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In an Underachieving Eastern Conference, Boston May Be Closer to the Top Than the Bottom

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COMMENTARY | By all accounts, this is a rebuilding year for the Boston Celtics.

The absence of All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo was supposed to make it that much easier for Boston to slide toward the bottom of the standings, and likely nab one of the top picks in what is expected to be a very talented 2014 NBA draft. However, to this point in the season, the rest of the Eastern Conference doesn't appear to be cooperating with the plan.

Fellow Atlantic Division rivals, the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are the main culprits thus far, each struggling out of the gate to 3-10 records despite lofty expectations. At 6-10, the Celtics find themselves just 1.5 games back of the Toronto Raptors (6-7) for the division lead, and only half a game behind the Philadelphia 76ers (6-9) for the East's 8th and final playoff spot.

Worth noting is that Boston is also just 2.5 games in front of the Milwaukee Bucks, who at 2-11 are in last place in the conference and have the second-worst record in the NBA overall. It's quite possible the Celtics could trend in that direction as the season goes on and finish among the bottom few teams in the league. But unless Boston starts dumping players for future draft picks and expiring contracts (which I discussed last week), I don't think that's going to happen.

The Celtics have undergone a very difficult schedule so far, taking the court 16 times in 27 days to start season, tied for the most of any NBA team. Boston's opponents to this point also have a combined .531 winning percentage, which ranks 9th out of 30.

The Celtics have played 10 of their first 16 contests on the road as well, one more than any other club in the league. Over that span, Boston has actually put together a very respectable 4-6 record in away games, good for the 13th-best road winning percentage overall.

Aside from the schedule easing up, even more important is the fact that Rajon Rondo is likely to come back in the not too distant future. Rondo is slowly being worked into drills at practice, with a potential return sometime in December. Playing it safe, let's say for the sake of argument Rondo makes his season debut on January 2.

The Celtics have 15 more games before the end of the calendar year, and 11 of them are inside the friendly confines of the TD Garden. Additionally, 9 of those 15 are against teams that currently have losing records. If Boston can manage to go just 7-8 in that stretch, it'll be 13-18 and probably still right on the edge of the playoff race.

Once Rondo is added back into the mix, how far can the Celtics go from there?

Mark Vandeusen has been a Boston Celtics season ticket holder since 2007, and writes daily articles for, one of the largest NBA fan sites on the web. He is also the owner and creator of

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