Boston Celtics Schedule Breakdown and Record Predictions for January 2015
For better or worse, it looks like January could be the month that decides the rest of the Boston Celtics' season.
The Celts have struggled since Rajon Rondo was dealt but are still hanging around the Eastern Conference's bleak playoff picture.
That will surely be tested in a month that sees Boston play 10 of 15 contests against teams currently in the playoffs (as of Dec. 30).
This includes a rough Western Conference road trip and showdowns with three of the East's top four squads in a single week.
As The Washington Post's Michael Lee recently noted, "[Boston is] not bad enough to be completely out of the playoff picture and not good enough to be taken seriously if they get there. They have too much talent to tank for a high lottery pick but not enough to win consistently."
The pieces Boston received from the Dallas Mavericks for Rondo have yet to make any meaningful impact, and while Brad Stevens is a good-enough coach to keep his team competitive, it may not have what it takes to hang around the postseason picture long term.
Either way, we'll have a great sense of the rest of the C's future, whatever that may be, after four especially trying weeks of basketball.
Statistics and records accurate as of Dec. 30.
Jan. 2: vs. Dallas
Jan. 3: at Chicago
Jan. 7: at Brooklyn
Jan. 9: at Indiana
The Celts ring in the New Year with a surely emotional Rondo homecoming.
Dallas has stumbled a bit as it works Rondo into its offense, but the team still boasts one of the league's best starting fives and a frontcourt tandem of Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler that should be able to get whatever it wants against Boston's overmatched big men.
The Mavs are a weak defensive team, and the C's can capitalize on that by pushing the pace. But it's unlikely they have the firepower to hang with Dallas for 48 minutes, and I don't think Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson or Jae Crowder have a revenge game for the ages in them.
The C's mounted a massive comeback en route to a 118-113 road loss at the American Airlines Center, but that was largely due to backcourt pressure against Nelson and Devin Harris that won't work as well on Rondo.
Boston went into Chicago and beat the Bulls already this season without Rondo, but Chicago looks like a much different team now than it did in November.
Derrick Rose is as healthy as he's been in years, and this Chicago team finally has the offensive weapons to match its gritty defense.
It did hang 49 points on Toronto in a single quarter, after all.
Brooklyn and Boston are scheduled for a rematch after a tight back-and-forth affair on Dec. 26 that saw Jared Sullinger miss a game-tying turnaround after a 90-foot pinpoint pass from Gerald Wallace.
Marcus Smart should do a better job containing Jack's penetration without fouling, and it's unlikely Jack shoots that well from mid-range again.
Sullinger and Jeff Green should both have solid games again, as the Nets lack defenders capable of neutralizing their particular skill sets, and Brooklyn isn't getting much out of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez off the bench, both of whom would present matchup problems for the Celts.
The Indiana Pacers are a feisty defensive team that keeps games close but doesn't have the offense to pull them out. The team allows just 96.3 points per game (second in the league) but scores a mere 94.5 itself (28th).
Hibbert has had a turbulent 2014-15, but his size is still a huge problem for the C's, who allow a 19.4 player efficiency rating (PER) to opposing centers, according to 82games.
Still, the C's supporting cast is more talented than the Pacers', and they have a shot at preserving the win if their perimeter defenders force C.J. Miles, Rodney Stuckey and George Hill into tough looks.
It won't be a pretty contest, but this is one of Boston's few January games it should be a legitimate favorite in.
This is by no means an easy week, but if the Celtics want to preserve any chance of a winning month, they'll need to pick up at least two wins against the Nets and Pacers.
Jan. 10: at Toronto
Jan. 12: vs. New Orleans
Jan. 14: vs. Atlanta
Jan. 16: vs. Chicago
The only bright spot in Boston's second week is the home game with New Orleans, but the Pelicans boast a talented young core and a superstar in Anthony Davis who should be able to torch the C's big man rotation.
Boston played Toronto tough earlier in the season during a 110-107 home loss, but that was thanks to a triple-double performance by Rondo and 37 combined points from Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk on 14-of-24 shooting.
While Olynyk and Sully have been playing well of late, Kyle Lowry torched the Celts for 35 points, and even the tandem of Avery Bradley and Smart may not be enough to slow him down.
Factor in the Raptors' 14-3 record at the Air Canada Centre in 2014, and you have the makings of a game that could get ugly fast.
Toronto's defense has quietly slipped to middle of the pack (allowing 100.1 points per game, 16th in the league), but it's a phenomenal offensive squad that should be able to shred Boston on the pick-and-roll.
The Pelicans can likely kiss their playoff hopes goodbye with Phoenix surging and Oklahoma City getting healthy, but they're still a .500 Western Conference team with more top-shelf talent than Boston.
Olynyk and Sully don't have a chance covering the mobile monster that is Davis, and even Tyler Zeller will struggle to contain the MVP candidate.
Tyreke Evans' size in the backcourt could also cause some trouble, but the C's have a shot against New Orleans if they can find the stroke from deep.
