The Boston Celtics are dancing around the .500 mark with a current record of 18-17. They have not been playing to the best of their abilities so far but should improve by the season's end.
That being said, the Celtics should finish the regular season somewhere between 44-38 and 50-32. They should also snag the fifth or sixth seed in the playoffs.
The Celtics have a history of stepping up their game considerably at the end of the season. In last year's shortened season, the Celtics were two games under .500 when they left for All-Star recess. They finished with the best record since the All-Star break and a final regular season record of 39-27. They also grabbed the Atlantic Division title and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Without a doubt, Boston has a better team this year. The problem is that they aren't living up to their potential. The Celtics bench was expected to be one of the best in the NBA. However, the secondary unit is less dynamic and more disappointing. If the Celtics bench can find consistency, the team's struggles will minimize.
The Celtics' inconsistency is the most frustrating characteristic of the team by far. In the past seven games, they went on a four-game losing streak before beating the Pacers, Hawks, Knicks and Suns. The win against the Knicks is especially significant because they lead the Atlantic Division and hold second place in the Eastern Conference. Also, they won without the suspended Rajon Rondo.
Rondo's absence forced other players to step up to the plate. Jeff Green had 16 points and six rebounds, while Jared Sullinger put up 10 points and five rebounds. Avery Bradley is also getting back into the swing of things, and contributed 13 points and five rebounds.
The Celtics have a fairly tough schedule ahead, including three matches with the Miami Heat. The Celtics haven't played the Heat since the season opener, and it's important for them to win at least one of the matches—if not two or all three. The Celtics are capable of beating the defending champs if they play smart and limit the transition buckets.
The Celtics also square off against the NY Knicks three more times. The tension is high between these division rivals, especially after Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett got into it several times during the Jan. 7 game. Anthony even tried to confront Garnett outside of Boston's team bus after the game.
If Boston wants to finish out the season strong, they have to improve their defense. Doc Rivers' Celtics are known for their lockdown defense, but it's been pretty nonexistent so far. However, Bradley's return has significantly impacted the team's defense. In 14 of the 30 games without Bradley, the Celtics have allowed their opponent to score 100 or more points. In the games with Bradley, the Celtics have only allowed 86.2 points per game.
The Celtics are a much better team than they've shown thus far. Bradley's return is just the beginning of a midseason turnaround. The Celtics have a history of holding back until it gets down to the wire, and this season is no different.
All stats are accurate as of Jan. 9.