The C's upcoming slate includes matchups with three of the game's best young players, including Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, Sacramento's Tyreke Evans and Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings. It includes a difficult road trip that will take them through Texas and Utah. And it includes matchups with three teams — Cleveland, Dallas and Denver — that, at this point, have to be considered legitimate NBA title contenders.
But more than anything, what's scary is the sheer volume of basketball to be played.
In the 30 days between March 2 and March 31, the Celtics are slated for 17 games. That's 816 minutes of basketball, bare minimum, and you're talking about a team whose biggest stars are 32, 33 and 34 years old. Every mile you put on those odometers matters. The knees can only survive for so long.
With that in mind, you have to wonder what the Celtics' mindset should be going into this rough stretch.
Who gets how many minutes? How deep does the rotation go? What is their goal from here on out — a break-neck pace and a "win at all costs" mentality, or a slow and steady coast from here to an inevitable Eastern Conference playoff berth?
Chances are, these Celtics will err on the side of the latter.
At this point, the goal is to make the playoffs and be in decent physical shape to play well upon getting there. That's just about it.
A couple of years ago, this was a Celtics team that aspired to more than just making the big dance and playing past April. The gaudy numbers, the flashy win total — these things mattered back in 2008. But the Celtics aren't that team anymore, and they should keep their vision realistic.
They're not playing to show up the rest of the Eastern Conference. They're not playing to leave the rest of the East's top teams in the dust, the way they did during their title run two summers ago. And in fact, it's probably best not to think about Cleveland, Orlando or Atlanta too much right now. It can't do them any good.
Which isn't to say the Celtics are hopeless in their quest to make another deep playoff run. They're certainly not, and they've still got a decent chance at turning some heads in the Eastern semis and finals later this spring. But their best chance to do that comes with pacing themselves, and not expending too much effort in March. Energy is at a premium these days, and Doc Rivers should save it for the months that really matter.
Paul Pierce, whose nagging thumb injury kept him out for all of last week, needs as much rest as he can get. Kevin Garnett, who's at less than 100 percent despite taking the floor every night, should keep his minutes low and his energy level high. Ray Allen may be healthy, but he's already played over 2,000 minutes this season, which is just asking for trouble down the road. Even he should be watched carefully.
When the Celtics take the floor for postseason basketball seven weeks from now, they will have a rotation that runs nine deep, at the very least. Rasheed Wallace, Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis and newcomer Nate Robinson will all see meaningful playoff minutes, not to mention a few others (Tony Allen, Brian Scalabrine, Shelden Williams) that might sneak in some time.
All of those guys should get plenty of minutes down the stretch. And rather than forcing Allen and Rajon Rondo to take 35 each and every night, Doc should spread out the playing time more evenly. Keep everyone fresh and leave no one burned out. That's the ticket.
March is just now beginning, and no one's playing for right now. When all's said and done, no one will remember whether the Celtics began the Eastern Conference playoffs seeded second, fourth or even eighth. All that matters is getting the job done in the end.
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