Driving on Davis and Omer Asik is a tall task, but if Boston's bigs can stretch the floor, this could be a winnable contest.
The Celts also have home matchups with two of the Eastern Conference's hottest clubs, the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls.
Behind a transcendent, San Antonio Spurs-style offense, the Hawks have gone 14-2 in December with impressive wins over the Los Angeles Clippers at home and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks on the road.
With Al Horford rounding into form and an attack that relies on fluid ball movement and outside shooting, the Hawks are a nightmare matchup.
Recent struggles against Milwaukee do suggest some weaknesses, but unfortunately, the C's can't match the Bucks' length, and they don't have the tools in the frontcourt to contain Horford and Paul Millsap.
As for the Bulls, Boston does have the aforementioned road win, but Rose led a Chicago rally at TD Garden a few weeks later for a 109-102 win.
The Bulls are finally healthy and look dominant on both ends thanks to a rejuvenated Gasol, a healthy Rose and Butler looking like a surefire All-Star.
The rebuilding Celtics simply don't have enough in the tank to keep up with two of the Eastern Conference's best teams, and overall, this week should be pretty brutal.
Jan. 19: at Los Angeles Clippers
Jan. 22: at Portland
Jan. 23: at Denver
Jan. 25: at Golden State
There's no such thing as an easy Western Conference trip, but the Celtics are especially unlucky to face three of the conference's top six squads in just seven days.
The L.A. Clippers haven't had the season many expected, but they picked up a huge win on Christmas against the Golden State Warriors and boast serious talent at Boston's worst defensive spots.
Boston could keep things close with a strong game from Green, but the Clips have too much talent to lose against the Celtics at home.
Portland has been one of the league's hottest teams, and its outside shooting is a huge problem for Boston.
The Celtics allow 36.8 percent shooting from three (25th in the league) while the Trail Blazers are fifth in three-point percentage at 37.8.
Even if they're misfiring from deep, Damian Lillard's drives and Wesley Matthews' post-ups should generate plenty of offense for Rip City.
The Denver Nuggets have been far from elite at home this season (9-7), and while they have plenty of talent, they've been one of the league's streakiest squads.
They began the year a dismal 1-6 but have righted the ship somewhat since, going 12-12 the rest of the way.
The normally high-octane Nuggets offense is scoring just 101.5 points per game (16th in the league), and their defense allows 104.3 points (27th).
Ty Lawson could slice up the Celtics defense, and Kenneth Faried could grab 20 rebounds, but this figures to be a tight game between two teams trying to decide if they should throw away their seasons.
Jan. 26: at Utah
Jan. 28: at Minnesota
Jan. 30: vs. Houston
Still, Utah is actually a talented team with a nice, young core. Its nimble, athletic frontcourt should give Boston trouble.
Rudy Gobert has been a revelation as a sophomore, and his shot-blocking prowess will deter the C's guards from driving.
Derrick Favors should have a strong game on the glass, and Gordon Hayward's versatility makes him a very tough cover.
The Jazz haven't beaten a ton of elite teams this season, but like Boston, they can keep games competitive, and they should be fresher than the Celts, who will be coming off three games in four nights.
Minnesota has talent, but it's been decimated by injuries and disappointing performances from some of its young pieces.
Gorgui Dieng hasn't been able to protect the rim much, and after a decent start, Anthony Bennett hasn't looked like more than a so-so mid-range shooter.
Even without Rondo, the Celtics were able to rout the Timberwolves, notching a 114-98 win at TD Garden immediately following the trade.
Shabazz Muhammad will score, and Zach LaVine could do some damage out of the pick-and-roll, but this game should be a much-needed easy road win.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the first home game following the Celts' trip. The Rockets beat Boston 104-90 in Houston earlier this year, and that was before adding Josh Smith and Corey Brewer to the roster.
If James Harden and Dwight Howard are healthy, Boston simply can't keep the Rockets off the foul line, and their improved defense will make scoring a struggle. Houston allowed just 38 points to the C's in the first half when they last played.
Boston can win against either Utah or Minnesota, but it's unlikely it scrapes out two wins to seal at least one over-.500 week in January.
Unfortunately, it looks like January could be the month that steers the Celts toward tanking.
If they come out of this rough stretch with a record in the .500 range it would be a miracle, as their defense simply doesn't have what it takes to stop teams like Portland, Golden State or Toronto.
Boston is a scrappy team that manages to stay competitive against more talented squads, but its fourth-quarter woes will likely show up on multiple occasions throughout the month.
Without Rondo, the C's don't have a player who can consistently be the most impactful guy on the floor. And while the likes of Green, Sullinger and Smart can all have huge moments, they are not reliable night-in and night-out.
Ultimately, don't be surprised if Boston comes out of January with a slew of trade rumors and a sense that the 2014-15 campaign is just another piece in the rebuilding puzzle.
Final Prediction: 5-10