The Celtics hold the best record in basketball at 9-1 but they are about to get a big test in the form of a 5 game road trip out West.
Yes, I know I just wrote about not looking ahead too much, but eventually the future catches up to you and becomes the present, so here we go.
Boston has faced some good teams (Sixers, Bucks) but in large part they haven’t had the hardest schedule. In fact, their Strength of Schedule is currently ranked 19th.
The first two teams they face on the road trip have been struggling this year. The Golden State Warriors hold the worst record in the league at 2-10 which isn’t surprising considering the stars that they have lost due to injuries and free agency. The Kings aren’t faring much better at 4-6 and they are missing De’Aaron Fox (though they just beat the Blazers).
After that things get interesting real quick. The Phoenix Suns are one of the surprise teams of the year thus far with a 7-4 record and signature wins over the Clippers and Sixers. Things have clicked well for them since adding competent veterans like Ricky Rubio, Dario Saric, and old friend Aron Baynes.
Then the Celtics visit the L.A. Clippers (currently 7-5) who many believe have the best chance of winning the title this season. Paul George should be playing by then and they already have Kawhi Leonard. It won’t be a back to back for them so we probably can’t count on any “load management” help there either.
Finally the road trip ends in Denver where the Nuggets currently hold an 8-3 record despite a relatively slow start for star Nikola Jokic.
Even putting the strength of upcoming schedule aside, road trips can wear a team down and test their resolve. Even this early in the season the travel and unfamiliar settings can be a drain on energy and focus. On the other hand, a few wins can snowball into a bonding situation. It is amazing how a few wins can buoy a team’s spirits.
Around the league there seems to be respectful skepticism about the Celtics’ start. Everyone acknowledges that the team is playing very well, but they need more evidence to change their preseason assumptions. Which I think is fair. Boston is probably hitting a little above their weight right now (in terms of record) and benefiting from their schedule a bit. But you can only play the games in front of you and they have some tough ones coming up.
By the time this road trip is over we’ll be 15 games into the season and I think we’ll have a pretty sample size with which to gauge this group (noting that Gordon Hayward is still several weeks away from returning).
So grab some caffeine and settle in for some late night games (for those on the East coast). Should be an interesting week or so.