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Celtics’ Schedule Presents Obstacles for Veteran Team: Fan Take
On December 6, the NBA announced its schedule for the 2011-12 season slated to open on December 25. The Boston Celtics and each of the league's 29 other teams are tasked with an unsurprisingly difficult schedule, squeezing 66 games into a time frame normally fit for 50 to 55. Out of Boston's 66 games, 19 come on the second or third night of consecutive games. While that's a challenge for any team, the veteran Celtics and their currently thin roster face a brutal uphill battle in what could be their last chance at success before rebuilding.
Paul Pierce(notes), Kevin Garnett(notes) and Ray Allen(notes) carry with them the the combined wear and tear of 44 seasons and 3,261 games. They represent half of the currently signed roster along with Rajon Rondo(notes), Jermaine O'Neal(notes) and Avery Bradley(notes). The Celtics also hold the rights to Purdue draft picks JaJuan Johnson(notes) and E'Twaun Moore(notes). If they bring back one or both of restricted free agents Jeff Green(notes) and Glen Davis(notes), the new collective bargaining agreement limits their ability to use the mid-level exception to add free agent talent. The result is a shallow roster that requires some creative work from Danny Ainge to remain competitive for the duration of the condensed season and playoffs.
Highlights of Boston's grueling schedule include an extended eight-game road trip from March 11 to 23 that stretches from Los Angeles and Sacramento to Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Celtics start the trip with five games in seven nights, the last of which comes against the Denver Nuggets. Playing in Denver is a unique challenge for any team, but the Celtics' troubles have been amplified to the tune of six losses in their last seven games at the Pepsi Center. The trip will see the Celtics rack up plenty of frequent flier miles as they play in each of the four continental time zones in virtually all corners of the country.
Youth and depth are the best bets to reign in 2011-12 just as they did following the 1999 lockout, the 50-game predecessor to this year's shortened season. In the 1999 sprint, the San Antonio Spurs won their first championship on the back of superstar sophomore Tim Duncan(notes). The New York Knicks found their stride to the finals after Patrick Ewing went down; third-year center Marcus Camby(notes) stepped up in his place and the Knicks moved to a perimeter-oriented game to become the league's first eight seed to reach the championship series.
1999's veteran teams struggled to keep up with less experienced, deeper rosters. After reaching back-to-back NBA Finals, the John Stockton and Karl Malone Utah Jazz fell to a deep Portland Trail Blazers squad in the second round. The Orlando Magic, whose core had spent most of the decade together, tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference, but got bounced in the first round by 23-year-old Allen Iverson's(notes) Philadelphia 76ers.
The landscape doesn't look pretty for the 2011-12 Celtics, but they do have a few things going for them. The core players for the Celtics are healthy, well-rested and familiar with each other. Only the sparsely used 21-year old Bradley signed overseas during the lockout and barring a major trade, the existing players only need to worry about developing chemistry with a handful of free agent role players.
2011-12 Regular Season Schedule, Celtics.com
1998-99 NBA Season Summary, Basketball-Reference.com
Liam Martin, "Celtics Need Plan to Navigate New Collective Bargaining Agreement," November 28, 2011, NESN.com
William Menna is a native New Englander and longtime Boston sports fan.
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