Despite losing Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger and Leandro Barbosa to season ending injuries in a span of just 15 days, the shorthanded Boston Celtics were able to win eight of their final contests heading into the All Star Break.
The Celtics have been led by their captain Paul Pierce, who has transformed his game since the departure of Rondo, becoming a force on the glass and a great distributor. Jeff Green has been the catalyst off the bench that has improved dramatically in the past couple weeks. Jason Terry has also improved dramatically, finally filling the role of the clutch shooter that Danny Ainge envisioned him to be when he signed Terry in the offseason.
Even with Pierce carrying the team on his back, and Green and Terry spearheading a ferocious bench, the Celtics sit just seventh in the Eastern Conference standings, as they embark on a critical five game road trip out West.
The Celtics will have their hands full to kick off the post All-Star break as they play on Tuesday night against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center versus an opponent that they just beat in triple overtime a week ago. The Nuggets would love to beat a Celtics squad that finished them off in three extra sessions in what has been arguably the best game of the year in the NBA season.
The Celtics then play the next night against another team seeking vengeance, the Los Angeles Lakers. Even with all the struggles the Lakers are having, conventional wisdom suggests that L.A. will put up a tough fight after being humiliated by their bitter rivals on national television in Boston a few weeks ago.
The busy road trip continues for the Celtics as they play the Phoenix Suns, Portland Trailblazers and Utah Jazz in a span of just four days. Each game presents its own challenge, as all three squads play considerably better at home, even the Suns (12-13 at home), who sit last in the Western Conference standings.
The Celtics have displayed a lot of heart by winning eight of nine, as the players refuse to quit on the season. Although the Celtics are playing an inspired brand of basketball, it is worth noting that the Celtics recorded seven of those eight wins at home during that stretch, going just 1-1 in the two road games they played in the few weeks before the all-star break.
Still, there should be optimism for a team that continues to rally around one another. This five game road trip could be a determining factor if the Celtics are for real and a force in the Eastern Conference for the sixth straight year, or just a mediocre team bound to get bounced in the first round of the playoffs.