Celtic Doubters Expect them to Stumble Out West


They're not deaf. The Celtics know what's being said about them in some of the more cynical corners of the NBA.

They haven't played anybody yet. They haven't gone west.

Well, that line of chatter ends tonight, when the team with the best record in the league (22-3) opens its first western road swing of the season in Sacramento.

The Celtics will play the Kings, Seattle SuperSonics, Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers during the next five days. With the exception of Utah, it's not the toughest competition the Western Conference has to offer, but this has been a painful process for the Celts in recent years.

Last season's Christmas week trip, for instance, featured losses to the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Sonics before the Celtics managed their lone win in Portland.

On their next swing, in February, the Celts were 1-4, followed by a 1-2 trip in March, though that win was notable because it was their first in San Antonio in 15 years.

Tonight's game also is notable. The Celts haven't won in Sacramento since Feb. 16, 1996. Thanks to last season's win in San Antonio, ARCO Arena now is the site of the C's longest road drought.

It's perhaps the one situation new Celtics players like Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen identify with. But it's one that holdovers like Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins aren't going to forget anytime soon.

Neither player ever has won at ARCO.

``It's a different team now,'' Perkins said with a laugh. ``I don't think anyone is making a big deal out of this. Everyone is just focused on what we have to do.''

History says otherwise.

So do some of the Celtics' opponents.

At the time of their loss to the Celtics on Sunday night, the Magic already had played 10 games out west, albeit with remarkable success. Curiously enough, Orlando (18-11) has suffered some of its toughest losses at home.

``It's a credit to them, certainly, even with all of the talent they have to get off to this great start,'' Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``Their challenge will be when they get out on the road. We've already played 10 Western Conference road games, and they haven't played any.''

But seriously, now.

Does anyone believe that this team, which seems to take on more of a Belichickian attitude with each week, is going to admit the first trip west is a big deal?

``I look at Sacramento on the 26th as being a challenge because we won't have a practice for it, but I don't look at the trip in big terms like everyone else does,'' coach Doc Rivers said. ``I hope our players don't either.''

They don't.

``It doesn't make much of a difference, in my opinion,'' said Perkins, echoing the view of teammate James Posey.

``I'm not that curious about what this is going to be like,'' Posey said. ``If we stay focused, then that's all we need. Every game is going to be tough. The only difference is that we get the backing at home. The only difference is that after a game, you don't have the comfort of going back to your own home and your own bed.''

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