With three games in four days, all on the road, against teams from the Western Conference, the Celtics once again have a stretch of games that have been deemed “important.” Most people have concluded by now that the regular season means nothing to the Celtics  and therefore will tell us nothing about how good they actually are.
Maybe so, but the players seem to believe that this trip would be an interesting barometer. They have won seven of their last 10, with most of that coming against teams with losing records. Their next eight games are all against teams from the Western Conference and seven of them have winning records.
With a month to go in the regular season, this is the beginning of the stretch run and if the Celtics were ever going to “turn it on” after tuning out for most of the last two months, now would be a good time.
CELTICS (43-24, 7-3 last 10)
Points Per Game: 98.9
Points Allowed: 94.3
Differential: +4.6 (8th)
Offensive Efficiency: 107.2 (15th)
Defensive Efficiency: 102.3 (1st)
Pace: 91.6 (22nd)
ROCKETS  (35-31, 7-3 last 10)
Points Per Game: 101.9
Points Allowed: 101.5
Differential: .4 (16th)
Offensive Efficiency: 107.3 (14th)
Defensive Efficiency: 107.0 (15th)
Pace: 93.7 (8th)
Injuries: Yao Ming  (Foot surgery)
Key Matchup: Rajon Rondo  vs. Aaron Brooks
Aaron Brooks is quietly putting together and outstanding season. He’s averaging 20 points and five assists per game and he’s raised his 3-point shooting up to 39 percent. Brooks has shot more 3’s this season, and made more of them, than any other player in the NBA. Since the Rockets acquired Kevin Martin  from the Kings, Brooks has taken on an even bigger role in the Rockets offense. In the last 10 games he’s scored 31 points on three occasions and gone over 20 four other times. Rondo and Brooks is as good as it gets for young point guards.
The Celtics in a Paragraph: One of the side benefits of having everyone healthy is that Doc Rivers  can creditably suggest that players can lose their minutes if they don’t do the things he wants. Rivers has publicly dangled Shelden Williams  in front of the other big men, and he also has Tony Allen  ready to go in case one of the wing players begins to get complacent. However this plays out, it would be a mistake to keep Allen tethered to the bench. Allen has actually had a decent season and he remains their best individual defender among the reserves.
The Rockets in a Paragraph: If Houston played in the East the Rockets would be printing playoff tickets, but because they don’t, Darryl Morey went about assembling a team that could compete for a championship next season, provided Yao Ming  can come back healthy. On paper the Rockets look scary good with Yao in the middle surrounded by versatile wing players, rugged forwards and Brooks at the point. Without him, they are still one of the better teams in the NBA.
What to Watch For: The Rockets take a lot of 3’s and don’t allow their opponents a lot of looks from behind the arc. They are also a good rebounding team, but what they don’t have is a shot-blocker in the middle. The Celtics will need to work from the inside out and they have the size to give Houston problems in the paint.