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Joe Mazzulla details approach toward difficult January schedule

“At the end of the day, it’s about keeping our guys healthy and winning basketball games.”

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics
Joe Mazzulla coaches during a game against the Cavaliers.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics passed their first major test last month when they swept a five-game homestand against playoff-caliber Eastern conference teams and finished a grueling road trip 3-1 out west.

Now, they’re bracing for a different challenge in early January, with five games in seven nights against formidable opponents. Here’s a look at the upcoming schedule:

  • Friday, Jan. 5: vs. Jazz, 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, Jan. 6: at Pacers, 7 p.m.
  • Monday, Jan. 8: at Pacers, 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Jan. 10: vs. Wolves, 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, Jan. 11: at Bucks, 7:30 p.m.

There are several challenging aspects of this stretch. For starters, after a test against a surging Jazz team that’s won six of seven, the Celtics have to quickly fly to Indiana and face the Pacers the next night.

The Celtics will certainly be looking for some revenge after Indiana bounced them from the In-Season Tournament. The Pacers are eager to continue their torrid stretch and prove they belong among the Eastern Conference’s elite. Tyrese Haliburton’s playing as well as anyone in the entire league at the moment and Indiana is coming off a home-and-home sweep of the Bucks.

After a second game in Indiana on Monday, they return home for a clash against a Minnesota team that’s currently No. 1 in a loaded West. The following night, it’s off to Milwaukee for yet another quick turnaround.

When asked how plans to manage the stretch, Mazzulla called the situation “twofold.”

“You try to map it out a little bit, but I think it’s a game-by-game,” Mazzulla told reporters. “At the end of the day, it’s about keeping our guys healthy and winning basketball games.”

Mazzulla believes the Celtics handled the road trip last month pretty well. He said the key is to have no expectations going into the week, and to remember that however they handle it, that’s what they needed in order to keep growing.

He preached the importance of being tough-minded – both physically and mentally – and said the Celtics embrace the challenge.

“The first thing is, acknowledge it,” Mazzulla said. “We have the calendar up. We know exactly what the schedule is like. We know it’s going to be hard. We’re playing a lot of good teams. It’s going to be a hard month.”

Entering Friday, the Celtics are 26-7, first in the East, and have won 13 of 16. They are, however, coming off a loss to the red-hot Thunder on Tuesday.

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