By A. Sherrod Blakely
PORTLAND, Ore. There's very little to complain about when you look at the Boston Celtics' season thus far.
They have the best record (34-10) in the Eastern Conference, doing it with a lineup that has the predictability of a roulette wheel.
Boston literally has no idea, from one day to the next, who will play or who will have to sit because of injuries.
However, there is one area where the Celtics up to this point, aren't nearly as good as they were a year ago.
Winning on the road.
Boston's 12-7 road record isn't bad, by any means. In fact, their .631 winning percentage is almost equal to last year's .634 (26-15), when they had the second-best road record in the league.
The biggest difference can be seen in how the Celtics handled struggling teams away from the Garden.
Of Boston's seven road losses, four (at Cleveland, Toronto, Detroit and Washington) came against teams ranked among the league's worst.
The loss at Cleveland was the Cavaliers' home opener, but even more significant, their first game after LeBron James bolted for the Miami Heat.
Boston's loss at Detroit came on a night when Kevin Garnett went down in the first half with a lower right leg injury that at the time, seemed a lot worst than it turned out to be.
He wound up missing nine games because of a muscle strain in his lower right leg, not too far from the right knee injury that sidelined him for 25 games and the entire playoffs during the 2008-09 season.
Even with those losses, the Celtics still bring a certain confidence, a certain swagger to the floor when they play in other team's building.
"You knew when you had Boston at home, it was going to be a tough night," Wizards forward Rashard Lewis told CSNNE.com.
Lewis, who was recently traded to Washington from Orlando, recalled how the Celtics seemed to always bring great focus whenever they played in Disney's backyard.
"They're one of those teams that's always ready to play, home or on the road," Lewis said. "You're not going to just show up and beat them; you have to play, and play well."
Boston will try to regain that road-game dominance with their first West Coast trip of the season that begins on Thursday at Portland. In addition to the Blazers, Boston will also play Phoenix on Friday, the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday with the trip being capped off with a road game on Tuesday against the Sacramento Kings.
Like most games, the Celtics will come into this road swing less than full strength.
However, the C's got a much-needed jolt of energy with the return of Kendrick Perkins on Tuesday.
Perkins, returning from a torn MCL and PCL injury suffered in Game Six of the NBA Finals, had seven points and six rebounds in limited action as the Celtics easily defeated the woeful Cavaliers, 112-95.
One of the keys to Boston's road success a year ago was that on most nights, they were simply the tougher team mentally.
This often played itself out in the closing moments of games.
When it was time for a big shot to be made, the Celtics usually delivered.
A clutch play defensively?
The C's usually came up with that as well.
And while you often think of Paul Pierce or Ray Allen coming up with the big shot, while Kevin Garnett or Rajon Rondo would make the game-changing steal or rebound, Perkins was often the guy who made the play that didn't appear in the stat sheet but was vital to the Celtics emerging victorious.
Although he's back, coach Doc Rivers said his minutes will be limited.
He played 17 minutes on Tuesday.
"He actually probably played one or two minutes more than we anticipated," Rivers said. "He wanted to stay in. But I think that'll be it for a while, between 16 and 18 minutes."
Aware of this, Perkins tried to do whatever he could to stay on the floor as long as possible, even if it means trying to duck behind other players when Rivers is ready to take him out.
"I think 6-10 and 275 pounds, is too big to try and hide," Perkins said. "I did try to turn my back. I told 'Baby' Glen Davis to raise his hands so Doc could give him a blow, but it's all good."
There's no hiding the return of Perkins can only bolster Boston's chances of regaining the dominance they enjoyed a year ago on the road.
"Perkins is always the guy that has been the hard-hat, lunch bucket worker on the team," said Allen, who needs 21 3's to become the NBA's all-time leader in that category. "Him coming back has a great symbolism to it. We know what we are trying to get back to. We are trying to get this team back to where we are 100 percent."