After an impressive first half of December, the Celtics are suddenly scuffling, having lost seven of their last 10 games. And things won’t be getting any easier for the men in green in the weeks ahead.
Following their Friday night contest with the New Orleans Hornets, the Celtics will head out west to begin a five-game road trip starting with a matchup against Oklahoma City on Sunday evening. Boston will then travel to Denver before beginning a tough three-game stretch against the Clippers, Warriors, and TrailBlazers, with the road trip concluding next Saturday in Portland.
There is little denying that this west coast swing comes at a rough time for the Celtics. Jordan Crawford has fallen back down to earth, Jeff Green is going through one of his poorer stretches, and Jared Sullinger is banged up. Beyond some recent strong performances from Kelly Olynyk and Courtney Lee, most everyone on the team is struggling a bit at the moment.
Some optimism does lie ahead in the impending return of Rajon Rondo, who will travel with the team out west. But Rondo won’t be suiting up just yet, and the Celtics will have to bear down against some of the better teams in the NBA.
The Thunder, of course, have one of the best players in the league in Kevin Durant, and an offense that, even without Russell Westbrook, can put up points in bunches. Denver represents the most winnable contest, as the Nuggets have dropped eight in a row, including a 12-point loss to the 76ers on Wednesday in which they gave up 114 points at home.
After that, the Celtics really have their work cut out for them, traveling to LA for another reunion with Doc Rivers, whose Clippers sit fourth in the Western Conference. In their final two games of the road trip, the Celtics will face two of the better offenses in the NBA, including the Trailblazers, who, surprisingly, have the league’s best record and are averaging an astounding 109 points per game.
So this should be a pretty big test for the Celtics. The team’s defense still ranks among the NBA’s best (allowing just 96.7 points per game, good for fifth in the league), and they’ll have to be at their best on the defensive end against the likes of OKC, Golden State, and Portland. The big issue will likely be on offense, where Boston has struggled and will have to keep up with some of the more potent attacks in the league.
With the team suddenly back in the lottery picture, this will be one of the more crucial stretches of the season. The Celtics travel out west again in their annual road trip after the All-Star Break, but they won’t face nearly the same level of competition in February as they are about to now.
So how many games will the Celtics win out West? And where will they be in the standings when they return back to Boston in a couple weeks? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Alex Skillin is a regular contributor to CelticsBlog. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexSkillin.