If everything goes as planned tonight, we'll witness the Boston Celtics drag the toothless Philadelphia 76ers out behind the woodshed. And if that doesn't happen, then there is plenty of reason to feel disconcerted about Boston's outlook going forward this season.
After taking both Charlotte and New York far too lightly, the Celtics are amidst a three-game losing slide, in what should've been the beginnings of a winning streak against some of the worst teams in the NBA.
Even though Philadelphia's front office is content with scraping at the bottom of the barrel with an abominable 2-21 record, the Celtics can't look past their feisty roster or they'll get stung once again, like they did against the Hornets and Knicks.
And if that happens, then I have serious concerns about this team's potential. That's why tonight's game is a must-win for Boston: win and they prove to themselves that they can beat the teams that they should; lose and the Celtics might be on the ropes earlier than expected.
After blowing countless fourth quarter leads, I thought the Celtics finally started to figure things out during their three-game winning streak. Sure, two of the wins were against tragic teams (LA Lakers and Detroit), but both the victory and triple overtime loss to Washington felt validating.
But watching last week's games, I can't help but think that Boston didn't focus enough on the opponent -- they played like a team that was supposed to win, but they aren't quite that team yet.
At 7-14 on the year, many casual viewers think the Celtics "are who we thought they were," but most serious critics watching full games will look at the on-court product and believe that this team could easily be near or slightly above .500. This team actually has a lot of good players, believe it or not.
With both Marcus Thornton (strained left calf) and Marcus Smart (strained left Achilles) out tonight, the Celtics will be shorthanded in the backcourt, but fortunately Avery Bradley (sickness) will make his return.
I'd like to see Boston try to get Bradley going early in the game by putting him in positions he can succeed in, particularly via curls and pin-down screens. Bradley is averaging just 7.3 points per game on 2-of-11 from behind the arc in his last three contests, which is a total that must rise drastically, both in attempts and total points.
Yet, no one is slumping harder than Jared Sullinger, with a porous 10 total points in his last three games. Sullinger has looked disinterested, maybe even fatigued at certain times, but again, he is the type of player the Celtics must get going.
Philadelphia has the worst offense in the league, with a 91.7 offensive rating, so it'd be nice to see Boston getting back on track defensively. They have had some good moments in their recent losses, but dominating on that end of the floor would really do a lot for their confidence.
Forcing the 76ers to become a perimeter shooting team is undoubtedly the key to victory. They rank in the top ten in three-point attempts per game, but are last, at just 30.5 percent. With no true sharpshooters, the Celtics really don't have to worry too much about any particular player, though they must make sure that Robert Covington and Hollis Thompson don't catch fire.
Fans might like to poke fun at the Philadelphia 76ers at every turn, but the Boston Celtics can't also be doing that behind closed doors. Though the 76ers are on pace for all-time worst 7.1 wins, this is still an NBA team with pro-level talent; they can compete any night, and occasionally pull out wins.
Despite the coach-speak praise, the Boston Celtics have a star point guard in Rajon Rondo, and a handful of players that can perform at a borderline All-Star level; if they don't bounce back from their short losing skid with a dominating win, then this team might need to shake things up.