Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Rest up, Celtics, because it doesn’t get any easier than this. The C’s are midway through their most relaxing regular-season stretch of the New Big Three Era in terms of travel.
And never have they needed it more. Seven members of the team’s 15-man roster are battling known injuries as the All-Star break looms, and that doesn’t include Glen Davis ‘ bruised noggin, Kevin Garnett ‘s rehabbed knee or Rajon Rondo ‘s feet.
The good news: The Celtics are in the midst of a 15-day stretch between road games. They played in Charlotte on Feb. 7 and travel to Oakland on Feb. 22. In between, they’ll have played just three home games, all three days apart. Sure, there’s an All-Star Game in between (in Los Angeles) but that’s hardly heavy lifting for Garnett, Rondo, Ray Allen  and Paul Pierce  (depending on Pierce’s MRI results), especially since Doc Rivers  is manning their minutes.
In the previous three seasons, the Celtics’ longest stretch between road games around the All-Star break was seven days. And in the last two seasons, the NBA has sandwiched a pair of road games for the C’s around the All-Star Game — hardly the mini vacation players desire.
The bad news: Since 2007, the Celtics have had three stretches of 15 days or more between road games. This current span is one. The other two have come at an even more ideal time — days before season’s end. Two years ago, the C’ss played five straight home games from March 27 to April 12. Last season, they had six consecutive home contests from March 22 to April 6.
This season, they’ll have no such luck. Starting with a four-game West Coast road trip after the All-Star Game, the Celtics play 17 of their final 28 games on the road, including 10-of-16 to close out the season. However, only 10 of those 28 games come against teams above .500.
With a half-game lead for first place, the Celtics are battling the Heat — and perhaps the Bulls — for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. In all likelihood, nobody will catch the Spurs (45-9) for the league’s best overall record, so we’ll only include the Lakers out West as we take a look at how many of these teams’ post-All-Star break games are against teams above .500:
- Celtics: 10-of-28 (35.7 percent)
- Bulls: 12-of-28 (42.9 percent)
- Heat: 14-of-26 (53.9 percent)
- Lakers: 17-of-25 (68.0 percent)
And here are the winning percentages of those teams’ opponents after the All-Star Game:
- Bulls: .468 (701-796)
- Celtics: .475 (714-790)
- Heat: .501 (703-700)
- Lakers: .551 (742-605)
At 7.5 games behind the Spurs, with 17 of their final 25 games against winning teams, the Lakers will in all likelihood not have homecourt advantage against either San Antonio or the Celtics should they meet those teams in the Western Conference or NBA finals .
Based on the schedule to close out the season, the Celtics have the best shot at clinching homecourt advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, considering the Bulls would have to close the current 2.5-game gap between them in the process.
However, consider this: From Feb. 27 to March 19, the Heat face a stretch of 11 games against teams above .500 before playing 10 of their final 12 regular-season games (including a span of nine straight) versus teams below .500. Meanwhile, the Celtics play only two of their 13 games between now and March 19 against teams above .500.
Translation: If the Celtics don’t create some considerable distance between themselves and the Heat prior to March 19, they can probably kiss the No. 1 seed goodbye.
HEAT’S DWYANE WADE  CALLS CELTICS THEIR ‘BIGGER BROTHERS’
It’s not quite Pedro Martinez  calling the Yankees  his daddy, but Dwyane Wade called the Celtics the Heat’s “bigger brothers” when it comes to the Eastern Conference roadmap. Here’s what he told  the Miami Herald following the Heat’s 85-82 loss to the C’s on Sunday:
‘This is classic, typical, bigger brothers — you got to get over it. I’ve been through it before; LeBron [James] has been through it before with the Pistons. You look down the line, everyone has been through it. [Michael Jordan ] went through it with the Pistons back in the day. You got to get over the hump, and we’re getting closer and closer but we’re not there yet.’
You’d think the Heat might begin to lack some confidence against the Celtics, considering their 0-3 record against them this season, but Wade certainly doesn’t. As he told  the Sporting News, “The breakthough eventually will come. For us, it’s not if it will come, it’s when it will come.’
Wade continued  his thought in a separate conversation with CBS Sports:
“It’s going to be a rivalry no matter whether we eventually meet in the playoffs. This is a team that has a lot of pride, that over the last couple of years have control over the Eastern Conference. And we’re the one coming up, the young team coming up to take that from them.”
