shows how much of a team player Perk is.
“There was a play right before they came out [of the game] where we should’ve thrown it to [Kendrick Perkins], and Perk said, ‘No, I told Paul to just keep being aggressive, we’ve got to get him back aggressive.’ So it’s great when everybody recognizes that.”
He doesn't care about stats or the spotlight. He just wants to win and he wants what's best for the team. I love Perk and love the fact that he is settling back into his role of setting screens, grabbing rebounds, and taking what the offense gives him.
Along with this, the bench is finding a rhythm. It was great to see them hold the lead in the past couple of games. Big Baby is being pushed by Shelden and has been showing some great energy going after rebounds and loose balls. I just wish he could make a layup. Michael Finley and Nate Robinson are settling in and paying dividends. Marquis Daniels is playing more aggressively and settling into his role as well.
The Celtics may just be rounding into shape and hitting their peak at the right time. Of course, this next stretch of 9 games is going to tell us a lot more about how far they have come and how far they still need to go. I'm optimistic that they are going to pass this test. To quote KG, "Anything's Possible." Pass the Koolaid, I can feel a 9 game win streak coming up (or at least 7 or 8 out of 9).