The Boston Celtics have stumbled out of the starting gate and stand 8-7 in the Atlantic Division. They are in third place in the Atlantic Division, 2.5 games behind the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks.
The team's struggles can be attributed to multiple factors. Free-agent acquisition Courtney Lee has underachieved enough to be removed from the starting lineup, and Boston also had some difficult matchups in November. Of their seven losses, all but one were to playoff-caliber teams.
December is going to be a new beginning for the Celtics. Their schedule is slightly easier, but nine of their 14 games are on the road. It should also be noted that they close out the month on a West Coast road trip.
Boston can easily right the ship in December, and start playing like the team that came within a win of the NBA Finals last season. It's not going to be easy, but they are capable of having a good month so long as they remain committed to their balanced attack.
The Celtics have faced the Bucks twice this season, losing in Boston on November 2 and winning in Milwaukee on November 10. They will travel to the Bradley Center again to start December, but they will not walk away victorious again on this night.
This game will be the second that star point guard Rajon Rondo misses due to suspension, and his electrifying athleticism will be sorely missed. Bucks guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis will proceed to shoot the lights out without the superb defender guarding them, and the results won't favor Boston.
Even with a respectable effort from Paul Pierce, there won't be any way for them to stop the hard-charging Bucks.
Prediction: Bucks win 98-84
The Celtics will have Rondo back for this game, and his pesky defense will be welcome against the scrappy Timberwolves. The stage is set for Boston to dominate the backcourt in this game, and Rondo will win his matchup against Luke Ridnour for sure.
However, the Celtics will be in for an even tougher battle in the paint. Nikola Pekovic will likely dominate the low post, and Kevin Love will destroy Boston in the rebounding department. The clash of battles on both offense and defense will thus make for an incredibly close game.
Boston will keep it close from start to finish, and Rondo will come close to a triple-double in his return. But Minnesota will be the team that makes the clutch shots when they need to be made, especially in the final minutes. Kevin Love and Andrei Kirilenko will sink some key jumpers, making for a heartbreaking loss on the Celtics' end, and on their home court too.
Prediction: Timberwolves win 97-91
This game will be the first of a home-and-home that begins in Philadelphia, and the Celtics will be fully locked in after losing two straight. Their tough frontcourt in Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass will be in a prime position to dominate the paint given the Sixers' lack of Andrew Bynum.
Granted, Philadelphia's backcourt borders on the electrifying, and Jrue Holiday will make life difficult for Boston by sinking some key shots. Even young Evan Turner is finally starting to come into his own, which can and will make for a good matchup with Paul Pierce.
Experience will still win out over youth, and Boston will ride its defense to a victory in the City of Brotherly Love.
Prediction: Celtics win 101-93
The series shifts back to Beantown the very next day, and the Celtics will use the same approach to bring home a win. Kevin Garnett and even rookie Jared Sullinger will help shut down the Sixers in the low post, and Paul Pierce will sink some clutch three-pointers.
Not even a fine game from Thaddeus Young will be able to stop Boston. He'll have a double-double, maybe even 20 and 10 on the night.
Still, Boston's collective experience will just be too much for Philadelphia this time. This is a team that came so close to the NBA Finals last season, and it will remind everyone why with this key victory this night.
The winning streak will be at two games, and still growing.
Prediction: Celtics win 95-88
Dallas will still be without Dirk Nowitzki at this point, and that's not going to help them in the loud TD Garden full of rowdy Celtics fans. They will try to play the run-and-gun game against an aging Celtics core, but the balanced defense of head coach Doc Rivers won't allow them even that.
The Mavericks will thus be forced to run the slow-paced game of Boston, using the low post and isolation to score points. O.J. Mayo will likely lead them in scoring and will have a favorable matchup against Jason Terry.
In the paint, however, the advantage belongs to the Celtics. Brandon Bass is going to outplay the slow-footed and aging Elton Brand, and Kevin Garnett will use his rough-and-tumble style to make Chris Kaman have a tough night.
