Playing 24 of their final 38 games on the road - beginning tomorrow in Chicago with a five-game road trip that carries through the All-Star break - the Celtics are preparing themselves for a stretch that will likely define their season.
After tonight’s game at TD Garden against the Pistons, the Celtics won’t return home for two weeks. Fourteen of the next 19 are on the road, including a treacherous eight-game trip in March that carries through four time zones.
They were eased into this lockout schedule with a lot of home games, but coach Doc Rivers realized it would conclude abruptly.
“I’m looking forward to it,’’ Rivers said. “I think it’s good for the team. In some ways, long, good road trips usually bring your team together or blow them up, one of the two.
“But no, I think it’s a good thing. I don’t like that some of them are back-to-back, but I have never looked at the road as an enemy.’’
The Celtics are 4-5 on the road this season, with respectable losses at New York, Miami, and Indiana and disappointing losses at New Orleans (5-23) and Toronto (9-20). But since playing their first three games of the season on the road, the Celtics have played 19 of 25 at home.
That is about to change, with road games coming up against the Bulls, Pistons, Mavericks, and Thunder.
“This is big,’’ said Paul Pierce. “We aren’t going to be home for a couple weeks, so take care of that last home game before you hit the road - got to gain some momentum before we go on the road.
“It’s a huge trip for us, some pretty good teams we’re playing. So this is one of our biggest road trips of the year, being that we play such competitive teams, so it’s really going to tell us where we’re at this point in the season.’’
Kevin Garnett is the lone Celtic to play in all 27 games, but No. 28 is in question after he missed practice yesterday with a strained right hip flexor that will be examined today. Rivers has not ruled out Garnett but was told by head trainer Ed Lacerte that Garnett needed a few days off.
“We’ll find out tomorrow, but it’s really nothing bad with Kevin,’’ Rivers said. “But Eddie really suggested two days off and then he said today maybe three days off.’’
If Garnett cannot go, Chris Wilcox or JaJuan Johnson could start at power forward. Center is not an issue because Jermaine O’Neal, who missed two games with a bruised left shoulder, returned to practice and said he wants to play, though he is not 100 percent.
O’Neal has battled bone bruises in both knees and a tight left hamstring this season. When on the court, he has played solid defense and has had a spike in rebounding.
Ailments, though, are going to be a theme all season.
“It’s not about being 100 percent, it’s about being effective and able to go out there ready to help the team,’’ he said. “If you look around the league, guys are in and out.
“You’ve just got to find a way to stay out there, and the way I’m playing this year as far as defensively and how I basically throw my body around, it’s going to be that type of a [year].’’
Mickael Pietrus missed half of practice with pain in his surgically repaired right knee. He said he will play tonight, but Rivers was cautious.
Pietrus had knee surgery in July and was nearing 100 percent when he joined the Celtics Dec. 25. He has missed one game this season with a right shoulder injury.
Bass needs rest
Brandon Bass pushed the training staff to play despite a sore right knee over the past few weeks, and that may cost him some games over the next two weeks. Lacerte suggested he rest for a week or more. Bass has been the most productive offseason addition for the Celtics, averaging 10 points. “Of course I [rushed back] because I didn’t want to sit out,’’ said Bass, who said he was injured during the Feb. 25 comeback victory over the Magic. “It wasn’t no one else, it was just me man. I want to play. Life without basketball, even a game, is sad for me.’’ Bass said he has learned his lesson and will allow the knee to heal. “That’s why 10 to 14 days is perfect,’’ he said. “It gives me an opportunity to do what I need to do to play the best of the season, including the playoffs.’’
Rajon Rondo refused to speak with the media again yesterday. He hasn’t talked with reporters since the loss to Toronto Friday . . . After practice, Avery Bradley participated in a live chat with Boston.com readers . . . Rivers said Keyon Dooling came out of practice OK but not completely healthy after missing nine games with a right hip pointer.