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December: The Month Ahead

 

The Celtics kick off a busy month tonight against the Portland Trailblazers. The C’s have 14 games on the slate (7 home, 7 away), including the big Christmas Day matchup with the Orlando Magic and a New Year’s Eve date with the surprisingly alluring New Orleans Hornets.

December is going to be an excellent litmus test for the Celtics’ ongoing efforts to stay focused against mid and low-level teams. There are Sunday afternoon games against both New Jersey and Indiana and four back-to-backs this month, if you count tonight’s Blazer game. The other second-night games are against the Sixers, the Hawks, and the Pistons, all very winnable, but until we are comfortable with the Celtics’ focus, all also very losable.

Here’s a look at the full December schedule:

I thought we’d track where the Celtics sit on some key metrics, make some predictions for the month and then check back at the end and see how they (and we) did. The best place to do that is after the jump.

As of this morning, the Celtics (13-4, tied for first in the Eastern Conference) are:

  • 9th in the league in offensive efficiency (106.6 points/100 possessions)
  • 1st in the league in defensive efficiency (98.0 points/100 possessions)
  • 1st in the league in effective field goal percentage (53.7%)
  • 1st in the league in true shooting percentage (57.1%)
  • 1st in the league in assist ratio (18.4)
  • 9th in the league in defensive rebound rate (75.8)
  • 29th in the league in offensive rebound rate (21.8)
  • 14th in the league (tied) in overall rebound rate (50.1)
  • 22nd in the league in pace (93.0)
  • 23rd in the league in turnover rate (24.6)

I’m not going to get into any analysis of the figures above in this post (there is, of course, plenty of that on the horizon). Instead, let’s make a few predictions, all of which are probably a good way for me to look stupid a month from now.

Safe Prediction: As we all know, there can only be one. So, I proclaim that by the end of December, the Celtics will be the clear favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. The Magic and the Celtics have identical records right now, but the general feeling about the Magic seems to be they need an upgrade to seriously challenge the Celtics in the post-season (or a rash of Boston injuries). They lack a go-to off-the-dribble scorer (Vince Carter and the calcifying Rashard Lewis do not count) and in the ‘pluck-is-not-enough’ category, Jameer Nelson, for all his periodic excellence, seems ripe for an upgrade (Steve Nash would be interesting but does anyone think Robert Sarver and Co. will be smart enough to offload him while he still has value?).

Miami is not in the conversation at this point, at least not without a lot of assumptions about synergy and teamwork and ego-burying I’m not willing to make. Dark horse Chicago remains just that – at least until we see them play a rash of games with Carlos Boozer.

Bold Prediction: Shaquille O’Neal will seize the starting center role from Kendrick Perkins. The C’s improving offense has come in no small part as a result of Shaq’s effectiveness (3rd in the league in PER amongst centers at 21.87, only an 11.4 turnover ratio) and the way he maximizes the offensive talents of those around him in the starting lineup. None of the starting five can be left alone, unlike when the C’s are playing with Perk, who is both a turnover machine and eminently guardable. We’re going to debate this in greater detail in the near future.

Ridiculous Prediction: The real reason for Jermaine O’Neal’s extended absence from the lineup will be revealed when JO steps back onto the floor on Christmas Day with two new state-of-the-art bionic knees. O’Neal will promptly drop 22 points and 21 rebounds in the first quarter, block all of Dwight Howard’s shots, and sign a 6-year, $120M extension during a timeout.

Midway through the second quarter, O’Neal will head to the scorer’s table to check back in, only to have the hydraulics in his knees freeze up, leaving him face-down on the floor and immobile. Post-game, Doc Rivers will take it all in stride, commenting, “It’s experimental technology. Things happen. We’re gonna stick him back in the repair shop until the playoffs. The important thing is we have him around for another six years.”

Predicted December Record: 11-3.

(Note – it’s a busy day here at CelticsHub – Hayes is on deck with a Blazers game preview and we’ve already got a great piece from Brendan on Glen Davis’ big night against Cleveland and a link to Paul Flannery’s superb new essay on Bill Russell. Don’t miss ‘em).

  • What More Can I Say?

    I'm good with safe prediction, I disagree with the bold prediction, and I laughed at the ridiculous prediction. All in all…good stuff.

    Personally…I can't wait for the December 29th game. KG vs. the cancer patient. LOL. I really enjoy watching Tay Prince too. If Boston could some how get their hands on this guy? DYNASTY.

    It 's just a dream.

    • philip

      RE: Tayshaun Prince

      This has to be the only time anyone has ever thought that adding Tay Prince would equal a dynasty for the Cs (hopefully the last time, too). Acquiring a 30-year old (31 in feb) who was under-rated for the first 4 years of his career and over-rated the next 4 years does not a dynasty make.

  • JAW

    Shouldn't the Celtics get their 20/25 minutes of Shaq at the beginning of every quarter? He still draws tons of fouls, so why not get into the bonus quickly and then let him rest at the end of quarters?

    • What More Can I Say?

      From what I noticed…that is how they play him.

      • JP-

        I think they have to ease Perk back, he won't be all the way back until next year anyway, like KG was. Hopefully he has been improving his hand-to-eye coordination while rehabbing the knee, because it is clear how much of a different a Big with good hands is compared to Perk. Shaq should keep starting, but play the same minutes, because of what he does with the starters on offense. Although Shaq could help the bench too, if they needed scoring. Maybe a bench line-up of Shaq, Baby, Marquis, Nate, and Rondo would be good on offense?

        • zebulon

          The only problem with that unit is the lack of shooting – Shaq, Rondo, and Quisy all can't shoot, which would ruin our spacing (in the half court).

  • Devin_in_Maine

    I think if you're the Cs you put the best lineup on the floor to start each game regardless of who it is. When Perk comes back – he may talk about how its HIS starting job – but he has to prove it on the practice court. If Perk demonstrates to Doc that he is more valuable on the floor than Shaq, he'll start. Until he does, don't mess with a good thing.

  • KBA

    what would be amazing if Perk could pick up some of the offensive tricks from Shaq, which would be very valuable for years to come. he's already a terrific defender and if he can become a better offensive player, it's over. Perk and Rondo could be the faces of the franchise. wing guys are easier to find, good pg and centers are really hard!
    for now, perk, jo, shaq, anyone starting is fine. it's awesome to have 3 great choices like that. the best player plays… lets go c's!

  • Silky

    I'm glad you posted this, because there's really not a question that Shaq is going to stay in the starting lineup. Perk is a hard worker, and maximizes the talent he has, but the C's are 1000 percent better offensively with Shaq on the floor with the starters (even an "old as dirt" Shaq).

    And I write that as someone who thought Shaq was done two years ago! (Yes, I'm still eating leftover crow from my Thanksgiving dinner)

    The question is; Will Perk's ego cause him to become a distraction?

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