As a result, Dallas will overly rely on Mayo to score points, and thus push Boston's winning streak to three.
Prediction: Celtics win 102-88
The Rockets are a young and feisty run-and-gun team that has what it takes to play hard against more experienced squads. After all, this is the same team that blew out the New York Knicks on November 23, so it could easily do the same to the Celtics.
Unfortunately, this will not be the night that they do it. This game will be on national television, and Boston will use its experience to give the Rockets a lesson in consistency.
Going up against Jeremy Lin, Rajon Rondo will take full advantage of the Harvard grad's tendency to commit turnovers, resulting in some fine fast breaks. Paul Pierce will do the same when matched up against Chandler Parsons, and sink some clutch shots.
Of course, it wouldn't be a vintage Celtics game without some fine play in the paint. Kevin Garnett will win what is sure to be a fine battle against center Omer Asik, and Houston will be forced to rely on James Harden for the majority of its offense.
By the final buzzer, that measure will have failed, and the Celtics' winning streak will have reached four.
Prediction: Celtics win 94-86
All good things must come to an end, and such will be the fate of the Celtics' winning streak in San Antonio. The talented and experienced Spurs already defeated Boston on November 21, despite a 22-point and 15-assist effort from Rajon Rondo. San Antonio absolutely dominated Boston in the paint and out-rebounded them, 41-25.
That game was in Boston, and the Celtics will meet the same fate when they travel to San Antonio. Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair will win all of the battles under the basket, with Duncan showing Kevin Garnett that he has aged better and is the better man.
Despite another fine effort from Rondo, Tony Parker will be the definition of a scoring point guard and sink some key shots. Manu Ginobili will essentially take Paul Pierce out of the game.
Boston will make a fine effort on offense, but being outclassed on defense will put an end to what will have amounted to an impressive four-game winning streak.
Prediction: Spurs win 108-99
Without star point guard Derrick Rose, the Bulls have still managed to play some decent basketball. They are second in the Central Division and a half game out of first place, but are 7-7 and look lost without their leader.
Boston took full advantage of this on November 12, winning 101-95 in Chicago on the back of a near triple-double by Rajon Rondo. The Bulls aren't likely to have Rose back by this date, and that means the experienced Celtics veterans will have a field day once again.
Rondo will get his triple-double this time, and Kevin Garnett will post double-digit rebounds, playing fine defense against both Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. Paul Pierce will fight off Luol Deng's pesky defense and have a fine scoring performance.
The Bulls will make a late charge in the fourth quarter as they did in their first game against Boston, but the Celtics defense will hold tough, quickly shaking off the defeat at the hands of the Spurs.
Prediction: Celtics win 94-89
Assuming Kyrie Irving is back in the lineup for this game, the Cavaliers may have a fighting chance against the Celtics. Anderson Varejao will easily win any and all battles in the paint against Kevin Garnett, but how Cleveland performs hinges on the effectiveness of its offense.
Even with Irving, this game is in Boston's favor. Rondo will play some lockdown defense on the former Duke Blue Devil, and may just outscore and out-pass him as well.
Garnett and the rest of the big guys will be busy trying to contain Varejao, which means that this game falls on the back of not just Rondo, but Paul Pierce. The veteran forward will have another fine scoring game, absolutely torching the defenseless Cavaliers en route to what is going to be a blowout win.
Varejao may give Cleveland the rebounding advantage, but that won't be enough against the deep and talented Celtics.
Prediction: Celtics win 104-83
With Rondo back in the lineup, Boston will have a much easier time against the Milwaukee Bucks. Its best pest and most effective offensive player will focus his defensive efforts on Brandon Jennings, who currently leads the league in steals with 2.9 per game.
Jennings will have his hands full all night long with Rondo forcing him to slow his game down, and even Jason Terry will turn up his defense in helping guard the Bucks' other backcourt threat in Monta Ellis.
