PORTLAND, Ore. — It’s become apparent with all the changes, including the departures of their leading scorer and assist leader, that the Celtics are going to be underdogs most nights, such as Thursday when they face the Western Conference juggernaut Trail Blazers.
Former Celtics coach Doc Rivers said this week that despite his 2006-07 Celtics having lost 18 consecutive games in one stretch, he had to believe the team was going to win each night.
Current Boston coach Brad Stevens carries the same belief despite his team being stripped of its All-Star-caliber players and toiling in rebuilding mode.
“All of these guys have to understand that every night is a new opportunity,” Stevens said. “And every time you take the floor, it’s an opportunity to show improvement and in your individual ability to impact winning. How do you make your team a little bit better than it was two days ago. As you go through a season in theory, you should improve.”
The Celtics enter Thursday night’s game 13-26 but three games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They are 4-12 since trading Rajon Rondo to the Mavericks.
“You can get the cumulative effect of losing, which is very tough because you get down on yourself,” Stevens said. “You have to approach each opportunity as a brand new day.”
Guard Avery Bradley said the mounting losses have to be forgotten and replaced with more optimism.
“It’s a long season, a lot of teams can turn it around, and that’s all we’re focused on right now, winning games,” he said.
“We don’t think about the next game. We think about tomorrow’s game. I feel like that’s the best way to go.”
Stevens said he has considered some lineup changes after a two-day break although he did not detail the possibilities. He admitted the time off has allowed for reflection.
“There are some thoughts on altering it,” he said. “Twenty-four hours away from a team practice is way too much time to have to think. I used to tell our old teams [at Butler] any time I’d go on a long commercial flight it was bad because I’d come back with a bunch of ideas because I’d have my headphones in and be thinking the whole time. [Tuesday] I spent a lot of time in the hotel watching film trying to look at what we need to do to get better.”
Slow starts hurt
The Celtics’ starting lineup of Tyler Zeller, Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger, Jae Crowder, and Bradley is a minus 16.7 over eight games and is shooting 41.5 percent from the field and 28 percent from the 3-point line. Hence, the Celtics are falling behind early. It’s become an issue on a team without much margin for error.
“Like I’ve always said, I just feel like we need to come out with better energy on both ends of the floor, especially the defensive end,” Bradley said. “I think that can lead to points on the other end of the floor for us, when we’re able to get consistent stops. Whenever we’re able to come out with a defensive mind-set, that’s when I feel like we’ll be fine. We let our offense dictate our defense at the beginning of the game when we’re not able to make shots.”
Bradley said the number of trades has affected the team’s performance.
“We’re still getting used to playing with each other,” he said. “Every week’s been like a new team for us. I’m excited to get a chance to be in the gym [Wednesday] and be better. We’re making strides every time we get in the gym; we’re almost there but we have to continue to be positive and believe in Brad Stevens.”
Said Stevens: “The hard part is some games some guys really shine. Other nights it’s somebody else. Can we find some consistency? I want to be conscious of who each unit is playing against, how the matchups look, but I don’t want to keep bouncing back and forth based on the other team.”
Rookie James Young made an appearance at practice after missing the past two games and being bound to the team hotel because of flu-like symptoms. Young said he is highly unlikely to play Thursday but light practice was the first step to recovery.
Young has dealt with whiplash, a strained hamstring, and a partially separated shoulder before this setback.
“I’ve just got to keep my head up,” he said. “I know stuff is going to come. I have to just keep pushing through everything. My body’s been sore, sore throat, but it’s been coming and going. I’m getting better. I was stuck in the hotel for a few days in Cali, so it’s good.”
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.