Remember last month when I previewed the Boston Celtics’ November schedule? Well, now it’s time to do it for December.
The Celtics entered Dec. 7 with a record of 11-9 after splitting their first two December games. They put together an impressive road win over the Sacramento Kings on Dec. 3 and followed that up with a gritty loss at San Antonio on Dec. 5.
December starts out daunting for Boston, but the schedule gets much easier midway through the month.
The C’s have 12 games remaining until the New Year.
Let’s break them down into three categories: must-wins, coin flips and probable losses.
Dec. 12 or Dec. 23 at Charlotte Hornets
The Celtics have two games with the Hornets this month, both of them on the road.
Now, technically, both of these are coin-flip games, as Charlotte has gotten off to a surprisingly good start behind a shockingly high-powered offense, but Boston needs to win one of these two.
The Hornets are currently a playoff contender, and with the Eastern Conference standings so consolidated at the moment, it’d be nice for the C’s to take at least one of their two contests against Charlotte to solidify their positioning.
Dropping both games wouldn’t be disastrous, but it certainly wouldn’t be ideal.
Also, the Celtics are probably a better team than the Hornets, so they should be able to grab one on the road.
NOTE: While one of these games is a must-win, the other is a coin flip.
Dec. 16 or Dec. 26 at Detroit Pistons
Same deal as the Hornets games.
Due to a rather odd scheduling quirk, the Celtics play two road games against Charlotte and Detroit in the same month without having hosted either yet.
Anyway, it’d really behoove Boston to come away with one of the two battles at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Such as the case with Charlotte, the C’s are fighting with the Pistons for playoff positioning. Detroit has cooled off considerably after its hot start, but it remains a very viable threat to make the postseason in the East.
Due to a lack of length and athleticism up front, the Celtics will probably have a heck of a time dealing with Andre Drummond, so beating the Pistons will not be an easy task.
Still, if Boston really wants to make its mark in the East, these are the kind of games it has to win. At least one of them, anyway.
NOTE: While one of these games is a must-win, the other is a coin flip.
Dec. 27 vs. New York Knicks
Make no mistake: the Knicks are no longer pushovers. They have a young phenom in Kristaps Porzingis plus some solid depth.
However, with this meeting with New York taking place at TD Garden, the Celtics should really get the win.
Boston is going to have four games against the Knicks this season, and it’ll probably lose at least one of them. But the C’s need to hold serve at home against weaker Eastern Conference clubs, and as much as New York has improved, the Celtics are the better team.
Dec. 30 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
There was a time when Celtics vs. Lakers would draw national attention because it featured two powerhouses going head to head. Those days are long gone.
Now, Los Angeles has been reduced to a team that has nothing but Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour to fall back on in 2015-16.
Boston, which will be coming off three days of rest, should win this game by double digits.
Of course, the main attraction here will be the fact that this will be Bryant’s last hurrah in Beantown.
Dec. 7 at New Orleans Pelicans
Don’t let the Pelicans’ 5-15 record fool you: this isn’t a bad team.
Tyreke Evans is back, and New Orleans already owns wins over the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Anthony Davis can (and almost certainly will) give the Celtics’ frontcourt hell, and the game is at New Orleans, so this could very well be a loss for the Celtics.
That being said, the Pelicans are hardly invincible, and Boston has picked up a couple of impressive road wins against Western Conference squads.
If the C’s can limit Evans and Jrue Holiday, they have a great shot of stealing this one.
Dec. 9 vs. Chicago Bulls
In spite of the fact that the Bulls haven’t looked great stylistically, they’re tied for first place in the East in the loss column. Their defense has also been very good.
Fortunately for the Celtics, this contest is at home, and Brad Stevens’s group has played pretty well against Chicago over the past couple of years.
The key to this game will be Jae Crowder’s defense on Jimmy Butler. If he can keep Butler contained and force Derrick Rose to make plays (who would’ve thought we’d be saying that four years ago?), Boston will have a golden opportunity to notch another quality win under its belt.
Regardless, the Bulls are the superior team, so this one will be tough.
Dec. 18 vs. Atlanta Hawks
The Celtics have split their first two meetings with the Hawks this season. They beat them convincingly at home back on Nov. 13 and were then pounded at Philips Arena on Nov. 24.
Because this one is at home, Boston has a chance.
The C’s have played Atlanta tough these last two seasons, and they’ll surely have revenge on their minds after getting embarrassed on national TV in their last battle with Al Horford and Co.
The key here is the Celtics’ frontcourt. Guys like Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson need to keep Horford and Paul Millsap honest.
Dec. 21 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
This could qualify as a must-win game, but because the Timberwolves are a Western Conference squad, it falls under the “coin flip” category.
Minnesota is no joke this year. Its young players have been outstanding, with Karl-Anthony Towns representing the top Rookie of the Year candidate, and Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine coming into their own.
The Celtics absolutely cannot take this game lightly, especially considering that the Wolves are 6-3 away from the Target Center.
Boston should win, but it can’t expect to bring its C-game and be alright.
Also, something to keep in mind: this could be Kevin Garnett’s last game at TD Garden.
Dec. 11 vs. Golden State Warriors
This one actually has the potential to be interesting due to the fact that the Celtics are at home and will be looked at by some as a sleeper candidate to end the Warriors’ winning streak, but without Marcus Smart, it seems pretty unlikely.
Golden State is 22-0 for a reason.
Dec. 15 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers are a bit vulnerable at the moment and really haven’t looked all that impressive all year long. They’re also dealing with some injuries.
Still, LeBron James and Kevin Love will probably be too much for the Celtics, even on their home floor.
Boston’s only chance is if Crowder can limit James for at least three out of four quarters, and even then, Boston wouldn’t be safe.
I have the Celtics at 6-6 for the rest of December, and that’s a conservative estimate.
The volatile C’s could very well win eight or more games for the remainder of the month, as they’ve been known to come out victorious in contests that not many people give them a chance in.
However, they’re also known for putting forth questionable performances against inferior opponents, so even if they win a game or two that they shouldn’t win, they’ll probably lose a game or two that they shouldn’t lose.
If Boston does, in fact, go 6-6, that would put the Celtics at 17-15 overall. They’d then start January with another home-and-home with the Brooklyn Nets followed by a home meeting with the Pistons. Those are three very winnable games.