This was the month where the Celtics peaked and also started to fall apart last season, with the injury bug biting right before Christmas. They’ll play their tougher games at home (Blazers, Bulls, Nuggets, Hawks, Hornets), but finish the month with six of 10 on the road.
Back-to-backs: Four (at Cleveland/Portland, Denver/at Philadelphia, at New York/Atlanta, at Indiana/at Detroit)
Marquis matchup: A Dec. 25 date in Orlando means the Celtics will spend another Christmas in the Magic Kingdom. Doc Rivers and Marquis Daniels get to sleep in their own beds, everyone else will have to enjoy the idea of playing in the new Amway Arena. Worth noting: The Celtics gutted out a win at Amway Arena last Christmas without Paul Pierce, but they did so with the help of Tony Allen.
Rookie watch: The Celtics will get a couple looks at No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner when they play the 76ers (12/9 and 12/22). They’ll also get a chance to see Larry Bird’s home runs swings Paul George and Lance Stephenson (12/19 and 12/28)
Farewell tour?: Denver comes to the Garden Dec. 8, and it could be the last time you see Carmelo Anthony in a Nuggets uniform. He’ll be the star of free agency next summer (lockout notwithstanding) and the rumors of him bolting for New York or Orlando were so widespread that even Paul Pierce was talking about it.
Boiling points: The New Year’s Eve game against the Hornets is a huge deal mostly because it’s another chapter in the Rajon Rondo-Chris Paul rivalry. They had to be separated last November after the Celtics 97-87 win. Rondo has a chip on his shoulder, not being named among the league’s elite point guards. For what it’s worth, Rondo’s moving up on people’s lists.
Not much need for suitcases. The Celtics play 10 of their 16 games at the Garden, including a six-game homestand in the middle of the month. A few tough home games are scattered around (Spurs 1/5, Rockets 1/10, Magic 1/17, Jazz 1/21) but the real turbulence starts at the end of the month with a West Coast trip that’ll have them play the Blazers, Suns, Lakers and Kings before coming back home.
Back-to-backs: Four (at Toronto/Minnesota, Toronto/at Chicago, Utah/at Washington, at Portland/at Phoenix)
Marquee matchup: Flashback to the Finals. On Jan. 30, the Celtics will return to the Staples Center for the first time since falling to the Lakers in Game 7 last June. It’s Kobe’s kingdom now, but you could argue that it’s also the house that Shaq built.
Rookie Watch: DeMarcus Cousins looked like menace in the Las Vegas Summer League, and he’ll likely be even scarier with rookie of the year Tyreke Evans on the floor with him.
Trainwreck?: The T-Wolves troubles start at the top with president of Basketball Operations David Kahn still trying to surgically remove his foot from his mouth. Their offseason adds (Michael Beasley, Sebastian Telfair, Darko Milicic) are all first-team all-castoff. A small piece of Kevin Garnett is grinning on the inside.
There are a lot of opportunities for rest before the Celtics hit the road at the end of the month. They’ll play three straight home games (all three days apart) before the all-star break in Los Angeles. After the break they’ll make their second trip out West to see Golden State, Denver, Los Angeles and Utah.
Back-to-backs: One (Orlando/at Charlotte)
All-Star 2011: The show pulls into Staples Center this year. Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett all went to Dallas last year. Pierce, of course, won the 3-point shootout despite coming of a stew of injuries in January. It’ll be interesting to see if Rondo makes a second-straight appearance.
Playoff Tour: Between Orlando (2/6), the Lakers (2/10), and the Heat (2/13), Boston will re-hash nearly their entire 2010 playoff schedule.
Marquee matchup: Pick one. The Magic stop by the Garden Feb. 6 for a Sunday afternoon dance. The Lakers come on Feb. 10, and we all remember the shot Kobe hit in last year’s regular-season meeting. The Heat pay a visit right after that on Feb. 13 in another Sunday matinee.
The travel could wear on the Celtics more than the opponents. They’ll play nine games on the road without a lot of time to regroup. The schedule isn’t as star studded, but a pair of games again the Bucks could mean a lot later on.
Back-to-backs: Three (Bucks/at Nets, at Houston/at New Orleans, at Minnesota/at Indiana)
Rookie Watch: So technically, he’s not a part of this year’s rookie crop, but the world will get its first look at 2009’s No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin this season. He’s recovered from the left knee injury that cost him all of last season, and he’ll be competing with Wall for Rookie of the Year honors this year. He’ll stop by the Garden Mar. 9.
Welcome back: Tony Allen will make his return to the Garden when the Grizzlies come through on Mar. 3
Point guards galore: Rondo’s counter parts for the month -- Steve Nash (3/2) Stephen Curry (3/4), Baron Davis (3/9) Brandon Jennings (3/13), et. al.
Marquee matchup: The Celtics will play the Bucks twice in four games. First on Mar. 5 then again on Mar. 13. It’s hard not to wonder how the playoffs would have played out if Andrew Bogut hadn’t sustained that gruesome season-ending arm injury. But the Bucks are tooled up with Bogut back and John Salmons re-signed. They also added Corey Maggette and drafted Larry Sanders.
The season doesn’t exactly wind to a close. The Celtics play the Hawks, Bulls, Heat and Knicks in the final two weeks, a time where they’ll likely be jockeying for playoff position.
Back-to-backs: Three (at San Antonio/at Atlanta) at Chicago/Washington, at Miami/at Washington)
Marquee matchup: One last meaningful matchup with the Heat before the season ends. It’s sort of reminiscent of last year’s explosive late-season matchup with the Cavs (remember the Cavs and Cs combining for six techs, Rasheed Wallace blew up at Doc Rivers, LeBron James bricked the potential game-winning 3-pointer and then motioned that the loss was no sweat off his back). It wouldn’t be surprising if there were similar fireworks.