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Why the Celtics have to play their best to beat the worst

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After back-to-back losses to the Lakers and Nets, the Celtics now realize that 100% may not be enough.

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Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Throw out all the positive analytics about the Celtics.  Yes, they lead the Eastern Conference in scoring.  Yes, they still have the second best defensive rating in the league.  Yes, they've played one of the most difficult schedules of the NBA and fared pretty well.  However, all that's added up to is an 18-15 record, good for #8 in the playoffs with several teams nipping at their heals.

Back-to-back ugly losses to the Lakers and Nets have revealed the razor thin margin of error that Boston has to win, especially against teams with star talent like Brook Lopez (who went off for a season high 30 points).  After the 100-97 home loss, Isaiah Thomas was critical about the team's inconsistent effort and energy:

After Kobe Bryant advised him to "be a lion" on the floor, the veteran tried to infuse the same mentality into his teammates, but so far they haven't responded:

"We're definitely not one of the best teams in the NBA, so I don't get how we could possibly think it's OK to play down to anybody," said Isaiah Thomas. "When we don't play hard and we're not the aggressive team, we're one of the worst teams in the NBA. But when we bring that aggressiveness and we're having fun and we're defending, we're one of the top teams in the NBA. I think a lot of people see that. So, somehow, some way, we've got to become more consistent."

Those are pretty condemning words from arguably the team's best player, but he isn't wrong.  The team came out flat on Saturday night and you could see it in the first quarter.  The Nets scored 31 points with a 115.8 offensive rating.  Lopez and Joe Johnson shot a combined 8-for-11 for 19 points with Jarrett Jack dishing 7 assists.  That's too easy for Brooklyn's three best players.  The Celtics only generated two turnovers in the quarter and seemed content just trading baskets.

It's hard to criticize Jae Crowder, but on offense, I'd rather see him drive this ball into Brook Lopez rather than take the long 2.  However, what's even harder to swallow is watching speedster Bojan Bogdanovic race past two Celtics defenders for the easy layup in transition.

Throughout the game, Boston would get murdered in the pick-and-roll/pop.  Jared Sullinger does fine ICEing Jack away from the basket and Thomas gets a hand on the pass, but it's Crowder and Amir Johnson's job to tag Lopez's dive into the paint and make the catch difficult.  That second and third defensive rotation wasn't there all night.

This is even worse than the previous GIF.  Lopez gets all the way to the restricted area and makes a clean catch for a lay up and 1.  I'll give Johnson the benefit of the doubt that his plantar fasciitis has affected his mobility, but if that's the case, Kelly Olynyk needs to see more time.  KO isn't the most threatening rim protector, but he's good at being in the right place at the right time.

Maybe Avery Bradley was supposed to rotate, but Crowder's lazy recovery puts him out of position to close on Johnson.  JJ up fakes Crowder and hits the floater.

LeBojan Bogdanovic, everybody.

The Celtics will have a chance to redeem themselves Monday night in Brooklyn, but that doesn't change the fact that Boston let two home wins slip away against inferior competition.  And as the schedule nears February and the trade deadline, Danny Ainge will have a decision to make.  Is this team a trade or two away from making noise in the playoffs or is 2015-2016 yet another rebuilding year where any deal that he makes should be focused on the future?

Two bad losses in December or January don't make a season, but if things don't continue to work, it could be time for a change.  Brad Stevens was very vocal about "need(ing) to do a better job" saying, "we've had multiple practices where certain guys have really looked good and stood out because others haven't. And that's just bad coaching. I'll get myself straightened out and I'll work on what needs to be changed."  R.J. Hunter, Terry Rozier, and Jordan Mickey have been tearing up the D-League and several veterans have played sub par basketball over the last few weeks.  Are we there yet?

If Stevens decides to switch up the lineups, we'll have it first here at CelticsBlog for you FanDuel players.  If you're not playing FanDuel, you can sign up here and join tonight's one-day fantasy league where half the teams win money!