Despite the bitter cold and the snow piling up in the streets, February should be one of the least-cruel months for the Boston Celtics. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. No month, week or individual game is easy for the Celtics in this grueling season.
So while some teams look upon the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston’s opponent on Wednesday night, as a slight speed bump, the Celtics see a potential axle-snapping pothole.
“Every team you play in the league is a dangerous team,” Rajon Rondo said. “There’s no guaranteed nights you’ll win every game. That’s why you play the game.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was more blunt.
“We’re 15-33, so I don’t think it’s fair for us to judge anybody else,” Stevens said, actually underreporting his team’s win total by a game, when asked about the weaker teams on the upcoming slate.
The Celtics (16-33) take on the Sixers (15-34) in South Philly on Wednesday in a battle of Eastern Conference lightweights. They are the fourth- and third-worst teams in the NBA in terms of record, respectively, and as Bill Parcells once said, you are what your record says you are. This trip to the City of Brotherly Love is the second game in a monthlong sojourn of pillow fights for the Celtics, who could use a little relief.
February is always light for every team, due to the All-Star break sitting smack-dab in the middle of the month. But the brief break aside, the schedule-makers went easier on the Celtics than most.
The Celtics have a six-day break bracketing the All-Star Game, at which they will have no representatives. They were spared from having to play the Thursday before the break, when the league shuts down for its midseason classic, or the Tuesday after, when regular-season games recommence. The Celtics play just 11 games in a 30-day span, beginning last Thursday and stretching all the way to Feb. 28.
Compare the February schedule to January, when the Celtics played 17 games in 28 days, or October/November, when they played 19 games in 31 days.
This month is even lighter than December, when the Celtics played just 12 games and got almost a full week off around Christmas. Stevens was borderline psyched for that month, anticipating lots of time to practice and for the Celtics to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the Atlantic Division, which they then led. Of course, it didn’t work out that way. The Celtics went 6-6 in December and did not practice as frequently as Stevens hoped.
That was why Stevens was far from buoyant in looking ahead to a February schedule that would make previous Celtics incarnations lick their lips. Seven of the 11 opponents this month are outside the playoff picture, including the Orlando Magic, who were a 96-89 victim of the Celtics on Sunday. But the Sixers went into the Celtics’ own building last week and laid a last-second loss on the home team, something Stevens and his crew haven’t forgotten.
Gerald Wallace, the Celtics’ own harshest critic, isn’t sure losses like that can be chalked up to taking teams like Philly lightly. He certainly hopes not, since the Celtics cannot afford to take anybody lightly at the moment.
“It’s just not being focused for 48 minutes, knowing teams on any given night can beat you,” Wallace said. “Just coming out against teams you’re supposed to beat, the team’s you’re dominating, to go ahead and put them out. We kind of make those runs and then allow teams to come back in the game. We’ve got to learn, when we put our foot down, to keep our foot down.”
In years past, in a stretch like this, the Celtics would have been able to pop into cruise control and glide their way to an easy, winning month. Not this season. Get out the snow chains and ice scrapers, Celtics; a treacherous ride is ahead.