Last season, while in the midst of a depressing spring swoon, the schedule gods handed the Celtics  a gift: six straight games at TD Garden to help them right their sinking ship. There were two problems. First, the Celtics simply weren’t very good at the Garden last season (for whatever reason) and second, they played five playoff teams including the Thunder, Spurs and Cavaliers .
The Celtics actually did all right for themselves, splitting those six games and winning an emotional game over the Cavs on Easter Sunday that served as a rallying point when they ultimately faced them in the playoffs. But there were also some ugly setbacks, such as a 21-point loss to San Antonio and the memorable Kevin Durant  gets calls like Michael Bleeping Jordan game (in the words of Kevin Garnett ).
Ultimately their six-game homestand was neither defining nor damning. It simply was another signpost in the Celtics up and down 2010.
This season, however, the expectations are much different. The Celtics are rolling (or were rolling until the Bulls wiped them out Saturday night in an ugly, defensive game) and they are playing much better at the Garden where their 16-2 record is tops in the Eastern Conference and tied for first in the loss column with the Spurs, who are 19-2 at home.
The Celtics will also get the benefit of playing four teams who are under .500. They get the Rockets, Kings and Bobcats this week and the Pistons in between visits from Orlando and Utah next week and it’s a golden opportunity for the Celtics to continue to pad their record. Even with Saturday night’s loss to the Bulls, at 28-8 the Celtics still hold a one-game lead on Miami for the best conference record and are four games ahead of Chicago and Orlando in the loss column for second.
Here are five things to look for on this homestand:
1. THE RETURN OF KEVIN GARNETT (Jan. 10?)
Doc Rivers  played it coy Friday night. While discussing Kevin Garnett, the coach casually let it drop that the team expected him back early next week, possibly as even as easy as Monday’s game against Houston. That would be a huge lift for the Celtics, not only because of Garnett’s obvious importance, but also because his return would serve as definitive proof that the calf injury he suffered against Detroit was truly not a big deal.
The Celtics have done well in Garnett’s absence, winning four of six games. If they have proven anything over the years it’s that they can handle playing without one of their four stars for a period of 6-10 games. But eventually a star’s absence takes its toll and nowhere has his loss been felt more than on the boards. The Bulls game stood out for the huge rebounding discrepancy (48-27), but the Celtics were also beaten on the glass by the Timberwolves  and Raptors last weekend in Canada.
Also, there’s the matter of returning Glen Davis  to his customary role as the team’s sixth man, which will not only provide the bench with some much-needed firepower, but also allow Rivers to finally mix and match his big men with Garnett, Davis and the O’Neal brothers — Shaq and Jermaine. It’s been an under-appreciated aspect of the Celtics this season that Rivers has not been able to carry out his vision for the frontcourt, which entailed Jermaine O’Neal  starting opposite Garnett and bringing Shaq in off the bench to provide a low-post scoring anchor.
Perhaps it’s finally time to see all that frontcourt depth in action.
2. THE BOSTON DEBUT OF BOOGIE COUSINS (Jan. 12)
Going into the draft, no player caused as much consternation as DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins. In general, it’s not a good thing when comparisons to Derrick Coleman are thrown out around the draft. The Kings happily snapped him up at No. 5 where he has produced about 13 points and seven rebounds per game. His turnovers are too high and his defense needs lots of work, but his talent has been evident.
He has also been fined for being late , thrown out of practice and repeatedly gave the Warriors’ Reggie Williams the choke sign, just before his Kings embarked on an epic collapse aided in no small part by Cousins letting an easy rebound drop through his hands.
This is Cousins’ only trip to Boston and he is reason enough to come out and watch the Kings.
3. THE ORLANDO GAME (Jan. 17)
It seems like only yesterday when the Magic were in the midst of losing eight of nine games and general manager Otis Smith was accused of making a panic trade by acquiring Jason Richardson , Gilbert Arenas  and Hedo Turkoglu . Well, guess what? The Magic have now won nine straight games and are blowing teams off the court.
Perhaps it’s not a surprise that Turkoglu has rediscovered his game playing for the coach and system that allowed him to flourish, but he has been the biggest difference-maker of the three.
The Celtics play the Magic next Monday on Martin Luther King Day as part of a day-night Garden doubleheader with the Bruins playing the early game. After losing to Orlando on Christmas, this will be one of the few statement games they play during the regular season.
4. KG VS. CHARLIE V, ROUND III (Jan. 19)
Lost in Garnett’s injury in the first quarter against the Pistons was the fact that Charlie Villanueva  took several shots at Garnett. (Real shots, not the kind he lobs on Twitter). Villanueva picked up a couple of cheap fouls and threw in an obvious shoulder bump on his way off the court. All that after claiming he was over the ‘cancer patient/cancer to your team’ controversy.
The only reason things didn’t escalate further was because after Villanueava took a seat on the bench, Garnett injured his calf and left the game. Nothing good can come of this from the Celtics perspective. If Villanueava wants to continue their feud, that’s on him. Garnett has much bigger things to play for.
5. RAJON RONDO  AND DERON WILLIAMS (JAN. 21)
There’s always great anticipation whenever Rajon Rondo lines up against Chris Paul , Russell Westbrook  or Steve Nash . but for whatever reason, Utah’s Deron Williams is often left out of the conversation. Make no mistake, Williams is having another standout season. and while it doesn’t have the spice of Rondo and Paul, this is a fantastic matchup.