Boston Celtics: A challenging January schedule could test team

Boston Celtics Grant Williams (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Boston Celtics Grant Williams (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Second place in the Eastern Conference currently belongs to the Boston Celtics but a difficult road ahead in January will prove just how good this team is.

By the end of January, the NBA season will have stretched over the halfway point. And for the Boston Celtics, they will have completed one of their most difficult months on the schedule.

And with a team that is getting healthy and rounding into form, we should get to see what the Celtics are truly made of.

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The difficulty lies in not necessarily playing the most dominant teams of 2019-20. Sixteen games await Boston in January — basically a game every other day — four of which are against teams with winning records.

The challenge lies in the frequency of games, including three sets of back-to-back nights of games.  All three of the second-night games are on the road, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks part of that set.

Philadelphia is currently in a three-game skid but already owns two victories over the Celtics this season. They opened the season with a 14-point victory in Philadelphia and defeated the Celtics by six in Boston in December.

The Celtics have won the only matchup with the Bucks this season, an 11-point victory in Boston.

A home game against the Los Angeles Lakers and a road game with Miami are the only other two opponents with winning records at the moment.

These back-to-back nights of games take place in the first half of January. The overall task of the month looks daunting, but the Celtics have nine home games, where they are 13-2. As long as they take care of business against the likes of Atlanta, Chicago, and New Orleans — to name a few — the Celtics should come out of January just fine.

Depth and a healthy lineup

Even as the Boston Celtics continue to play well, it’s been a rare occasion that we’ve seen this team in full force. Gordon Hayward missed a chunk of time and, when he finally returned, Marcus Smart was out with an eye infection.

Even as Smart came back against Charlotte, Jaylen Brown missed the game due to an illness.

Brown had quite the December, averaging 22.9 points per game while shooting 55.9 percent from the field. He also connected on 44 percent from three-point range and had two of the finest games of his career.

Brown went for 30 on Christmas Day against the Raptors and followed that up two days later by scoring 34.

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Brown (20.6 ppg), Kemba Walker (22.5 ppg) and Jayson Tatum (21.3 ppg) are all averaging more than 20 points per game on the season, with Hayward contributing 16.5

As January starts, it appears this team will be close to full strength. Robert Williams is still out with a left hip injury and Vincent Poirier has a fractured finger, but the rest of the team seems to be on track.

The injuries have given more minutes to bench players and their play has been encouraging in creating depth on the Celtics roster.

Enes Kanter is contributing more and more, averaging 12.2 points and 10 rebounds in his last four games. He had his best game of the season at Charlotte, scoring 13 points, collecting 14 rebounds, and blocking six shots.

Grant Williams also had a two-game stretch right before Christmas, scoring 30 points on 13-16 shooting in 52 minutes. His minutes have shrunk with the return of Hayward, but the rookie has proven his worth.

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The test of January may not in beating the best teams — yet — but in powering through the busy month of games. Depth and fresh legs should get them through this tough stretch and, if they do, giving all the more hope that this team is ready for the big time.