Every year, Doc Rivers  takes a look at the schedule and he has the chance – along with the team – to petition the league for a change or two. And without fail, it always seems the Celtics  try to get part of their two West Coast trips altered to help with rest on the road.
Last summer, he took one look at late January and thought to himself the first trip out West will be a real bear. They start Thursday in Portland, playing one day later – and one time zone backward – in Phoenix. Then they play an afternoon game 36 hours later back in LA against the Lakers before wrapping up next Wednesday in Sacramento.
Sure, they’re bonding experiences for the team but a little more time bonding and a little more rest would certainly be appreciated.
“I don’t really look forward to them but I know they’re coming,” Rivers said. “It’ll be a good one for us, tough teams, all tough in their buildings. The only thing I don’t like about this trip is the travel in games so quickly. Traveling to Portland and playing a game the next day is brutal.
“And then you fly backwards to Phoenix where you lose an hour and then you play LA in a one o’clock game. That’s a lot of games. We get our schedules before the season starts, before [public] gets them. We have a chance to change games. This is one trip we actually really tried to get changed. We just wanted another day. They said, ‘No.'”
Last season when the Celtics went out West in February to play the Kings, Lakers and Trail Blazers, they swept all three games before losing at Denver in the finale. Now, starting Thursday at the Rose Garden in Portland, they will play those three teams again with a trip to Phoenix thrown in as the second game of the four-game swing.
“I take it game-by-game,” Celtics captain Paul Pierce  added. “This is a big trip for us, first trip out West. These teams are playing well at home and lot of these teams are playoff teams that we’re playing between Portland, the Lakers and Phoenix. These teams were playoff teams a year ago so we’ve got a tough road trip ahead of us and it’s good to get this last win at home before we go out West.”
Speaking of which, Rivers believes the Celtics are already 1-0 on this trip since he believes the home games that bookend the trip are always made more difficult because of the extended travel. So, by that logic, the trip really won’t end until they play the Mavericks on Feb. 4 at TD Garden.
“The last game before you go out and the first game you back are the two most difficult games on your road trip,” Rivers said. “I always tell them it’s a six-game road trip, it’s never a four-game. It’s the one before you leave because you’re mind is already gone and it’s the one you come back. Those are two very difficult games. I’ve always thought if it’s four, then it’s [really] six because you add those two games as well.”
The Celtics will make one more extended West Coast swing in late February when they play Golden State, Denver, the Clippers before finishing up with the Jazz . Another nightmarish trip of travel as the C’s will start in California, go back to the Mountain time zone then back to California and then back to Utah before heading home to play Phoenix on March 2.
In 2007-08 season – on their way to a 66-16 mark and home court advantage throughout the playoffs – the Celtics swept Sacramento, Seattle, Utah and the Lakers on the road as part of a nine-game winning streak. A month and a half later, they lost three straight for the only time that season, falling at Denver, Golden State and Phoenix before finishing with wins at Sacramento and the Clippers.
That’s 6-3 in nine games. If the Celtics could manage that against Rivers would take it.
They already know they are a bona fide playoff team with championship aspirations, but by the end of February, we’ll know how much of a chance they have of claiming that all-important top seed in the East for the upcoming playoffs – the top seed that paved the way to their 17th NBA crown in 2008.