The NBA’s trading deadline is Feb. 18, so that means the struggling Boston Celtics have a little more than a week to figure out a way to save their season. Don’t get me wrong, Boston will get a No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference and likely win a playoff series even if the C’s do nothing before Feb. 18, but that’s about the best they can hope for if they stand pat.
The Celtics were on a modest three-game winning streak before they were beaten at home 96-89 by the Magic on Sunday. Orlando was down 11 at the half but outscored Boston 36-11 in the third quarter. That loss could prove crucial because it gave Orlando the head-to-head tiebreaker for that extra home game in a potential East semifinal playoff matchup.
Boston is now 3-9 against the teams with the top eight records in the NBA this season (one win each against Cleveland, Orlando and Utah), including 1-7 against the Magic and Hawks, two likely second-round playoff opponents. And Boston still has to play the Cavs three more times.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers lit into his team after Sunday’s loss.
“One of the guys said, ‘We’re better than Orlando.’ And I said, ‘No you’re not. That’s a bunch of crap. They beat you three games. Two at your place. They’re better. They knocked you out of the playoffs last year. Orlando’s better than us right now. Atlanta’s better than us right now. LA’s better than us right now. Those are the teams that have beaten us. That doesn’t mean that we can’t be better than them at some point. But right now, those teams are better than us.”
Boston really had no excuses Sunday, as Paul Pierce was back after missing two games with an injury and key reserve Marquis Daniels also played after missing 29 games after thumb surgery. It was the first time all regular season that the full rotation was good to go.
The New England media is now speculating that Boston’s Big 3 of Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett may not be seen together again on the TD Garden’s parquet floor because the C’s don’t play another home game until Feb. 23 – five days after the trade deadline.
Allen has been the one rumored to go, mainly because he has an expiring $19.7 million contract that would be valuable to other teams (trade for Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich being the main rumor). Pierce is still one of the better players in the NBA, while Garnett is probably untradeable now because of his recent injury past and the fact he’s under contract through 2011-12. And frankly, it has been Garnett’s regression (no doubt due to his knee problems) that has knocked Boston from the ranks of true NBA title contenders.
Boston already has nine home losses, the most since Allen and Garnett joined Pierce on the team. In fact Boston is a ridiculous 6-17-1 AST at home. Overall, the C’s are just 9-12 in their last 21 games, covering just twice in the past 10. And now they have to go on a five-game trip where Boston probably will be lucky to win twice (at New Orleans, Sacramento, L.A. Lakers, Portland, Denver). The trade deadline is the day of that Laker game – if Boston has made a move that might actually be a preview of the NBA Finals. If not, the Celtics championship window might be closed for good with this aging group.