Celtics

Celtics

BOSTON -- After defeating the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday, the Celtics immediately flew back to Boston so that the players and coaches could usher in the new year with family and friends. 

It was a fitting end to 2019 as the Celtics open up 2020 with what looks to be an eye-opening run of games with very little downtime in between. 

Indeed, the Celtics will be crisscrossing the country more than usual in January, playing a season-high 16 games this month that while logging more than 9,000 miles of air travel along the way. 

And while nine of those games are at the TD Garden, five come immediately after being on the road, which, players will tell you for their bodies at least, makes those games similar to playing on the road even though they'll be in the friendly confines of the Garden. 

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Because of the road-heavy slate of games coming up, coach Brad Stevens knows an element of creativity is a must for his team to stay as fresh as possible. 

There will be only a handful of opportunities to practice this month, opportunities in which Stevens will look to get as much accomplished in as little time as possible knowing the importance of limiting the wear and tear on his players beyond what they’ll endure in games. 

In addition, the Celtics have to be even more on guard for slippage knowing there won’t be much time to address areas in need of improvement.

“It could be offensive execution, transition [defense], it could be defensive techniques, it’s all the tactical things that you have to work on, in hotel ballrooms and walk-throughs and do so without going full speed,” Stevens said. “You can see slippage in a number of areas when you don’t get to really hone in on things.”

 

Stevens added, “We’re not going to have very many practices in the next month and a half,” Stevens said.

The biggest concern is on defense and it's an area in which the Celtics haven’t been nearly as good as they were prior to Marcus Smart’s eye infection which kept him out for eight games. 

Prior to Smart's absence, the Celtics had the fourth-best defense in the NBA. 

In the eight-game stint without Smart, Boston’s defensive rating slipped to 10th in that span. 

Boston is third in the NBA with a defensive rating of 104.0. 

Smart, in the starting lineup for the win at Charlotte on New Year’s Eve because Jaylen Brown was under the weather, was a key factor in Boston’s defensive rating for that game being 94.8.

Sill, as we’ve seen all season, the Celtics have shown an ability to get back on track quickly when things seem to start careening off course. 

And this month more than any other, will challenge them along those lines. 

“We’ve been dealing with some kind of adversity all season,” Gordon Hayward told NBC Sports Boston. “There are ups and downs with any season. So far, we’ve done a good job of handling all of that, finding ways to give ourselves a chance to compete and win games. That’s the sign of a really good team. We just have to keep it going.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Hawks, which tips off Friday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike and Tommy have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.