The Boston Celtics have gotten out to a 2-3 start, pounding the Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards and dropping games to the Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers.
The rest of their November schedule isn’t so easy, featuring several daunting road contests and some home games that they could easily lose.
Of course, this is essentially the case with every month of the season, with an eclectic mix of opponents ranging from No. 1 pick hopefuls to title contenders.
The Celtics have 13 games remaining in November, some of which they should win and some of which they will, in all likelihood, drop.
Let’s break the rest of the month down into three categories: must-wins, coin flips and probable losses.
Nov. 11 vs. Indiana Pacers
Two or three years ago, just about every team in the league dreaded seeing the Pacers on its schedule. They were a tough, defensive juggernaut capable of grinding their opponents into submission.
Those times have changed, and now, Indiana finds itself on the outside looking in on most prognosticators’ postseason picks.
However, the Celtics lost a road matchup with the Pacers back on Nov. 4, making this an essential must-win.
Why? Because Indy is one of the teams Boston will be battling with for playoff positioning, and it cannot afford to drop another contest against Paul George and Co. If it comes down to a tiebreaker at the end of the season, the C’s don’t want to look back on these two November games and say, “Man, if only we could have won one of them.”
Nov. 20 and Nov. 21 vs. Brooklyn Nets (home then road)
Back-to-backs always stink…except when you’re playing the Nets.
As of now, Brooklyn is 0-7 and might actually be worse than the 76ers. That’s saying a mouthful.
The Celtics should absolutely win these two games, both at TD Garden and Barclays Center. Of course, there’s a chance that Boston lays a stinker, but the C’s could probably play their C-game (no pun intended) and still beat the Nets rather handily.
That’s not a testament to how good the Celtics are, but rather a jab at just how bad Brooklyn is.
Plus, Boston owns the Nets’ first-round draft pick, so this is a chance for Brad Stevens’s group to hang two more losses on the miserable Nets.
Nov. 25 vs. Philadelphia 76ers
The C’s thumped the 76ers on opening night, and there’s no reason not to expect them to do it at TD Garden again later this month.
While Philadelphia has some terrific young talent up front in the form of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, it’s still an awful ballclub in general, lacking perimeter scoring and depth all-around.
The Sixers are currently 0-6, and it seems hard to imagine them having many more wins when they make their second trip to Boston.
The Celtics need to take advantage of the fact that they play in such a horrible division by beating up on the Nets and 76ers, especially at home. This should certainly be a win.
Nov. 10 @ Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have rebounded nicely from a poor start, winning three straight games. Also, Jabari Parker is back, so Milwaukee now has some more punch offensively.
Jason Kidd’s squad is probably a bit more talented than the Celtics top-to-bottom and should be favored to win this game, but this isn’t one of those cases where Boston will just be happy to get out of town without getting blown out.
This is a very winnable game for the C’s, as they’re relatively evenly matched with the Bucks.
Something to keep in mind: Milwaukee beat Boston three out of four times during the 2014-15 regular season, which ultimately gave the Bucks the No. 6 seed over the Celtics, who finished seventh.
Nov. 13 vs. Atlanta Hawks
The only reason why this is a coin-flip game is because the Celtics are at home. These are the types of wins you could look back on in February and March, and say, “That was one of our finest performances of the season.”
Of course, Boston will obviously be the underdog, as the Hawks are the superior team and haven’t skipped a beat since last year.
The C’s will travel to Atlanta later in the month, so it would really be nice for them to take Round 1 at TD Garden.
With Amir Johnson now in tow, the Celtics should have a bit more of an answer for the Hawks’ dynamic frontcourt.
While Atlanta is really good, it isn’t the Golden State Warriors or the Spurs. This is a winnable contest.
Nov. 18 vs. Dallas Mavericks
I was tempted to put this in the “must-win” category, as the Mavericks are a shell of the squad they’ve been in years past, but Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews make up a dangerous-enough trio to place it in the “coin flip” category.
To be honest, the home Celtics should probably be favored in this matchup. They also won’t have to worry about Rajon Rondo going off against them like he did last season in his triumphant return to Boston.
