The Celtics are 23-8 to start 2020. That puts them on pace for a 61-win season. However, they have the longest road to get there.
As it stands, Boston is dead last in games played in the NBA at 31; Charlotte, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia are at the other end of the spectrum at 36. You can blame a scheduling quirk in mid-December for what will be a grueling stretch heading into the All-Star break in mid-February. After losing to the 76ers on the back end of a back-to-back on December 12th, the Celtics didn’t play again until meeting the Mavericks in Dallas on December 18th.
Boston has battled a myriad of injuries since the start of the season, so the light schedule up front has provided some rest and recovery to key players. However, the next six weeks are brutal. From January 3rd to February 13th, they’ll play twenty-three games in forty-two days with one back-to-back, eleven against current playoff teams, and ten on the road. As Celtics.com’s Marc D’Amico notes, “...they will have only one instance – Jan. 1-2 – of consecutive days off, all while boarding 16 flights to and from 11 different cities.”
Here’s a little tidbit from NBA.com’s John Schuhmann:
The Celtics have the league’s only five-games-in-seven-days stretch of January, and it’s their first five games of the month. It’s two home-road back-to-backs with a game in Washington in between. Four of the five games (and seven of the Celtics’ first eight January games) are against teams with losing records, but the most important game of the stretch is the final one: in Philadelphia on Jan. 9.
It’s not ideal, but there are some silver linings. First of all, the team is finally getting healthy. The Celtics next game is on Friday, January 3rd. As long as everybody survives practice this week, the core five--Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, and Marcus Smart--should be healthy. Robert Williams and Vincent Poirier are not too far behind, too. A string of games in January and February will provide them the chemistry-building consistency they’ll need in March and April.
Second, the stretch includes two games against division rival Philadelphia, a measuring stick match in Milwaukee, and a trip to South Beach. Boston currently holds the second seed in the East and the next two months should clear up the conference hierarchy as contenders consider moves heading towards the trade deadline on February 7th.
Third, as competition-rich the upcoming schedule is, there are cream puff games that should provide playing time for the Celtics’ young bench. Over the last five games, we’ve seen Grant Williams and Romeo Langford consistently get rotation minutes in the second unit. After three months of the regular season, they should be more comfortable with the size and speed of the league and starting to figure out how they can affect the game. The dog days of the regular season are perfect for this kind of experimentation.
When asked about the fairness of the schedule, Larry Bird once said that everybody plays 41 home games and 41 road games. And while that may be true, not every schedule is equal. There’s coast-to-coast travel to consider, the temperamental nature of New England weather, and (bad) luck to deal with along the way. This will be a grind, starting with the back-to-back hosting the Hawks on Friday and then traveling to Chicago for a Saturday tilt later this week.
But it's not all work for the road weary. Between January 11th and 22nd, the Celtics will sleep in their own beds except for a day trip to Milwaukee. There are All-Star campaigns and Player of the Week awards and camaraderie on the road and Celtics Twitter along the way. We’ll get the occasional Tremont Waters and Tacko Fall call up, too.