March was like a When Animals Attack! marathon for the Boston Celtics. The month came in like a lion and left them trampled after a home-and-home series loss to the Chicago Bulls. By the end of the thrashing, the Celtics were left mauled by a 3-12 record in March.
For some, it was a great month. For those in favor of tanking for more pingpong balls in the NBA Lottery, the Celtics were just three games short of having a perfect month. But finishing with the fourth-worst record in the NBA is a great place to be after 74 games.
As satisfying as March was for the pro-tank crowd, April could be harsh. The combined record of the Celtics' remaining opponents (the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers twice, plus the Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats and Cleveland Cavaliers) is 179-265 after Tuesday’s action. Only the Wizards (38-36) have a winning record. Boston’s record against these teams is 8-6.
If the Celtics start winning, tell your pro-tank friend(s) to relax. It’s only eight games. Rajon Rondo probably won’t play in the second game of back-to-backs, meaning Rondo will play in just six games. The Celtics are 2-5 without Rondo since his return.
Only three of the remaining games are at home. Just don’t let your tanker friend know Boston is 4-1 against the remaining teams on the road.
It’s not impossible for the Celtics to sweep April, finishing with a 31-51 record and possibly falling out of the lottery top 10. For a draft that's considered the best in years, dropping so low in the lottery really hurts Boston’s chances at one of the top selections.
But we’re talking about a lottery here. I repeat: a lottery. It’s like saying my chances of winning last month’s $400 million jackpot would have increased by buying three tickets instead of two.
Pinning one’s hope on the lottery didn’t work for the Celtics in 1997 and 2007. So why does anyone think 2014 is Boston’s lucky lottery year?
The Celtics can use a boost in team morale. Finishing strong in April against equally inept teams doesn’t say much, but it would be a sign of hope for next year.
Beating the playoff-bound Wizards for a second time would buoy Boston’s resolve. And if the Celtics take both games and win the season series, the team’s confidence could (relatively) reach the sky.
Becoming a playoff team in 2014-15 begins now, as learning how to win against these teams forms a blueprint they can duplicate for next season against any team. It would mean a lot to a team prone to blowing double-digit leads and fourth quarters if they put away games with authority or fend off late rallies, therefore developing calluses on their Achilles’ heel.
For the players who remain with the team next season, strengthening team chemistry would make it easier to add new players to a team that believes in itself and makes the new additions buy into the locker-room culture.
And though Boston isn’t a premiere destination for free agents, showing signs that they’re figuring out how to win can attract the role players necessary for championship teams until the Celtics add an All-Star or two.
So if Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge makes a deal that could turn Boston around, most if not all of the pieces will already be in place. And this star player (or players) will want to be a Celtic, believing Boston is on course to raise an 18th banner soon.
If Ainge is a man of his word, then he wants the Celtics to finish the season on a high note. But if Ainge flips the script from “We are Celtics. We don’t tank,” to “Ah screw it! Tank to death!” it won’t be hard.
Avery Bradley’s ankle injury could be *cough* bad enough to sideline him for the rest of the season. Bradley could be joined on the sideline by an additional key player or two as well. Even the logo could be fitted with a walking boot, making the Leprechaun’s walking stick not just for fashion.
Limping to the finish is the last thing the Celtics need. In a season where they took plenty of lumps and searched for silver linings in losses, April is an opportunity to gather elusive wins. If Celtic Pride never dies, making April a successful month is not only proof but a sign that Boston's pulse is getting stronger.
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