A month to forget for the Boston Celtics. A time to rejoice for the Chicago Bulls.
There's a common term tossed around the NBA. It's one that has been present for the past decade; maybe you've heard it? "These two teams are trading blows like prize-fighters." It should ring a bell; it's a Kevin Harlan classic.
Sure, it's a cliche. It's overused in just about every sport. And the meaning is both vague and taken out of context quite often. But for Doc Rivers and the Celtics, this simple phrase sums up the Eastern Conference in a nutshell.
It hasn't been a typical time of year for Boston. March is usually when the Celtics turn their afterburners on, fire up for April, and leave the rest of the league worrying. Ray Allen refrains from eating cheeseburgers, and life carries on until The Finals.
That same tedious routine has stalled...and has been replaced with a wave of harsh reality.
Currently, the Celtics find themselves in need of resuscitation. The playoffs are less than a month away. Injuries aren't a bother, but the latest group of losses has fans exercising every excuse in the book, while the team tries to move past this slump.
Go ahead Bulls fans, laugh. Celtics fans are busy hyperventilating in the corner.
At 49-19, Chicago has every right to feel cocky. Derrick Rose hears his favorite three letters chanted in every arena he touches.
The local folks of Illinois can finally say "How about them Bulls?" and not expect a sarcastic answer from an optimistic Cubs fan.
But for the Celtics, fans in Boston are simply anxious. They are also clutching the glory days that they once shared.
It's been a long time since the Celtics have felt truly threatened like they do now.
Boston don't have control of the current situation in the East, nor do they feel entirely comfortable knowing that they may enter the playoffs without some form of guaranteed home-court advantage.
This leaves the guessing game wide open for the next few weeks.
It could go either way, really. The Celtics could progress significantly like they did during last year's playoff series, sobering up just in time to overcome 20,562 people at Quicken Loans Arena as they served reality to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Or, there's the alternative. The Celtics could sink, find themselves at the bottom, and bow out in the early stages of the playoffs to Miami or New York. Boston fans would be shattered. Folks in Chicago will probably thank their lucky stars.
Still, it's a situation which is almost unfathomable. The Celtics have been the image of every aspiring team in the NBA. A role model for young teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder...a blueprint for the greedy Miami Heat. And among other things, the precise definition of old school.
Apparently, all of the above went out the window in the span of a quarter on Friday night.
Boston was dished a huge helping of smack. The same team that pinned a loss on the Bulls earlier in the season, the Houston Rockets, frazzled the Celtics, sticking them with their worst defeat this season.
It marked the Celtics fourth loss in six games. Kevin Garnett was a non-factor. But that didn't stop coach Doc Rivers from seeking out one positive; as he rested the entire starting lineup in the final quarter.
"I just thought, let's just throw this one away,'" Rivers stated. "This is one of those games where they did everything better. You just go on to the next game."
Whether you agree with Rivers is your own call. There are by far more important dates on the Celtics calendar. The upcoming trip to Madison Square Garden to face the glowingly disappointing Knicks being one.
That's not the only problem, though. There are still bigger fish to fry.
As far as Rivers is concerned, his future is shady. He continues to pawn questioners off by saying he is strictly a family man, but is dedicated to the fans in Boston.
This warrants speculation toward his future: if the Celtics fizzle in the playoffs, is Rivers inclined to walk? Or will he leave, and return in two years time?
Don't ask me; I'm tired of following the trail of crumbs. Yet at the same time, the Bulls are loving every minute of it.
If Chicago is scary, it's because the Bulls have soaked up the limelight left over from Boston. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are great, of course, but the Celtics continue to wallow in questioning, whether it be toward Kevin Garnett's age, the Kendrick Perkins trade saga or Rivers fondness of soap-opera cliffhangers.
Simply put, it's a distraction.
It's a distraction which cost the Celtics in Philadelphia. It's a distraction which cost the Celtics in New Jersey. And obviously, it is a distraction which cost the Celtics against the Houston Rockets.
Notice a pattern?
All three of these losses came on the road.
The bad news doesn't stop, either. Boston now travel to New Orleans on Sunday to face the Hornets. They then travel to New York, followed by a two-game home stand against Memphis and Charlotte, then it's back on the road.
A typical East schedule, but one the Celtics should be accustomed to by now.
The next three weeks will be a testament of Boston's commitment and will. New York, San Antonio, Miami and Chicago all appear on the Celtics schedule, and as usual, every game has a lot on the line.
It's a shoot out for first in the East.
The Bulls are painting the wagon red at the moment.
Dear Celtics: It's time to wake up.
Check out Ryan Cook's new blog: The Front Page.
Ryan Cook is an Australian Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a writer for Acme Packing Company. He is also a guest writer for PackerChatters. You can follow him on Twitter or send him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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