Clicking on Both Ends, C’s Hope to Close 3.5-Game Gap in East

There has been tremendous parity within the Eastern Conference this season, with only five wins separating the first- and 12th-place teams. At this point, any one of those dozen teams could get hot and jump up the standings, which is exactly what the Boston Celtics are hoping to do.

Boston currently sits in eighth place with a 13-11 record, but it also finds itself only 3.5 games behind the first-place Brooklyn Nets (16-7). The C’s are also playing with upward momentum, having won the third-most games in the East since the start of November. And, both their offensive and defensive numbers are trending in a positive direction.

“It’s something we really don’t talk to the team about, but we see that,” head coach Ime Udoka said of his team's current position in the standings following practice Monday afternoon in Los Angeles. “You win some of those games where you had 19-point leads on Chicago and Cleveland or the bad start against San Antonio or whatever it may be, and you’re right up in the top of the standings.

“My big thing is to stay the course and look at the big picture because we’re not far behind. We have started to hit our stride defensively early and offensively lately, so staying the course, with the early part of the season being an extension of training camp with the new guys being out, new coaching staff, and new terminology - it’s a credit to our guys to keep playing through the things and only be a few games out, we feel we have a lot of room for improvement.”

Boston’s defense began to click a little over a month ago, as it went from the 30th-ranked defense from the start of the season through Nov. 1 to the fourth-ranked defense from Nov. 3 to now.

Meanwhile, its offense has started to gain rhythm over the last nine games, earning the sixth-best defensive rating during that span after being ranked 20th in the league through its first 16 games.

Putting up a combined 275 points in the last two games in Utah and Portland certainly attributed to such a spike.

“It's very satisfying, being able to put points on the board is going to help you win games, especially with our defense the way it is and coming along,” said veteran guard Marcus Smart. “To have our offense catch up with that is something that is a sign of relief and a good feeling for all of us. We're happy, but we are not content with it. We obviously know we still have some work to do, but we are on the right track.”

Though the track won’t get any easier for Boston, which still has three games left on his West Coast road trip, facing the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night, the LA Clippers Wednesday night, and the Phoenix Suns Friday night.

With that being said, the team's confidence is at its highest point of the season, and the players feel as though they can take off up the rankings at any time.

“We’re nowhere near where we want to be with the results of our record, but the fact that we’re only 3.5 games out of first place the way we’ve been playing, that’s encouraging, because at any given moment, we’re going to go on a run, and then things are going to change for us,” said Smart. “So we just gotta continue to play the game the right way, like we've been playing, and just continue to trust one another.”


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