Despite ending a brutal run in their road schedule with a loss to Philadelphia Sunday, the Celtics are in excellent position as March comes to a close. With the win over Washington Monday night, Boston now sits 3.5 games ahead of Toronto for the division lead, an important achievement given it would allow the Celtics to avoid likely top seeded Cleveland in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
How bad has this recent schedule been? The Celtics hosted the Los Angeles Clippers on February 5. They have played 5 games at home and 14 on the road since. If you’re scoring at home, it spanned 40 days and included 14 cities, with TWO West Coast trips! The Celtics have gone 11-8 since they embarked on this run despite Isiah Thomas, Al Horford and Avery Bradley each missing multiple contests. The team’s arduous 20-game run mercifully concludes with the end of a back-to-back at home against Washington, a game that will be their 11th in the first 20 days of March.
The NBA schedule is becoming an increasingly discussed topic in league circles. LeBron James was the latest to address it. It is becoming more clear that jamming 82 games into a 170-day window is hurting the game’s product, especially when you consider the size of these men and how much they are asked to run on a weekly basis. Teams are increasingly sitting key players on nationally televized games. This is the reason that the league agreed to expand the season by a week to 10 days beginning next season. Adding days to the season will reduce the need for rest and the amount of back to back games, which is probably the most criticized aspect of the NBA schedule.
Looking at the Celtics’ schedule as a whole, it certainly leaves a lot to be desired. The most glaring example would be the fact that they played 12 games in February, which was a 23-day month for the league when factoring in the All-Star break. Seven of those games were on the road, where the Celtics are a conference-best 21-17 this season. Somehow, they played only 14 games in 31 days in January.
With various injuries to key starters this year, the Celtics have proven to be one of the few teams in the NBA with the mix of depth and youth that allows them to overcome schedule doldrums. In fact, out of 71 games to date, Isiah Thomas, Al Horford, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder have played 30 games together. The Celtics are an impressive 22-8 in those contests, and 23-18 when one or more has missed a game this year. Marcus Smart stepped up and played well in Avery Bradley’s extended absence. Guys like Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown in their early 20s have the young, athletic legs to overcome the physical toll of an 82-game season.
For the regular season anyway, the hard part appears to be over. How the Celtics play at home from here will determine their playoff seeding and whether this will be the first division title of the Brad Stevens era.