By A.Sherrod Blakely
SACRAMENTO, Calif. The Boston Celtics' first foray out West is now in the books.
Too many travel delays to mention.
And now, one goal remains: Finish out the remaining games before the All-star break playing well.
Sounds easy, huh?
Not when you look at the teams still remaining on the Celtics' schedule between now and the break.
Up first will be the Dallas Mavericks on Friday.
Less than 48 hours later, the C's will host conference rival Orlando.
In addition, the Celtics will see two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Miami Heat.
"It gets tougher, but at least we're home," said coach Doc Rivers.
Rivers pointed out that the two days off before playing the Mavericks will help his club.
However, the Celtics were unable to depart for Boston Tuesday night because of weather conditions.
They ultimately wound up staying in Sacramento an additional night, and were able to return to Boston Wednesday evening.
"The two-day break is really nice, even though we're not really going to get it," Rivers said. "Dallas and then Orlando . . . it just gets tough. That's fine."
Especially for a Celtics team that has played a rise-to-the-occasion brand of basketball all season.
Against the top teams record-wise in the Eastern (Miami, Chicago, Atlanta and Orlando) and the Western Conferences (San Antonio, the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas), the C's are an impressive 9-3.
While the victories certainly speak to how well they have fared against the elite, Celtics players are quick to remind you that their goal is much bigger than beating good teams in the regular season.
"At the end of the day, we always say it's about us; it's about getting better whether we win or lose," said Paul Pierce. "At the end of the day, we're playing for a championship, not against certain opponents."
However, it's hard to pretend that beating elite teams doesn't have significance that extends beyond a mere victory.
Lakers center Andrew Bynum discussed this very point following the Lakers' 109-96 loss to the Celtics, as Boston became the latest elite team to beat the two-time defending NBA champions.
"It's going to give them Celtics momentum for later in the postseason, but it's not something that we can't correct," Bynum said.
As for the Celtics, their success against upper-echelon teams only reinforces the notion that when the playoffs roll around, the Celtics are going to be one of the toughest teams to send home for the season.
And if there was any doubt about that, look no further than the success that they have had against the top teams who, like the C's, also have visions of making a deep playoff run.
"You always want to put a little doubt in their heads, because you may see them in the playoffs," Spurs forward Antonio McDyess told CSNNE.com. "That's why every game, good or bad team, is important. But when you do play good teams, you usually go a little harder at them because if you don't, you get embarrassed."
With the Celtics, they have shown no shame -- or mercy -- to the better teams like the Spurs, who the C's beat 105-103 on Jan. 5.
And they're getting it done with a roster that has yet to be full strength all season.
"We're scrambling; we're finding ways to win," said Kevin Garnett. "If you can do that . . . we start to get some of our guys back and then you start to see who we really are."