The Celtics are back in Boston after going winless on another trip West. They are a depressing 0-13 against the Western Conference on the road this season.
As they approach 40 losses, are out of playoff contention, and are being schooled by teams with comparable records, it’s going to be difficult for coach Brad Stevens to constantly find positives when the performances are so poor.
In a 110-98 loss to the Utah Jazz Monday night at EnergySolutions Arena, the Celtics refused to play defense. The Jazz battered the Celtics in the first half with outside shots and then slid easily into the paint for uncontested layups in the second half.
When the Celtics aren’t dealing with constant nagging injuries, they are besieged by inconsistent play. When they score well, they don’t defend. When they get into grimy defensive games, they can’t score.
The constant losing is harder to take because the Celtics were actually a playoff-caliber team 26 games into the season when they were 12-14. Since then they have lost 25 of 32 games.
It wasn’t that the Celtics didn’t think they were a lottery-bound team, but they have struggled especially hard the past two months, causing discouragement throughout the team.
It’s come to finding bright spots in losses, such as the development and improvement of Kelly Olynyk, who averaged 9 points and 6.3 rebounds on the trip. What frustrates Stevens is the lack of a dependable scorer, meaning he is relying on players who don’t surface every night.
“I thought Kelly played really well tonight, but one of our issues has just been, you try to find the hot hand instead of every night knowing where it’s coming from,” Stevens said following the loss to Utah. “We’re 58 games in, or whatever. Those games are over. We’re trying to, again, figure out how we can best handle these situations night in, night out, and who can be the guys that can continue to perform at that level, night in, night out. We’ve got a lot of guys who are capable and have done it at times, but I think we’d all say we haven’t done it consistent enough and that’s why we’re [19-39].”
The last thing management wants from this roster is it becoming comfortable with losing. The Celtics played losing teams in the last three games of the trip and lost by 9, 7, and 12 points.
Last Friday night, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni didn’t play a starter in the fourth quarter and Los Angeles scored 38 points in the quarter to win. The next night in Sacramento, the Celtics allowed the Kings to shoot 52 percent and Jeff Green took 25 shots to score 29 points in losing, 105-98. And Monday night, the Celtics’ interior defense was putrid, allowing Derrick Favors to score 20 points on 8-for-9 shooting.
Fatigue on the final day of a trip could be used as an excuse, but it was only a four-game trip and the Celtics had a day off before the Utah game. This is a team that seems to be running out of gas and motivation.
Avery Bradley has been out with a sprained ankle most of the month, Vitor Faverani has a sore left knee and it is unknown when he will return, and Keith Bogans has been gone for weeks now, leaving Stevens with a thin bench, especially when Rajon Rondo cannot play in the second game of back-to-backs.
“It’s very disappointing,” forward Gerald Wallace said. “We didn’t win a game on this trip. [We haven’t] beaten a Western Conference team on the road this year. We’ve got to figure something out.”
Perhaps returning home will help the Celtics. They don’t play on the road again until March 11.
The Celtics need to get healthier. Bradley needs to return quickly and begin meshing with Rondo. Faverani has to show he’s worth keeping after this season.
And there has to be improved consistency, or the final 24 games will be a miserable road to the draft lottery, offering little encouragement.