SACRAMENTO - In a season with very few certainties, Celtics coach Doc Rivers knew he could count on two things in the upcoming weeks.
he predicted Boston would find itself on a roll. In late November games
against Miami and Orlando, he sensed the team coming together, playing
with better effort and improved execution. And indeed the Celtics
are on a three-game winning streak.Second, he saw a five-game West
Coast swing looming as one of the toughest challenges on the schedule.
The Green arrived in Sacramento yesterday, ready to start their longest
trip (nine days) of the season.
Rivers called the tour "a necessary evil," and he was not referring to the Celtics'
stay in California's maddeningly quiet capital city. He was talking
about the challenges all Eastern Conference teams face against bigger,
stronger, more heralded Western Conference teams. A five-game stretch
against the Kings, Warriors, Trail Blazers, Sonics, and Clippers could
kill the momentum the Celtics have built.
do think most teams go out there with defeatist attitudes," said
Rivers. "In my first year [as a coach], I told my team I wanted to sweep
the West. We weren't going to sweep the West, but it was a better
attitude than, 'Let's get a split.' I hate that. We went out and won one
game, but still I thought our guys were trying to win them all.
the attitude we're going to have to have. It's not going to be an easy
trip. I know that going out, but that doesn't mean we should think any
negative thoughts going out there."
To maintain such a positive attitude, the Celtics
would do well not to think about past trips. When they have ventured
beyond the Rockies in recent years, they have met with major stumbling
blocks. Look no further than last season: Boston finished its big trip
west 0-4, part of a seven-game game losing streak.
For better or worse, the Celtics
are on the West Coast earlier than usual. Traditionally, Boston's
biggest trip falls in mid-February, coinciding with school vacation and
the arrival of the Ice Capades (or similar theatrics) at the
FleetCenter. This year, they will return to the West at the end of
February for four games. In other words, the biggest trip doesn't come
as Boston tries to build momentum for a playoff push. Instead, it takes
place as the Celtics try to figure out who they are and how to play with consistency.
going to be OK," said Gary Payton, who has spent most of his career
with Western Conference teams, feasting on the East. "It's going to be
one of those things where we're going to have to go out there and be
focused. We've got a lot of good teams that we're going to play, and
we've just got to go out and play hard.
is going to be hard. Golden State plays well at home. Portland, Seattle
- I think Seattle is the best team in the NBA right now. Then the
Clippers, and they're playing very well.
"Hopefully, we can win three or four of them. If we get three of them, we'll be fine."
may be no good time to visit Arco Arena. After a shaky start, the Kings
have won 10 of their last 11 games. On paper, the easiest opponent
should be the Warriors, the lone sub-.500 team on the slate. But the Celtics
will visit The Arena in Oakland on the second night of a back-to-back
set. It doesn't get any easier with Portland or Seattle. The last time
played at The Rose Garden, the Blazers welcomed them with a 22-0
opening run. The Sonics went into last night tied with the Spurs for the
best record in the NBA at 14-3. And the Clippers are currently the best
team in Los Angeles.
can't outrun them," said Payton, when asked the secret to beating
Western Conference competition. "We've got to set them up. We've got to
rebound. We've got to execute. And we've got to keep our focus because
they like to run out in the West. They've got good shooters, so we've
got to be steady on defense."