With the NBA season approaching the half-way mark, Celtic fans have been squirming as a team that once rashly promised to win 72 games has now been treading water for several weeks (5-8 since Christmas Day, when they stood an impressive 23-5).
This Friday in Atlanta has become a surprising test -- the Celtics need a win to avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of the Hawks. Although the Cs can point to absence of C Kevin Garnett as a big reason why the defense has been shaky recently, in reality, the Celts' swoon started even before Garnett went down.
Another team that has been slumping lately has been the Lakers. The defending champs looked great early, reaching a high-water record of 28-6 before slipping and losing 5 of their last 10.
But while the Celtics can point to Garnett's legs, the Lakers have a more troubling problem: going on the road. (In fairness, Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum are both "day-to-day". But then again, aren't we all, Mr. Costello?)
The Lakers have played the fewest road games in the NBA, save only the SA Spurs. (Actually, both the Spurs and Lakers have played 17 'true' road games, as the Lakers played the Clippers (as a visitor) once this season so far.) And in addition to playing few road games, the LAL have won very few as well -- just 10-8 so far.
The Lakers are at the White House this afternoon, being feted by POTUS for their championship last spring. But with five more road games on their current East Coast trip -- and coming off a statement loss in Cleveland on Thursday night, Sunday's game in the new Boston Garden will take on significance for both teams: the Lakers to prove that they can beat elite teams on the road.
The Celtics just have to show that they are still worthy -- or healthy enough -- for the 'elite' label.