Celtics prepare for daunting week of games

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Celtics prepare for daunting week of games

BOSTON There have been many descriptions of this upcoming schedule for the Boston Celtics which includes five games in six nights, in five different cities.

Brutal. Challenging. Grueling.

Here's another one fun!

Fun?

"I think it'll be fun," said Boston's Avery Bradley who says he's never played in a stretch of games like this. "We love the game of basketball. We're already getting ourselves mentally prepared for it."

The best way to do that is to simply win games in less-than-desirable scenarios, something the C's have been able to do during their current four game winning streak.

On Saturday, they went into Indiana and beat a Pacers team that's playing some of their best basketball now and are one of the teams Boston (34-24) is trying to catch up to and surpass in the Eastern Conference standings. The Celtics followed that victory with a blowout win at home the following night against a Philadelphia team that's right on their heels in the Atlantic Division.

As impressive as those two wins were, they pale in comparison to the Celtics' 115-107 win at Miami, a game in which the Heat delivered a slew of big blows to the Celtics all night, only for the Celtics to counter with a 1-2 punch of their own that was even more powerful. If the C's make the kind of deep playoff run they're hoping for, Tuesday's win over Miami might be viewed as the turning point in which Boston went from a team that was playing well, to one that has to be considered a legit contender to come out of the Eastern Conference.

With that kind of success, the C's appeared to be in good shape for a major letdown Wednesday night against the Atlanta Hawks. Boston was playing their fourth game in five nights, while the Hawks had not played in a game since Saturday.

There was no way to avoid mental fatigue becoming an issue for the Celtics. But to their credit, they managed to overcome it and for the most part, keep the game against the Hawks relatively close which afterward, Rivers said was the game plan coming in.

"We didn't play well," Rivers said. "I mean, we just kept hanging in there. You could see the fatigue."

Fatigue or not, Boston still managed to grind out an 88-86 overtime victory which was maybe the most impressive victory during this current winning streak when you consider the caliber of opponent, what was at stake (winning the head-to-head series) and the fact that Boston was coming off a hard-fought win at Miami just 24 hours earlier while the Hawks had not played since Saturday.

And now, the C's move on for road games at Toronto on Friday, New Jersey on Saturday and Charlotte on Sunday. After that, the C's face New York on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden and come home the following night to host the Orlando Magic.

Players are well aware that this upcoming stretch of games will go far in determining where they eventually wind up in terms of playoff seeding.

"Wish I could tell you what to expect, because I don't know," Rivers said. "I don't talk about it, don't mention it to our guys. We don't even talk about it with our staff."

With so many games congested together - not just this stretch, but this entire NBA season - it doesn't do much good to look too far down the road.

"We go one at a time," Rivers said. "That's the way you have to approach this season."

Gronkowski returns to practice; Mason, Branch still missing

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Gronkowski returns to practice; Mason, Branch still missing

FOXBORO -- The Patriots had a welcome face back on the practice field on Wednesday, as tight end Rob Gronkowski returned to action after missing the team's previous five practices as he dealt with an injury. 

Gronkowski participated in the warmup period of practice and then remained with the majority of his teammates for drills. 

The last time Gronkowski was spotted on the field was last Monday, which was the first of three joint practices between the Patriots and the Bears. He pulled up after pursuing a Tom Brady pass, walked along the sideline, met with head trainer Jim Whalen, and then left practice early. He did not suit up for Thursday's game against Chicago. 

Gronkowski has not participated in a preseason game since 2012. 

Patriots not spotted at Wednesday's practice were Shaq Mason, Jonathan Cooper, Sebastian Vollmer (on the physically unable to perform list) and Dion Lewis (also on PUP). Alan Branch, who has been suspended by the team before last week's preseason game, was also missing. 

Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Malcolm Mitchell, Shea McClellin, Tre' Jackson (PUP) and Danny Amendola (PUP) were present for warmups but went to a lower field for conditioning. Amendola and Jackson were not in pads for the short-and-shells session. 

Jon Bon Jovi was taking in the session alongside Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. 

Wednesday's Red Sox-Rays lineups: Ramirez gets night off

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Wednesday's Red Sox-Rays lineups: Ramirez gets night off

Hanley Ramirez is getting a night off as the Red Sox look for their third straight win against the Rays tonight at Tropicana Field.

Travis Shaw will play first base, with Brock Holt at third.

Tonight's lineups:

RED SOX:
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Mookie Betts RF
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Sandy Leon C
Brock Holt 3B
Travis Shaw 1B
Andrew Benintendi LF
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Rick Porcello P

RAYS:
Logan Forsythe 2B
Kevin Kiermaier CF
Evan Longoria 3B
Brad Miller SH
Matt Duffy SS
Logan Morrison 1B
Steven Souza Jr. RF
Corey Dickerson LF
Bobby Wilson C
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Matt Andriese P