Monday night against the Orlando Magic, the Boston Celtics finally returned to early-season form, with Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo active at the same time for the first time since Dec. 15. Garnett, after missing nine games with a strained right calf muscle, scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds in his return, and recorded the victory-sealing steal with two seconds left to give Boston the 109-106 victory over Orlando.
With Rondo, Garnett and a majority of the Green healthy once more (save for Jermaine O'Neal, out with knee problems, Kendrick Perkins, currently rehabbing and preparing for a return from a knee injury suffered last June, and Delonte West, recovering from a broken wrist) and will look to avoid another post-Christmas slide. Last season, the Celtics went 27-27 after Christmas, falling from first in the Eastern Conference to fourth, finishing with a 50-32 record.
With probably the most experienced starting lineup in the NBA, along with what is likely the deepest bench, the Celtics are more than capable of playing above .500 for the rest of the season. Without Kevin Garnett, the Celtics went 6-3, including 5-2 at TD Garden. If everyone can stay healthy and not go into cruise control for the next three months, the Celtics can improve over last year's record by a wide margin.
Boston will likely only get stronger with the return of Perkins, as the Celtics regain one of the best interior defenders in the league, bringing extra rebounding which would help solidify their reputation as the having the NBA's stingiest defense. Perk can also provide an extra scoring punch that could likely spell the difference in close games (as Celtics fans found out the hard way in Game 7 in last year's Finals).
How many wins will the Celtics finish the season with?
I realize that the Celtics are far better off if they take hits now rather than in the playoffs, but as we saw in last year's Finals, home court advantage made all of the difference. Barring more injuries, Boston should have little issue maintaining their lead in the East, but may need help in the West to become the top seed overall. The Spurs are still hot, so they would need to begin a slide and lose a few games. The ideal situation would have the Western Conference dropping below the Celtics' record while Boston reigns supreme in the East.
Obvious? Yes, I'm well aware it is. But with the level of competition in the NBA, this is probably wishful thinking. Let's just hope for the best and go from there.
Go Green 18!