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Celtics feeling the pinch a bit

Shorter season creates urgency

RAY ALLEN Getting serious RAY ALLEN Getting serious
By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / February 3, 2012
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The Celtics took five exhausting, injury-filled, and controversial weeks to finally establish a winning record. Wednesday’s victory over the overwhelmed Toronto Raptors put the team’s record at 11-10 entering tonight’s showdown with the New York Knicks.

“Showdown’’ may be an exaggeration at this point. The Celtics and Knicks were supposed to battle for supremacy in the Atlantic Division after that thrilling Christmas Day opener at Madison Square Garden, remember?

Forty days later, the teams meet again, having been doubted and humbled. The Knicks are 8-14. After beating the Celtics in the opener, they lost four of their next five, and then, after winning four straight, lost nine of 10.

The combination of Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire that was supposed to terrorize the East has failed miserably, and the Knicks are still waiting for newly acquired point guard Baron Davis to get healthy.

The Celtics have no sympathy. They want to start creating distance from that .500 mark. After next Thursday’s game against the Lakers, they will play 17 of their next 26 games on the road, including trips of five and eight games.

If the Celtics are going to make a move toward the division-leading 76ers and emerge as a legitimate threat in the East, they need to accelerate their progress in the next four games against the Knicks, Grizzlies, Bobcats, and Lakers.

After that stretch of home games, the Celtics will play more than two consecutive games at TD Garden just once the rest of the season. Boston has failed to capitalize on a home-heavy schedule, taking six home losses into tonight’s game.

“We have an opportunity to improve and get really good and get our young guys even better and playing with confidence,’’ said shooting guard Ray Allen. “This is an important time to continue to grow and get better. Every time I get out there, it’s like business - like, ‘Let’s be serious about this.’ ’’

Coach Doc Rivers wishes the Celtics could play the Grizzlies Sunday night - instead of the noon start - so he could conduct a full practice tomorrow. But with the Super Bowl starting shortly after 6 p.m. Sunday, “I don’t think anyone would watch or come,’’ he said.

“Right now, [video] is all you can do, and that’s what we’re stuck with,’’ he said. “I talked to seven, eight coaches and it’s amazing that the complaints are the exact same. And there’s no answer.

“The answer is what we’re doing and we hope that is the best. It’s just the way the schedule is, and our guys are getting better with it.’’

With nearly a third of the season gone, the Celtics are carrying a sense of urgency into February. After falling to a dismal 5-9, they were able to muster up six wins in seven games (the loss coming with a fourth-quarter collapse against Cleveland).

The players fully realize that they no longer have the same rest time or the luxury of giving away games. The Celtics came away angry after the loss to the Knicks, a game they trailed by 17 and led by 10 before Anthony scored 17 fourth-quarter points and Kevin Garnett missed a jumper at the buzzer that could have sent it into overtime.

After the game, the talk was about the Knicks snatching the mantle of the Atlantic’s top team from the Celtics. Now, both are just trying to secure a favorable playoff seed.

“It’s been challenging,’’ said Allen, who missed three games this season with a jammed right ankle. “We’ve had so many moving parts.

“I’m mentally sound and physically sound but now I have to make sure I keep my body together on top of everything that’s happening.

“Some days you have to manage your body better. I’m sure people are tired of watching the games: ‘I didn’t know the Celtics were on again tonight.’ ’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.

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