WALTHAM — The Celtics’ first 14 games look like Jigsaw came up with it.
Only they have no choice but to play the games.
The first night of the season, they’ll have the Nets’ Deron Williams and Joe Johnson trying to slice them up from the perimeter.
Three nights later, Kelly Olynyk’s going to have to figure out a way to stop the Rockets’ Dwight Howard from turning the rim into a mangled bike wheel.
Two nights after that, Jared Sullinger will have to keep the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki from terrorizing them from 3-point range.
Imagine Marcus Smart on the back leg of the first NBA back-to-back in his life and having to deal with Derrick Rose and the Bulls, then chasing around Kyrie Irving and the genetically-engineered Cavaliers two games later.
And at the end of the month, the Celtics will have the NBA’s mad scientist Gregg Popovich and the Spurs waiting on them.
In all, the Celtics will face 11 playoff teams in their first 14 games (and that’s not counting Cleveland).
But even with the schedule fully loaded, coach Brad Stevens is trying to look at the glass half-full.
“If you’re a rookie and you get to play this schedule right now, that’s like the highlight of your sports life,” Stevens said. “So it’s a great opportunity.”
Back in his Butler days, Stevens deliberately crafted a torturous nonconference schedule.
His last year as the Bulldogs’ head coach, he put his team up against Xavier, Marquette, North Carolina, and Indiana.
The year before that, he scheduled Louisville, Indiana, Xavier, Gonzaga, and Stanford.
He considered all those opponents as steel-sharpeners.
“The way that I look at it is this: You’ve got to play all those teams right?” Stevens said. “So what we always did, especially my last few years in college, is we tried to schedule as hard as we could so we could, by Christmas, honestly evaluate ourselves.”
By the time Butler was through its nonconference schedule, Stevens had a solid idea of what kind of team he was dealing with.
As far as the young Celtics team, he’ll take into his second season as head coach, it won’t take that long.
“I think we’re going to be able to do that pretty soon,” Stevens said.
November essentially will be a daily litmus test for the Celtics, Stevens said.
“I think we could probably use that term for the next however many games,” he said. “I think we’ve got a lot of that coming up.”
Even though the Celtics and Nets have seen each other twice in the past week, there will be an obvious spike in intensity level.
Point guard Rajon Rondo didn’t complicate things when explaining why.
“The games count,” he said.
Beyond Williams and Johnson, the Nets are a problem on the perimeter. Jarrett Jack, who landed in Brooklyn as a part of the three-team deal that netted the Celtics Marcus Thornton, still gives Stevens nightmares after coming off the bench and putting up double figures two of the three times he faced the Celtics last year with Cleveland.
“He’s had multiple moments where he’s given us fits just in my brief time here,” Stevens said.
Familiarity will only go so far.
“It’s going to be a heck of a challenge for us with them,” Stevens said. “Obviously clearly a different team than we saw in either of the preseason games.
“I think the one thing that — and I’m sure they’ll make small tweaks and changes, as will we — but neither of us is most likely going to overhaul how we do things in four days. So I think it’s more about how well do you play within your system and then how much of an impact did individuals that didn’t play or played less minutes have on the game.”
Swingman Evan Turner had tunnel vision, not looking beyond the opener.
“That’s the thing, just really worry about one game at a time,” he said. “You know, everybody’s a contender. At the end of the day, you’ve got 30 contenders in this league.”
Still, knowing how rough the month could be, Stevens doesn’t want his team to define results solely by wins and losses.
“We’ll find out a lot more about ourselves over the next few weeks,” Stevens said. “The key is if things go really well and we get a big win, we’ve got to just stay in the moment and move on to what’s next. If things go really well and we don’t get over the hump, we play great, but we don’t quite get a big win, we’ve just got to stay in the moment and move on to what’s next.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.