Celtics face tough homecoming stretch

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Celtics face tough homecoming stretch

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

SACRAMENTO, Calif. The Boston Celtics' first foray out West is now in the books.

Four games.

Three wins.

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."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Highlights: Boston Celtics 112, Miami Heat 108

Highlights: Boston Celtics 112, Miami Heat 108

Highlights as the Boston Celtics are able to hold off the Miami Heat and get the win 112-108 at the TD Garden.

Win vs. Heat puts Celtics in virtual tie with Cavs for first place in East

Win vs. Heat puts Celtics in virtual tie with Cavs for first place in East

BOSTON -- Location, location, location.

The Boston Celtics are seemingly where they want to be following their 112-108 win Sunday night over Miami, a victory that put the Celtics (48-26, .649 winning percentage) in a virtual tie with defending NBA champ Cleveland (47-25, .652).

But position means very little without purposeful play, something the Celtics are gradually doing more of than not.

And because of that, they find themselves one strong finish to the season away from going into the playoffs with the top overall record in the East for the first time since 2008 -- the year they brought home Banner 17.

While few anticipate the Celtics will advance to the NBA Finals, they have at least positioned themselves to have a shot at making a good run during the postseason if they can secure home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The last time the top overall top seed in the East failed to make it past the first round was in 2012 when the Chicago Bulls were eliminated by the eighth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, a series that was marred by injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah that created a much smoother pathway for the upstart Sixers to move on to the second round where they were defeated by Boston in seven games.

And while the players have tried to downplay the significance of landing the top seed in the East, there’s no question it’s something that they know all too well is within their reach.

Cleveland has a much tougher schedule to close out the season, one that includes a Monday night matchup at San Antonio against a Spurs team that’s fighting for the top spot out West.

The Celtics players have talked often about wanting to be in the best position possible going into the playoffs.

Having the top seed?

Yup.

That’ll do it.

And while Celtics players were aware of where the team was in relation to Cleveland, being tied for the top spot with the Cavs isn’t something that Boston is getting too giddy about right now.

“We hear it, but that wasn’t our focus [against Miami],” said Marcus Smart. “Our focus was to come in, get another game, keep that momentum going before we start the playoffs.”

Coach Brad Stevens said not a word was spoken in the locker room after Sunday’s win about the team now being in a virtual tie with the Cavs.

“I think -- I talked about this earlier --obviously the guys, because they get . . . most of them. to be honest, because they’re asked so much, some of them obviously have already said they watch it pretty closely,” Stevens said. “But I’ve tried to say, ‘Hey, it’s about playing as well as we can . . . ' ”

That and location, location, location.