Grueling stretch awaits Celtics

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Grueling stretch awaits Celtics

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

PHILADELPHIA Five games. Seven days.

Not exactly the schedule you want to see if you're the injury-riddled Boston Celtics, who are riding a two-game losing streak and holding on to the top seed in the East over Chicago by the slimmest of margins.

But if history - you know, like games played last month - is an indicator of future results, the C's are on the verge of a breakthrough.

This is the fourth time the C's have lost back-to-back games this season.

In the previous three instances, the C's reeled off winning streaks of 14, 4 and 3 games.

But there's one big difference between those hot stretches and where the Celtics are currently.

All that success came about prior to the Feb. 24 trading deadline, which is when the C's traded a third of their team while taking back just two players, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic.

Shortly after that, the C's added Troy Murphy (he was bought out and later waived by Golden State), Sasha Pavlovic and Carlos Arroyo, who was waived by the Miami Heat.

With all the new faces, there's a lot of feeling-out, getting-to-know-each stuff happening on the court.

Because of that, no one - including the players - knows how they will handle the team's current struggles.

While the level of uncertainty is certainly high, the same can be said for this team's confidence despite their recent struggles.

And it's not just the core guys who feel strongly about the team's chances of turning things around quickly, either.

"You're going to lose some games over the course of the season that you probably shouldn't," Arroyo told CSNNE.com. "But this is a veteran team. A loss or two every now and then isn't going to make us panic. We know the big picture, and that's to win it all."

How they handle their current two-game losing skid will go a long way towards establishing whether they are in fact as good or better than the pre-trading deadline Celtics squad that had a relatively firm grip on the top spot in the East.

History is certainly on the Celtics' side, but they'll need more than that in order to reverse their losing ways.

At the top of the C's must-improve list certainly has to be their defense.

Boston still ranks among the league's leaders in just about every statistical category, there's no doubt that the defense hasn't been nearly as good since the Feb. 24 trade.

That's not a shock when you consider Kendrick Perkins, one of the league's best interior defenders, was part of the trade with Oklahoma City that sent Perkins and Nate Robinson to the Thunder for Green and Krstic.

"I'm not the one to make excuses, but we're in transformation here," said Kevin Garnett. "It's not an easy thing. Whatever we gotta do, we gotta fix it. I'm sure we will."

Garnett added, "Right now, we're in spurts. Me myself, I have to be more consisten with what I'm doing. We're all figuring it out on the go. But nonetheless, we still gotta get it done."

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

WATCH: Celtics vs. Suns

WATCH: Celtics vs. Suns

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Celtics-Suns preview: Boston focused on Phoenix, not playoff standings

Celtics-Suns preview: Boston focused on Phoenix, not playoff standings

BOSTON – Brad Stevens spent time talking to his team on Thursday about what everyone around them will be talking about between now and the playoffs – catching Cleveland. 

After Boston’s 109-100 win over Indiana and Cleveland’s 126-113 loss at Denver on Wednesday, the Celtics (46-26) are now just one game behind the Cavs (46-24) for the best record in the East. The Celtics hope to continue on their winning ways tonight against Phoenix which is coming off a 126-98 loss at Brooklyn on Thursday night.

As cool as landing that top seed overall in the East would be for the Celtics, Stevens is well aware that it can be a huge distraction that impacts their chances negatively in continuing to play good basketball and rack up wins if there's too much attention paid to it. 

“What we need to focus on is preparing for our next opponent,” Stevens said. “Our focus needs to be on Phoenix, not on anything else.”

The Celtics have already experienced the downside of what can happen if you pay too close attention to playoff positioning. 

Earlier this month, Boston began losing ground as the second-best team in the East to Washington, which eventually moved ahead of Boston briefly during a stretch in which the Celtics lost three of four games. 

“All we did was look at the standings, everyone looking at the standings,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “But we were losing games; we weren’t focused. We came together as a group, and said we can’t worry about where we are. Let’s worry about that when the time is right. Right now, we need to focus on every game and focus on getting better as a team.”

While that may be the Celtics’ collective purpose right now, it's hard to imagine that Boston can completely look past the fact that they can wind up with the best record in the East despite all the injuries, illnesses and stretches of inconsistent play they have had this season.

At least one player – Isaiah Thomas – has no plans of trying to ignore what’s happening around the NBA in regards to other team’s playoff position and how that relates to the Celtics who are focused on finishing with at least one of the top-two seeds in the East. 

“That’s the ultimate goal; get the best seed you possibly can whatever that is,” Thomas said. “We have a chance at number one, we’re a game behind them (Cavaliers). But at the same time, we just have to control what we can and worry about the things we can control and not worry about if Cleveland wins or loses.”

For Boston, the blueprint for success has already been laid out in these final 10 games, most (seven) of which are against teams that are .500 or worst record-wise.

“Just playing the same kind of basketball we played (against Indiana on Wednesday),” said Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. “Just hard on both ends of the floor, play together on both ends of the floor; just Celtics basketball.”

The Celtics might also have some added motivation against the Suns who beat them 109-106 as time expired earlier this season.

With the score tied at 106 with a few ticks left on the game clock, Thomas mishandled the in-bounds pass from Jae Crowder, resulting in the loose ball winding up in the hands of rookie Tyler Ulis who drained a game-winning 3-pointer. 

“It was a tough loss,” Thomas acknowledged. “But I’m the type of guy whether it’s good or bad, I forget about it the next day; I try to if I possibly can. That was a crazy ending, but things happen in the NBA. You just have to move on.”