As it stands heading into the All-Star break, the Boston Celtics are 28-24 and hold the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. It seems as if the Celtics are all but a shoo-in to make the playoffs at this point. The Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors represent the only real challengers to bump them from the postseason picture, and they are five and eight games back from Boston in the loss column, respectively.
That being said, you can never be too careful, and with a rather tough stretch of games coming up right after the All-Star break, the C's will want to make some adjustments here and there to assure themselves of a playoff berth.
Or, if you think they are already a lock to make the dance, they will want to make some adjustments to earn themselves a better seed. After all, the Celtics are only three games back in the loss column from the No. 3 spot.
Let's take a look at some things Doc Rivers' ball club should do differently in the second half.
1. Win on the road
This isn't something that really involves any kind of strategical tweaks. This is just something that Boston needs to do mentally.
While the C's boast a 20-9 record at home, they are a rather paltry 8-15 away from TD Garden, losing games to the likes of the Detroit Pistons (twice), Sacramento Kings, and Charlotte Bobcats, although the loss at Charlotte comes with a bit of an asterisk as it came a night after winning a triple-overtime thriller against the Denver Nuggets.
If the season ended today, the Celtics would be the only team in the NBA Playoffs without double-digit victories on the road, and that is unacceptable for a squad that has aspirations of playing into late May and possibly June.
Oddly enough, Boston's three-point percentage is the same on the road as it is at home, and the C's actually rebound better away from TD Garden (41 per game to 39.3 per game).
2. More Jeff Green, less Brandon Bass
With Jeff Green finally blossoming into the type of player many expected him to be, he needs to be getting more minutes. Since Green's run of outstanding play began in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks back on Jan. 25, only only three times has he played over 30 minutes during the nine-game stretch, and that just isn't enough.
Brandon Bass, on the other hand, has played 30+ minutes five times in that span, and that is somewhat puzzling. Yes, the Celtics' frontcourt depth is now very thin with the loss of Jared Sullinger, but Green can play both forward positions and can create matchup nightmares in the process. So, why is Bass seeing more minutes than Jeff?
In Bass' defense, he played very well in Boston's 71-69 win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night and fully deserved the 40 minutes he was awarded. However, why did Rivers go with him over Green down the stretch of the C's' loss to the Bobcats? Green poured in 18 points in 24 minutes and was simply shredding Charlotte's defense, but Doc opted for Bass instead, which probably cost the Celtics a win.
With Rajon Rondo done for the year, Green is now the third-best player on Boston's roster. Because of that, he needs to see the floor. A lot.
3. Get another guard from somewhere
The C's had already lost some depth at guard with the loss of Rondo. However, they still had a nice quartet of Courtney Lee, Avery Bradley, Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa. Then Barbosa, who had been playing so well, went down with the very same injury that sidelined Rondo (torn ACL), and now the formerly deep Celtics are now scrambling to find some kind of insurance in the backcourt.
Sure, Lee, Bradley and Terry are a very nice trio, but what happens if one of them gets into foul trouble? Or if one (or two) of them are having an off night? Or, God forbid, if there is another injury? Clearly, GM Danny Ainge needs to find a solution, and he is working to do that.
One name Ainge and Boston are considering is two-time former Celtic Delonte West, and he may be the best guy available. Due to the fact that the C's only have 10 players on the roster, it is going to be difficult for them to make a trade, so they may have to settle for some free agent fodder like West.
The thing is, West is a solid player. He just has attitude issues that have plagued him throughout his career and represent the reason he is currently looking for a job in the first place.
West can play, though, and being that he was just a member of the Celtics two seasons ago, he knows the system. He is probably the most logical choice.
4. Keep rebounding
For a while, Boston was in the league cellar in terms of rebounds per game. That is not the case anymore, as the C's have been steadily improving in that category. After averaging an awful 36.8 boards a night in November, the Celtics put up 40.1 in December, 41.7 in January and, thus far in February, 42.9. This is all mostly without Sullinger, no less.
It's great how Boston is trending upward in this category, and that is certainly a big reason why the team is playing so well as of late. That being said, it would still behoove the C's to add another rebounder, and perhaps they can find someone on waivers around the time of the trade deadline. Or, maybe Ainge will surprise all of us and make a trade.
Given the dire injury situation, however, it will be very difficult for Ainge to pull another rabbit out of his hat and strike a deal. More than likely, it will have to be a free agent signing.
5. Continue to ride the defense
It's no secret to anyone that when the Celtics win games, they usually do so with defense (look no further than their aforementioned 71-69 win over the Bulls). Early on in the year, however, the D struggled, as Boston struggled to find continuity with all of the new parts.
Well, now, the C's' classic defensive intensity is back, and they are ripping off nice little runs during games now that it has returned. How many times have we seen the Celtics get a couple of huge stops and/or score points off of turnovers to start/finish big runs during their recent stretch of outstanding play?
Boston has climbed up the ranks in defensive efficiency, ranking seventh in that category heading into the break. Bradley and Lee have combined to form a lethal backcourt tandem, Green has improved significantly and has become a very reliable defender, and, of course, Garnett has been a stalwart down low.
Chances are, we will see the C's continue their defensive dominance in the second half, and there is also a good chance of them riding that D to a higher seed for the playoffs. A three or four seed is not out of the realm of possibility. Not at all.
Heck, the Celtics are only six games back in the loss column of the New York Knicks for the Atlantic Division crown. While it may not be likely they catch them, it is not impossible.
All stats in this article are accurate as of February 15th, 2013.
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