After an embarrassing home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night, the Boston Celtics will prepare for what could be a very fruitful month of January.
The Celtics play 17 games during the first month of 2016, with 10 of those contests coming on the road.
However, they don’t really have a particularly tough schedule in terms of the strength of their opponents.
Let’s break down these 17 matchups into the usual three categories: must-wins, coin flips and probable losses (spoiler: there aren’t any).
Jan. 2 vs. Brooklyn Nets and Jan. 4 at Brooklyn Nets
For the second time this season, the Celtics will be playing a home-and-home with the lowly Nets.
Boston split its first two games against Brooklyn, winning at home and then falling at the Barclays Center in what was certainly the Celtics’ worst loss of the year to date.
This time, though, Boston has to win both of these matchups.
If you want to be a playoff team in the tight Eastern Conference this year, you can’t afford to go 2-2 against one of the worst teams in the league.
Jan. 6 vs. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons are a solid ballclub, and the Celtics have split their first two meetings with them, both in Detroit.
Seeing as how the Pistons may be one of the main teams the C’s will be battling with for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, Brad Stevens’ group needs to hold serve at home and beat these guys.
The Celtics have two games remaining with Detroit, both at TD Garden. Winning both contests could prove pivotal come late April when the playoff seedings take shape.
The key is to limit Andre Drummond on the glass. Do that, and you’ll have a great shot at winning.
Jan. 15 vs. Phoenix Suns
Many felt the Suns were actually going to be a playoff contender this season. Obviously, that has not been the case, and now, Eric Bledsoe is out for the season.
There is no reason the Celtics shouldn’t win this game by double digits at home.
We are talking about a Phoenix team that lost to the Philadephia 76ers, and now it is without its best player.
Expect a rather easy win for Boston here.
Jan 23. at Philadelphia 76ers
I don’t think this one needs much of an explanation.
Jan. 27 vs. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets can be sneaky, as evidenced by their win on the road in Toronto earlier in the season.
However, this is absolutely a game the Celtics should take at TD Garden.
Denver is athletic and has a lot of talent in its frontcourt (keep in mind that Jusuf Nurkic could be back by this contest), but Boston needs to take this one.
Jan. 29 vs. Orlando Magic
The Celtics were embarrassed by the Magic in Orlando in November. This time, they need to return the favor in Beantown.
Boston will actually be playing a home-and-home with the Magic here, so it needs to beat Nikola Vucevic and Co. in this one.
Orlando is certainly no joke anymore. It has been playing some very solid basketball this season and appears to be a legitimate threat to make the postseason.
This contest will not be easy, but the C’s really need to win it.
Jan. 7 at Chicago Bulls and Jan. 22 vs. Chicago Bulls
The Celtics already beat the Bulls at home back on Dec. 9, but in the first of these two upcoming meetings, Boston will be taking Chicago on at the United Center.
The Bulls have been up-and-down all year, putting together some impressive wins but also posting some head-scratching losses, so unlike in previous seasons, this game is not a probable loss.
Boston and Chicago are actually fairly evenly matched teams, so while the Bulls will almost certainly be favored to win at home, the C’s will have a great shot of stealing a victory.
The same goes for the contest at TD Garden. While the Celtics will be favored to win in their backyard, it’s really a coin flip.
Something to keep an eye on: Isaiah Thomas could present some matchup issues for Chicago.
Jan. 10 at Memphis Grizzlies
There was a time when this would have been marked down as a loss: on the road, in the Grindhouse, against one of the toughest and most physical teams in the league.
Well, those days are gone.
The Grizzlies are now nothing more than a mediocre ballclub that struggles on both sides of the ball, leaving them ripe for the taking.
The Celtics will be underdogs in this one because the game is at FedEx Forum, but they can certainly steal it by taking advantage of Memphis’ slow, plodding style.
Jan. 12 at New York Knicks
The only reason why this was not filed as a “must-win” is because it’s at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks are far from pushovers this year, with a fairly deep squad teeming with young talent across the board.
Plus, they are a division rival, and unless you’re playing the 76ers, these games are almost never easy.
The Celtics have already beaten New York this season, but that was at home. Things will likely be a tad more difficult on the road.
Boston should still win this one, but a loss would not be shocking.
Jan. 13 vs. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers have owned the Celtics so far this season, beating them both in Indiana and in Boston.
Paul George gave the C’s big-time issues in each of those contests, taking over down the stretch and exposing the Celtics’ lack of a true No. 1 scorer.
This game is at TD Garden, so Boston should have a slight edge, but the Pacers beat the C’s by 11 when these two squads met in Beantown back on Nov. 11, so this will not be smooth sailing.
I want to predict a Celtics win, but another defeat to George and the boys could certainly happen.
Jan. 16 and Jan. 25 at Washington Wizards
The Celtics have thoroughly embarrassed the Wizards this season, routing them by scores of 118-98 (Nov. 6) and 111-78 (Nov. 27).
Both of those matchups were in Boston, however, so now Washington gets a chance to return the favor on its home floor.
For whatever reason, the C’s have played extremely well against the Wizards over the last year and change. They seem to match up very well with John Wall and Co., so it could just be one of those things where the Celtics have their number.
Still, it’s hard to overlook the fact that Washington is going to be out for blood, as those two prior losses have surely left a foul taste in its mouth.
Logic dictates that Boston will split these two games, but the Wizards could just be angry enough to win both of them.
Jan. 18 at Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks have been one of the bigger surprises in the league this season, and Dirk Nowitzki is having a spectacular year.
On the road, this is a difficult matchup for the Celtics.
That said, Boston can certainly earn the victory here. All it takes is keeping Nowitzki in check (I know; easier said than done) and not letting someone like J.J. Barea go off.
Jan. 20 at Toronto Raptors
This is the toughest game on the Celtics’ January schedule.
However, it’s also winnable.
While the Raptors are the better team, they probably aren’t better by too much, and Boston played them very tough last year.
Toronto is getting healthy, though, so this one will definitely be a challenge.
I was tempted to file this one under the “probable losses” category, but I just don’t think the Raptors are good enough to preemptively mark this one down as a defeat.
This will more than likely be a tight game, and it would be huge if the C’s could pull out the victory down the stretch.
Jan. 31 at Orlando Magic
The Magic are tough and will be playing at home. That’s why it’s so important for the Celtics to win the game in Boston two nights before this one.
This contest could go either way.
While the Celtics are playing a lot of road games in January, they don’t play a lot of particularly daunting opponents. There are no Spurs, Warriors, Thunder or Cavaliers on tap over the next four weeks.
That means Boston should be able to, at the very least, hang in every one of these games.
I am going to be a bit optimistic and put the Celtics down for 11-6 in January.
Of course, you never know with this Boston squad. This is the same team won on the road against the Thunder, Rockets, Heat and Hornets (twice) but lost to the Lakers at home and the Nets.
The C’s may very well be the league’s most volatile team.
All things considered, they are talented enough where they should be able to take advantage of a fairly easy schedule this coming month.
If the Celtics do go 11-6, that will put them at 29-20 for the season. Not too shabby.