Considering the current hammer and nail corollary between the Celtics and Heat, James wasn’t quite ready to side with his teammate in the same story on whether this is a rivalry quite yet:
“Regular-season games don’t create a rivalry. You’ve got to go through playoff series, like I did with Detroit in Cleveland and like we did against Boston — and like we had against Washington my first few years in the league. Those are the ones where you know every play that’s coming, you know everything about that opposing player that you’re going against, and you still have to execute down the stretch to get wins. And that creates rivalries.”
Big brothers often pick on younger siblings, and Kevin Garnett is no different. In the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Heat players described  how they deal with Garnett’s constant taunts:
Chris Bosh: “My thing is, if you get caught up in talking to him and wondering what you’re going to say next and if that’s what you’re thinking about, then you’re already beat, instead of thinking about your game. He frustrates guys and then they’re still thinking about it after the game and he’s probably chillin’ out, cracking jokes, having a good meal.”
Eddie House : “He’s very passionate about the game, passionate about winning. If you’re on his team, you love him. And if you never had a chance to play with him, you’re definitely going to hate him. At the end of the day, I don’t think he cares either way.”
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY FROM THE CELTICS
Four Celtics responded  to the question “Which of your teammates most needs a hug?” for a Valentine’s Day themed article on ESPN.com. Here are their responses:
- Delonte West : “There’s all grown men in here. Me? I don’t need no hugs, you know what I’m saying? The going gets tough, the tough get going. I don’t need no hugs. I do push-ups. I hope no man in here need no hugs. I got enough hugs as a baby. I don’t need no hugs now. Once I left the house, there weren’t no more hugs for me. When I get sad, I punch brick walls. So no one needs a hug on this team. It’s all grown men here. It’s all soldiers in here. Ain’t nobody hugging in here.”
- Glen Davis: “KG because he’s so energetic.”
- Nate Robinson : “I say D-West, because the history of all the bad things people try and say about him. Well, he’s a good guy. So my pick is him.”
- Kendrick Perkins : “Each day is a different person. Each day a different person comes in with a different attitude and you can tell they need a hug. I don’t know who it is today. Might be Nate, might be Big Baby [Davis], or might be KG if I had to pick today.”
BILL RUSSELL : MEDAL OF FREEDOM ‘A CLOSE SECOND’
Celtics legend Bill Russell will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama on Tuesday, but that honor will rank second among Russell’s personal achievements. Here’s what Russell told  New York Times writer George Vecsey ranks first:
“When he was about 77, my father and I were talking, and he said: ‘You know, you’re all grown up now, and I want to tell you something. I am very proud of the way you turned out as my son, and I’m proud of you as a father.’ My father is my hero, OK, and I cannot perceive of anything topping that — while I am very, very flattered by this honor.”
In an emotional interview that covered basketball, marriage and everything in between, Russell shared details that you don’t often hear from the man:
- On becoming the first black coach in a major professional sport: ‘My allegiance was to the Boston Celtics . I took the job not as a social statement, but for what I thought was the right reason. I would be the best guy for that job at that time.’
- On race: ‘I remember at the press conference, probably the second or third question one of the Boston reporters asked me, ‘Can you coach the white guys without being prejudiced?’ Now, I didn’t recall anybody asking a white coach if he could coach the black guys without being prejudiced. All I said was, ‘Yeah.’’
- On basketball: ‘I was an innovator. I started blocking shots although I had never seen a shot blocked before that. The first time I did that in a game, my coach called timeout and said, ‘No good defensive player ever leaves his feet.’’
- On his late wife: ‘We held hands and watched the inauguration. We sat there all night, and then I said, ‘Listen, I’m going to take a shower, now wait for me, I’ll be right back,’ and she said she’d wait. Well, as soon as I left she died. So I said to the nurse, ‘She promised she would wait,’ and the nurse said this happens quite commonly. A lot of people don’t want their loved ones to see them die. And so it was like we shared this moment together and she did not want me to see her die.’
On Obama: ‘Well, you know, I’ve known him for a while, long before he was president. And the last time I talked to him, I said, I am very proud of him, not because he is the first black president, but ‘because you’re an intelligent, competent politician and you arrived at the top of your profession, and so, I’m proud of you for your accomplishments as a man.’’
As I’ve often said, I would listen to Russell’s wisdom all day, every day, for as long as I could. No athlete deserves this national honor more than him.