If Boston is truly an improved ballclub from 2014-15, it’ll find a way to win this game. It won’t be easy, though.
Nov. 27 vs. Washington Wizards
The Celtics have seemed to play really well against the Wizards recently.
They hammered Washington, 118-98, at TD Garden on Nov. 6 behind brilliant performances from Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, not to mention a 40-point first quarter.
Boston will once again be at home for this one, but the Wizards will unquestionably have revenge on their minds after being thoroughly embarrassed in the first matchup.
It’s going to be tough for the C’s to beat Washington twice in a row, but while Randy Wittman’s guys are better than the Celtics, they aren’t all too formidable. The Celtics could end up earning another victory here.
Nov. 29 @ Orlando Magic
The Magic are no joke anymore. They’re an incredibly talented team that may very well contend for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. Just ask the Raptors, who were handed their first loss by Orlando on Nov. 6.
The Celtics should be better than the young Magic, but with this game being in Orlando, there are no guarantees. Heck, I wouldn’t even say there would be any guarantees if the game were in Beantown.
Victor Oladipo could go off at moment’s notice, and Nikola Vucevic is one of the game’s best centers.
This one will be tough.
Nov. 15 @ Oklahoma City Thunder
Sure, the Thunder haven’t exactly gotten off to an auspicious start, but they’re still the Thunder, and they’ll be at home.
The tandem of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is difficult to handle even for the best teams in the league, let alone a merely decent Eastern Conference squad like the Celtics.
Boston’s only chance will be if Jae Crowder or Marcus Smart can keep one of Durant or Westbrook in check for all 48 minutes, and even then, beating Oklahoma City will be a tall order.
This is almost a definite loss.
Nov. 16 @ Houston Rockets
As if having to deal with Durant and Westbrook wasn’t bad enough, the C’s will have to head to Houston the very next day to try and contain James Harden and Dwight Howard.
Due to Boston’s lack of size up front, Howard is an incredibly tough matchup for the Celtics, especially when he and Harden have the pick-and-roll game running smoothly.
Smart, Crowder and Avery Bradley will all likely see stints against Harden, but the real issue will be trying to contend with Dwight in the paint.
Sullinger is probably Boston’s best bet against Howard due to his strength, but he isn’t long enough to seriously contest Howard’s shots inside.
The C’s could be in for a long night at the Toyota Center.
Nov. 24 @ Atlanta Hawks
As I stated earlier, the only reason why I had the Celtics’ first matchup with the Hawks in the “coin flip” section was due to the fact that the game was at TD Garden. With this contest being in Atlanta, it’s going to be a very arduous task for Boston.
The Hawks were dominant at home last year, and there’s no reason to believe that they won’t continue their supremacy at Philips Arena this season.
Atlanta may not be as good as the Thunder or the Rockets, but it is still quite a bit better than the C’s.
Barring a very poor shooting night from the Hawks, this one will probably fall under the “L” column for Stevens’s group.
Nov. 30 @ Miami Heat
The Heat have had some issues to start the season, but there’s no denying the level of sheer talent that they have in their starting lineup.
Hassan Whiteside in particular could give the Celtics fits with his size, length and athleticism. Boston’s bigs will surely have a very trying time getting off any clean looks with Whiteside patrolling the paint.
The good news is that this matchup is probably the most likely to turn into a win out of the “probable losses.” A strong defensive performance from the Celtics’ backcourt could very well put them in position to steal the victory.
However, this game is in Miami, so logic dictates that the C’s will probably come out on the short end.
Unfortunately, it’s going to be pretty difficult for the Celtics to go over .500 over their next 13 games. There are only four contests where Boston will absolutely be favored to win, and you have to assume it will lay an egg against an inferior opponent at some point during this three-week stretch.
I have the C’s going 6-7 for the remainder of November, which would put them at 8-10 entering the month of December. The beginning of December looks disconcerting, too. The Celtics start out with three road games against Western Conference opponents and are then home against the Chicago Bulls and the Warriors.
The good news for Boston is that every team in the league must go through difficult stretches of games, so it isn’t alone. Plus, if it really wants to make its mark in the East, it has to start winning some of the contests people don’t expect it to win.