BOSTON Through a season filled with injuries, illnesses and failed trades before and during the season, the Boston Celtics find themselves in a familiar place now - on top of the Atlantic Division standings.
Monday's win at Charlotte improved the Celtics' record to 27-22, identical with Philadelphia which has been alone atop the Atlantic for much of this season.
The C's record isn't nearly as good as they would want it to be, nor what they expect.
But when you look at all that has not gone their way, being able to see the Atlantic from the top for the change is pretty cool.
"That's one of our goals, to be first place in our division," said Celtics guard Avery Bradley. "We're on our way there. We just have to keep working hard every single game."
Boston's success of late has been fueled by their ability, more than anything else, to simply out-work teams.
They've had little choice when you consider the cut-and-paste lineups and rotations that head coach Doc Rivers has had to implement.
The Celtics went into Philadelphia last week without Ray Allen who was out because of an ankle injury. By halftime, his replacement Mickael Pietrus suffered a concussion and is out indefinitely. Boston didn't win that game, but their absence since then has afforded second-year guard Avery Bradley a chance to play with the starters.
In his first start filling in for Allen (his 10 previous starts were in place of Rajon Rondo), he responded with a career-high 23 points against Washington. Two of Boston's biggest road wins were at Atlanta and Milwaukee, games in which the Celtics identified the need to have a better effort on the boards.
Brandon Bass did just that, giving the C's a much-needed boost on the boards with 10 rebounds in each game - the first time this season he had back-to-back double digit rebounding nights.
"We're just hanging in there," C's coach Doc Rivers said. "I think since the all-star break, we haven't played well every night but we're winning some of the games that we don't play well in. We're grinding games out."
Bass knows the Celtics have been playing some of their best basketball of the season lately.
But he had no idea that Monday's win put them in a tie with Philadelphia for the best record in the Atlantic.
"I haven't been keeping up with the standings, to be honest with you," Bass toldCSNNE.com. "I don't care who we play. It's going to be a tough series, either way. It's going to be eight good teams, and we're just gonna have to grind."
Rivers knew what the ramifications of a Celtics victory on Monday, but said he didn't bother to mention it to his players.
"For us, we just gotta keep plugging along. I really don't focus on it right now," Rivers said. "It is important (to win the Atlantic). What do we have, 17, 16 games? So it would be nice to get."