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The Celtics’ surge is right on schedule

The Celtics’ offense has looked much better during a soft stretch. Now can it stay better?

NBA: New York Knicks at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics, winners of four straight games, seem to have finally applied some balm to their offensive woes. The Celtics are undefeated since inserting Marcus Smart into the starting lineup and are one of the hottest teams in the NBA.

Over the past two weeks the Celtics are the proud owners of the best net rating in the NBA, (+15.2 per NBA.com as of the morning of December 7th). Even more impressive is that Gang Green is lapping the next best team, the recently vanquished Minnesota Timberwolves, by almost two and a half points.

The biggest reason for this commanding lead is that the Celtics are the second-ranked offense in the NBA with an offensive rating of 118.5, trailing only the “freshly returned Stephen CurryWarriors at 118.7. While the Celtics defense has slipped a bit over that two week period, they still boast a top ten unit during that time, ranking 7th (103.3 defensive rating).

The Celtics have also played the fewest home games in the NBA this year, a distinction they share with the Clippers, Jazz and Rockets. On top of that and in spite of the Celtics slow start to the year, the Celtics are still currently fifth in Simple Rating System, which accounts for the Celtics difficult strength of schedule, per Basketball-Reference.com.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Minnesota Timberwolves Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

And yet, I’m still holding my breath a bit. This great six-game stretch by the Celtics has come against opponents with a combined record of 57-93. Over a full season, that would be the win pace of a 31-win team. Taking care of business and annihilating bad squads is part of the job description when you want to win a lot of games. That said, if the Celtics want to re-establish themselves as title contenders, they will need to prove that they can keep up their scoring ways against good teams, too.

The Celtics are currently 5-4 against Eastern Conference teams currently in playoff position, which is an adequate, but certainly not comfortable mark for a team that wants to play deep into the playoffs. The Celtics are currently 3-1 against what many consider to be the Celtics’ primary East competition in the triumvirate of Toronto, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee. That said, the Celtics have also played three of those games at home, needed a historic three-point shooting night to top the Bucks, and the Sixers have since acquired Jimmy Butler and gone 9-3 since.

The Celtics will have another two weeks to pad their numbers and place themselves within striking distance of top of the Eastern Conference. The schedule will remain soft for the Celtics over that stretch, with six games against teams with a current combined record of 51-87. After that, however, the Celtics will be getting a lump of coal for their holiday season with three weeks of games that include match-ups against the Bucks, Sixers, Pacers, Grizzlies, Mavericks and the “likely better than their record” Wolves, Hornets, Spurs, and Rockets.

NBA: New York Knicks at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Expect the good times to keep coming for the Celtics over the first half of December, but these next few weeks should be treated as a final calibration of the swagger that the squad has recaptured. While it’s certainly encouraging to see the Celtics handle business against the weaker teams, it’s also hard to make any definitive calls about the team’s improvement. Going into another home game against Milwaukee the Friday after next, I expect the Celtics to be have between 20 and 18 wins and be feeling good about themselves.

It remains to been seen if the Celtics can maintain their furious offensive pace and reinsert themselves into the championship discussion, however. It’s going to be important for the Celtics to maintain the sense of urgency they have captured and continue playing like they are holding onto the season by their fingernails, even when things are going well for them. We’ve seen the Celtics weather the bad times this season, now let’s see if they can handle the successful times as well.