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Celtics will hit ground running

Compacted schedule could take toll on team

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 7, 2011
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Considering the three-game road trip to open the season, then eight road games in 13 nights in March, and a set of back-to-back-to-back games near the end of the season in April, the Celtics will have to do their best to not let the time-crunched 66-game NBA schedule take a toll on them.

The league announced its revamped regular-season slate last night, unveiling a tightly packed, lockout-shortened ledger.

The Celtics kick off the season with a Christmas Day matchup against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden and from there they hit the ground running.

“I believe that every team will have some challenges to overcome,’’ said Celtics president Danny Ainge. “But we’ll be ready.’’

The Celtics will get a day to breathe after the holiday before heading to Miami Dec. 27 to face LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh for the first time since the teams’ second-round playoff series last spring.

The very next night will be interesting, as the Celtics go to New Orleans to face the Hornets - and right now, the rumors of a Rajon Rondo-Chris Paul swap are still hanging in the air.

The Celtics won’t play at home until Dec. 30 against the Pistons, then they’ll head back out for a New Year’s Day date with the Wizards at the Verizon Center.

They get their first look at the defending champion Dallas Mavericks Jan. 11 at TD Garden. Reigning MVP Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls come to town two nights later. Kobe Bryant and the Lakers will play on the parquet Feb. 9.

The compressed schedule has its quirks. There are 19 back-to-backs, including trips to Detroit and Dallas on consecutive nights. After the New Year’s Day game in Washington, the Wizards and Celtics will shoot up to Boston to play the next day.

One of the big concerns for a veteran Celtics team was playing three games in three nights. It’s a scenario they’ll have to face only once: They will play Toronto, New Jersey, and Charlotte on the road from April 13-15.

A stretch of eight straight road games in 13 days (starting in Los Angeles and ending in Philadelphia) may be more grueling.

The Celtics visit the Staples Center to play the Lakers March 11 to start the stretch, which combines the West Coast trip (Lakers, Clippers, Warriors, Kings, and Nuggets) with three other games (Atlanta, Milwaukee, Philadelphia).

The regular season will stretch deeper into April, and the Celtics will play eight of their last 13 on the road. They close the season April 26 against Milwaukee.

Because of the condensed schedule, they will skip trips to six Western Conference cities: San Antonio, Phoenix, Utah, Portland, Houston, and Memphis.

The Celtics will be sick of the Heat by season’s end, as they play them four times (once more than a year ago).

The NBA All-Star Game Feb. 26 in Orlando will break up a stretch of five straight road games for the Celtics. They’ll play Oklahoma City Feb. 22 before the break, then pick back up Feb. 28 in Cleveland.

Former Celtic Kendrick Perkins will return to TD Garden with Oklahoma City Jan. 16, his first time back since being traded at last February’s deadline.

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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