Boston Celtics: 5 Most Important Games in March
Part two of the NBA's abbreviated season gets underway tonight, and for the Celtics, that represents a chance for them to get over the maddening up and down, roller coaster of a first half starting this evening with a game in Cleveland against the Cavaliers.
But if you think that this six-day respite will have revitalized the aging C's, given all of their wounded warriors (Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, not Jermaine O'Neal) a chance to heal and provided an opportunity for them to right their wrong way ship, think again.
Twenty of the Celts' 34 remaining games will be played on the road, where the team is just 4-9 thus far on the season. The C's did win 11 games at TD Garden in the first half, but of their eight home losses, three came against cupcakes Detroit, Cleveland and Phoenix, none of whom will whiff the post-season this year.
Worse, Boston's one back-to-back-to-back set on the schedule comes during the second half—a group of three road games in April that comes smack in the middle of a six-games-in-eight-nights stretch.
The point of all this is that if the Celtics are going to start making hay and turn themselves from a.500-esque team likely to be one-and-done in the playoffs (if they even make it) into a contender, now is as good a time as any to get that ball rolling. March starts in two days.
Here's a look at a handful of their most important games in what looks like it will wind up the most important month of their season.
Sunday, March 4: vs. New York
Before Lin-sanity took over both New York City and the entire NBA, the Celtics looked to have a nice grip on at least second place in the Atlantic Division. But while they were losing five in a row and seven of eight to close out the season's first half, the Knicks and their newly minted superstar were chasing them down in the standings.
Jeremy Lin and the Knicks cooled off somewhat leading up to the All-Star break, dropping three of their last five. But after falling to the C's on Feb. 3, the game before Lin was inserted into the starting lineup, the New Yorkers ran off seven straight wins and lofted themselves into second in the Atlantic—a half game ahead of Boston.
The two teams will meet for the third time this season on Sunday in a nationally televised game at TD Garden. There will be another showdown between these two long-time rivals on April 17, but by then, the postseason implications may be a lot closer to settled.
Sunday's game will be a measuring stick for both teams insofar as where each one is as they embark on the second half of the season.
Wednesday, March 7: at Philadelphia
Staying in the Atlantic Division, which the Celts have won the past four years, we move on to next week, when they will visit this year's division leaders—the 76ers.
After a cushy start to the second half in which they play four straight at home following tonight's roadie in Cleveland, this game against Philly will mark a run of 9-of-10 and 10-of-12 on the road, including a brutal, eight-game trip.
The Sixers are reeling a bit, having lost five straight headed into the break. This game will mark their first of the year against the C's with two more to follow. Given the compact nature of the schedule and the Sixers' four-game lead in the standings, all three of those games will be big.
Philly has only beaten the C's twice in eight tries over the past two seasons, but the circumstances were much different. Boston was one of the league's top teams over that stretch while the Sixers have been struggling to remain relevant for what seems like eons.
Philly hasn't seen the second round of the playoffs since Allen Iverson was filling it up, and Larry Brown was still patrolling the sidelines. A win against the Celtics in this one could go a long way toward securing a better shot for the Sixers to reverse that fortune.
Sunday, March 11: at Los Angeles Lakers
Neither of these ancient rivals is the same championship contender of the past four years this season, but that doesn't mean it's anything but appointment viewing when they get together.
The Celtics fell victim to a couple of their biggest problems—lack of rebounding and a bogged down offense—in a home game against the Lakers a couple weeks ago, losing a game they probably should have won in the late going and overtime.
That loss ended a five-game winning streak for the C's, who'd also won 9-of- 10 at that point, and set the stage for the team's current malaise. Next Sunday's meeting at Staples Center marks not only a chance for revenge, but also the first game of the C's eight-game road swing—a trip that will likely define their season.
Monday, March 12: at Los Angeles Clippers
In addition to being somewhat of a measuring stick for the aged C's in going up against one of the league's youngest, highest-flying squads, it will also provide Celts fans a glimpse at what might have been had Danny Ainge been able to pull off the deal for Paul he was working on right after the end of the lockout.
The Clippers have been in first place in the Pacific Division for most of the season thus far but have been holding off the pesky Lakers of late. They managed to play just .500 ball over their last six games before the break. Not only will this game against the C's also be the second leg of a back-to-back for them, it will be just their second at home on the heels of a six-game road trip that begins Thursday night in Sacramento.
Friday, March 23: At Philadelphia
The Celts' wicked road swing comes to an end in the same city where it will start—Philly. By this point, we should know a lot more about both teams, particularly Boston.
The trading deadline will have come and gone by this point, and if the C's don't make up some ground in their eight March games (and two remaining February games) before that day arrives, it's not out of the question to assume that Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and maybe even Paul Pierce might not be in Philly for this game.
If the Celtics do rise to the challenge these next three weeks have in store for them, it's quite possible that this game against the Sixers, more so than the one next week, will have a lot to say not only about the Atlantic Division, but the entire Eastern Conference playoff picture.