The Boston Celtics are poised to enter their toughest single week of the season. Today (2/6), the Orlando Magic are in town to take on the Celtics. The Celtics then have to make a quick turnaround as they'll have to fly to Charlotte for a Monday night game against the Charlotte Bobcats (2/7).
The Celtics then have Tuesday and Wednesday off, but are set to square off with the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday evening (2/10) at home. Their eight days of craziness culminates with a Sunday afternoon spectacle against the Miami Heat (2/13) at home.
In eight days, the Celtics have four games, three of which are nationally-televised games against top five teams, who are potential playoff matchups for the Celtics.
The Celtics are fortunate to have all three of these games at home where they are 22-4 (85 percent) on the season.
I'm not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, but as a Celtics fan, the game I worry about most is the Monday night back-to-back against the Bobcats. The Celtics tend to let the pressure off against bad teams (seven of their 12 losses are against sub .500 teams), and have performed rather poorly in back-to-back scenarios. With Jermaine O'Neal lost for 6-8 weeks (knee surgery) and Shaquille O'Neal questionable for the next three games, who knows where the minds of the Celtics players will be.
There are a few keys for this stretch of schedule that I've identified for the Celtics. First and foremost, the play of Rajon Rondo has to be sublime. He generally goes above and beyond the call when the pressure is on, so I wouldn't worry about him too much.
How will the Celtics fare in their next four games?
Second, with JO out and Shaq questionable, Kendrick Perkins will be slated to move back into the starting lineup and play extended minutes. Perk has been easing his way back into NBA game shape after returning from offseason knee surgery in late January. He'll have his hands full with Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, players who he's had decent success with in the past.
Third, the Celtics have recently been a bit shoddy on their perimeter defense. The C's are holding opponents to just 34.9 percent shooting on the year, but in their last three contests have let opponents shoot a combined 18-for-37 (49 percent) from long distance.
The Magic and Heat are all dangerous three-point shooting teams who can light it up if the defense is soft. While the Lakers are middle of the pack when it comes to shooting threes, they'll make their opponents pay if given the chance. Limiting the damage from long range is a must.
Four, some bench cohesion would be nice.
The Celtics have played mix-and-match with their roster all year, and the chemistry of the second unit has struggled as a result. However, the Celtics are going to need to at least hold the lead while their second unit is on the floor if they want to win. And, against the Heat, the Celtics have a clear edge when it comes to depth. If the second unit is able to extend to lead at all (which they've done at certain points this season), their effort will go a long way in determining the result of the game.
Will this stretch of schedule tell us anything about the Celtics? No, not really. This team's primary goal is getting healthy for the playoffs, and they've proven that they can turn it on when it counts most.
However, this Celtics team feels very strongly that home court advantage in the postseason goes a long way. After suffering a loss on the road in Game 7 of the NBA finals last season, I sincerely hope that the grind of the regular season doesn't affect their effort on the floor. Simply put, if the Celtics play complete, 48-minute games this week, they have a very good shot at going 4-0.
A 4-0 or even 3-1 record could be the difference when it comes to determining the top seed come playoff time.
Dan is a Boston Celtics featured columnist. Follow him on Twitter @danhartelBR.