BOSTON -- For most of this season, the Boston Celtics have been talked about as one of the upper echelon teams in the East along with defending NBA champion Cleveland and the Toronto Raptors.
The Chicago Bulls added ex-Celtic Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade to their roster, which has them talked about in some circles as one of the better teams in the East as well. The New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers get lots of love as well.
But one team that’s flying below the radar that has been solid this season is the Charlotte Hornets, who will invade the TD Garden for a Friday night matchup.
Charlotte (14-12) has a half-game lead over Boston (13-12) for the fifth spot in the East, with both teams coming in with three straight losses.
The Celtics may catch a break tonight with former UConn star Kemba Walker out due to “personal reasons” according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. Walker, who is averaging a career-high 22.6 points this season, is expected to re-join the team for their next game in Atlanta.
His absence comes at a time when Boston’s top scorer Isaiah Thomas (26.0 points, 6.2 assists) is on target to return to the lineup after missing the last four games, three of which the Celtics lost.
For the Celtics, the losing streak itself is difficult to deal with.
But making it even tougher to swallow is that the losses have been fueled in large part by Boston’s struggles defensively which was something they did not anticipate being an issue this season.
Because of those struggles, the Celtics find themselves a team that’s still trying to figure out what its identity will be this season.
“We’re still trying to figure it out,” Boston’s Jae Crowder told reporters recently. “We haven’t gotten there, obviously. And it shows in games like (the San Antonio loss), from top to bottom, we haven’t figured it out.”
And while Stevens and his players admittedly find this stretch of losing tough to deal with, they know this is the time when their resolve as a unit will be put to its greatest test.
Inside the locker room, Crowder said the players have kept things pretty simple.
“We just told each other hang in there,” Crowder said. “We’re going to break the door down soon. We’re going to stay positive as much as possible, and encourage one another.”