By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON If only the rest of the Boston Celtics' schedule consisted solely of the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs or any other elite team in the NBA.
They would all be tough games, but at least the C's know that focus would not be an issue.
It certainly won't be when the Los Angeles Lakers roll into town for a nationally-televised matchup against the C's on Thursday night.
But the Lake show doesn't come to town every night, which is why the Celtics (38-13) have every reason to be concerned that their hold on top of the Eastern Conference may come down to how they fare against teams in the East that, truth be told, they have no business losing to.
Teams like the Charlotte Bobcats, who defeated the C's 94-89 on Monday.
The fact that it was a back-to-back game certainly played a role in the loss. Boston has a paltry 6-7 record in the second of back-to-back games this season.
But Ray Allen sees the problem being much broader than simply placing the blame on the scheduling gods.
He sees a Celtics team that, at times, relies more on its name than its game to be successful.
"In our locker room, we always have to remember that we're not superior to any team because we're the Celtics or because we think we're good or we have All-Stars on our team or whatever the case may be," Allen said. "What makes us better is because . . . we've proven what we have done. Anything going forward, we have to prove that."
Against elite teams, that hasn't been an issue.
When you look at the top four teams in the NBA outside of Boston, the C's are 4-2.
In fact, the only team among those four (San Antonio, Miami, Dallas and the Lakers) to beat the C's this season are the Mavericks, who swept the season series with a 101-97 win at Boston on Feb. 4.
It's not that surprising the Celtics have fared so well against the top teams in the league this season.
Because their focus is all about Banner 18.
To achieve that, they know they'll most likely have to go through one of those teams.
Those games tend to bring out the very best in the Celtics, which is usually more than enough to beat most teams.
Bringing that same level of focus and attention to detail against lesser foes like the Bobcats has been a season-long struggle for the C's.
Celtic players are quick to dismiss the notion that the rash of never-ending injuries may be catching up to the team.
"We still have five guys on the court at one time," said Rajon Rondo. "It's as simple as that."
But with all the injuries, you're finding it less and less likely that the five on the floor are Boston's best five.
The C's are 51 games into the season, and have yet to play a single game with the rotation that you will likely see in the playoffs.
At this point, the earliest that will happen is when Marquis Daniels (bruised spinal cord) returns, which won't be until late March or early April.
"I don't worry about that stuff," said coach Doc Rivers. "I don't care if we have six guys. The fans are still going to come, the other team will play and we're supposed to win the game. We're not going to use that as an excuse."
Kevin Garnett echoed similar sentiments.
"It is what it is," Garnett said. "This is part of the league. Everybody is dealing with injuries, and we're no different. 'Quis is probably a lot more hard on us right now, just because it was so sudden. We're just hoping he's all right. Everybody in here has to carry a load; if not, pick up a little more and go forward. That's where we're at."
Picking up that load in part means coming to play at a high level, regardless of the opponent.
That'll be easy on Thursday.
It's the Lakers.
Ray Allen needs two 3-pointers to become the NBA's all-time leader in made 3s.
It's a nationally televised game.
And it's the Lakers!
Still, those factors won't be enough for the C's to sweep the season series for the first time since 2007-08, a season that ended with the hanging of Banner 17.
But Allen isn't thinking about past success, not now.
"Anything going forward, we have to prove that," Allen said. "We can't rely on what has already happened. Too many times we've done that, especially in the losses we've had."