Defense isn't Terry's strongest suit, but he'll have to at least try in this game. Paul Pierce is going to be busy covering either rookie Tobias Harris or shooter Mike Dunleavy, so the Celtics' star shooter will have to step out of his comfort zone and use his experience to take Ellis out of the game.
That isn't to say that Jennings and Ellis will be nonfactors on offense.
They will both score a decent number of points, but be forced to throw up some bad shots throughout the game, particularly since Doc Rivers will have Rondo alternate between the two throughout the game. This will allow Boston to control the game, and take full advantage of Milwaukee's weak frontcourt.
Look for Garnett and Bass to have big games in the paint, out-rebounding and out-blocking the Bucks. They will likewise score a good number of points, both under the basket and on the perimeter. With defense running the game, Boston will win yet again.
Prediction: Boston wins 94-87
Given the recent fight that occurred when these two teams played each other, there's going to be a lot of bad blood in the air when Boston spends Christmas at the Barclays Center. Boston will put up a good effort with Rondo in for the whole game, but Brooklyn will just be too much for them to handle
Brook Lopez will dominate in the paint and continue to show off his improved defense, and Joe Johnson will sink some key shots along with Gerald Wallace. More importantly, Deron Williams will win the battle at the point with Rondo.
Even Brooklyn's second unit will shine against Boston. Reggie Evans will be a rebounding machine off the bench, and the ageless Jerry Stackhouse will sink some key three-pointers. Boston may have some holiday cheer going into this game, but it will all be gone by the final buzzer.
Prediction: Nets win 102-90
This is what the Celtics will refer to as "Hell Week" in December, as they head west for a three-game road trip. They start in Los Angeles, where they will face the Clippers. After a loss to the Nets, they will lose yet again to Lob City.
Chris Paul and his teammates will prove to be just too fast for the aging Celtics core. There will be lots of three-pointers, dunks and pretty passes. Paul and Rajon Rondo will battle to a stalemate, each man having a fine evening.
Garnett will do what he can to cover Blake Griffin, but his blue-collar approach won't be able to stop some thunderous dunks. Not even Paul Pierce, a great pest in his own right, will be able to stop the likes of Caron Butler or Jamal Crawford from making some key three-pointers.
The most Boston will be able to do is keep up on defense, but that won't mean a thing since they won't be able to score as quickly as the Clippers often do.
Prediction: Clippers win 115-99
Fortunately for the Celtics, the Warriors won't prove to be as tough a matchup as the Clippers. Golden State also likes to play a run-and-gun offense, but its lack of a viable center has hurt the team this season, even if it is tied with the Clippers for first place in the Pacific Division.
Boston will thus be able to control the paint in this game. David Lee will make for a good battle in the rebounding department, but Garnett will take rookie Festus Ezeli to school in the low post. This will allow him to have a double-double and further establish himself as one of the best defensive players in the NBA.
Golden State will also be hurt by the inconsistent shooting of Klay Thompson, who is shooting just 38.5 percent from the field despite averaging 15.4 points per game. Throw in Rajon Rondo playing some lockdown D on Stephen Curry, and this game is really Boston's to lose.
In this case, they will not.
Prediction: Celtics win 103-91
Things haven't really been surprising in Sacramento this season. The young and inexperienced Kings are 4-10, and don't really appear to be any better than they were last season. They have a great young center in DeMarcus Cousins, but everyone else on the team is fairly inconsistent.
The Celtics will take full advantage of this weakness, and play their defense in full lockdown mode against Sacramento. Cousins will likely defeat Garnett in the paint, but Bass will have no issue taking on Jason Thompson.
Rondo will make mince meat out of both Aaron Brooks and Isaiah Thomas on his way to a near triple-double. As a result, the Kings' front office will sit down and re-think their options at point guard.
Both Jason Terry and Paul Pierce will lead the way in scoring, exploiting the weak defense Sacramento has on the wing and in the backcourt. It will be an ugly night for the Kings as they are blown out of the Celtics, who will ring in the new year the very next night. They will not just be celebrating New Year's, but also their 9-5 record in December.
Prediction: Celtics win 113-96