WALTHAM When you've won as much as the Boston Celtics have in recent years, you should be considered among the NBA's elite.
But with that comes the reality that you'll get your opponent's best punch every night. And that leads to the problem in Boston: The C's are getting smacked around pretty good, and are doing little to fight back.
That raises the question that few around here want to think about . . . are the Celtics still worthy of being considered an elite team?
"I think we are," said coach Doc Rivers. "Obviously, we're 4-5 now. Our record says we're not."
Their record and, to an even larger extent, their play.
While Rivers acknowledged he was encouraged by what he saw after reviewing the video of Wednesday's loss to the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, that doesn't change the fact that the Celtics have a number of areas that desperately need improving.
Rebounding has never been a strength of the C's under Rivers, and this season is no different.
Boston ranks 29th (out of 30 teams) in rebounds per game, and only five teams are getting out-rebounded by more boards per game than the Celtics.
"I don't know what to tell you," C's big man Chris Wilcox told CSNNE.com. "We're out there playing hard. Things aren't going our way right now."
Opponents are also doing a better job getting to loose balls, evident by Boston being outscored 131-71 in second-chance points this season.
But as Rivers told one reporter -- this one, actually -- "I'm just going to warn you, it's nine games. Don't jump off the bridge yet, OK?"
It's way too early to write this season off as a lost cause, especially when one good week of basketball can take you from the middle of the pack to pack leader because of the compressed schedule.
Win or lose, Rivers said he would still be worried about his team moving forward.
"A coach is always worried about his team," Rivers said. "That's my job; concerned, worried. That's what I should be. If we were 10-0, I'd be concerned that we're getting overconfident."
Still, it's clear that regardless of how the C's have struggled, the belief that they are still among the league's best remains strong as ever.
"There's no concern that we can't turn it around," said Ray Allen. "We've been here before. We've been in tough situations. That's what makes us champions. The fact that when our backs are against the wall and the results not in our favor, we know where we need to go to get this thing rolling. Everybody feels the same way. We have a group of guys, in the shower, in the training room, just trying to talk about little things."
Among those topics of conversations is beating a team that's actually decent.
Boston's four wins have come against Detroit, Washington (twice) and New Jersey, which have a combined 5-26 record. The five losses came to New York, Miami, New Orleans, Indiana and Dallas. Those five teams have a combined record of 30-22.
The losses only add fuel to the fire that the Celtics are a team past its prime, not one primed to make a deep playoff run.
"We haven't really beaten anybody yet," Rivers said. "So we have to do that eventually if we're going to be an elite team."