HOUSTON – The sun was just starting to call it a day as darker shadows along the Houston skyline began to set in Friday evening, as Celtics players made their way towards the Toyota Center.
The players and Celtics assistant coaches exchanged a few pleasantries with the NBC Sports Boston reporters before entering the arena, but let’s be clear.
Their focus at this moment isn’t all that different than their focus this season which has been to find ways to steadily improve their game so that when it’s game time, they would be prepared to do what matters most – find a way to win.
That approach should serve them well heading into tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets (48-13) who currently have a share of the best record in the NBA with Golden State (49-14) courtesy of their current winning streak which now stands at 14 in a row.
While the winning streak has drawn added attention to the Rockets and their quest to dethrone Golden State as the team to beat in the West, Houston star Chris Paul said the streak is something that he and his teammates don’t talk about.
“For us it’s all about the next game and preparing,” Paul said. “We don’t talk about the streak or anything like that. Even after watching film … we’re just thinking about practice now and getting ready for the game.”
And while the wins have steadily piled up, Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni said it’s still easy to find areas the Rockets can improve upon.
“We still got some … Golden State has set a pretty high bar for the rest of the league,” D’Antoni said. “We still have to get better defensively. We still have to get the rotations down a little bit better. But things are obviously going pretty good.”
Their current winning streak of 14 in a row, is the second time this season they have won 14 straight games – the only team in the league to do so this year.
To beat Houston for a second time this season, it will take the Celtics delivering an effort akin to what we saw in the second half of their first matchup this season on Dec. 28, a game in which Boston trailed by 26 points early in the third quarter before rallying for a 99-98 win capped off with a pair of late-game charges drawn by Marcus Smart against James Harden.
Both sides have tried to move on from the epic Celtics comeback, preferring to instead focus on the key factors in tonight’s matchup.
And for Boston, it means continuing to play with a high sense of urgency.
“Right now it's crunch time,” said Boston’s Aron Baynes. “You know we got to get better every single time we step on to the court. There's not many days left so every team's stepping up … every team's trying to lock in and get better. This is when time really counts and we're trying to get ready for playoffs and we want to make a long run, so we know every time we step on to the court we got to get better as a group.”