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Spring chickens

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff March 18, 2009 10:07 AM

Say this: They’re consistent.

In this case, however, in this fading winter of sudden discontent, the Bruins and Celtics’ regularity is nothing of which to boast. Both teams have fallen flat, giving pause and concern where there was once hope of dual June parties rocking the Hub.

Following last night’s brutal 127-121 loss to the Bulls -- donned in green for the occasion, if not to rub it in the Celtics’ faces a bit -- Boston’s defending world champs are now just 3-5 for the month of March, a mark shared by its Garden cohabitants. Tonight doesn’t get any easier for the walking wounded, as they welcome the Miami Heat and likely MVP runner-up Dwyane Wade to the Garden.

All of a sudden, the Celtics have fallen 4½ games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference, and are just a half-game in front of Orlando for the third spot, which could necessitate a pair of playoff series without home court advantage.

Beneath the parquet tomorrow night, the Bruins play for the first time since Sunday, a stretch of downtime most welcome for curing whatever ails them. Chicago didn’t do them any favors either last night. The lead is down to four points in the East over New Jersey -- the Devils were 3-2 winners over the Blackhawks last night -- with the woeful Kings arriving tomorrow night on Causeway, where the Bruins have won all three games this month.

Despite their similar losing ways during the Ides, one of these things is indeed not like the other. The Celtics, trying to survive without Kevin Garnett for the past few weeks, will get a much-needed boost as early as Friday when their best player, who sprained his knee in Utah one month ago tomorrow, may finally be ready to take the court again. While the injury list seemingly grows each day (add Ray Allen, Leon Powe, and Rajon Rondo today), be grateful that a majority of the wounds require little more than band-aids and stitches in lieu of “season-ending surgery.”

With the playoffs still a month away, there’s time for the Celtics to right things, get healthy, and hold onto the No. 2 playoff slot, though the top seed may quickly be falling out of their grasp. Whether or not this group, as constituted, really looks like a title-worthy team is a debatable, and we won't begin to get an answer until they are at full strength with Garnett, Allen, Rondo, and Paul Pierce reunited. But hey, did you think you’d be at a parade last year when just a few weeks before you were biting your nails off during Game 7 against Atlanta?

The Bruins, on the other hand, have already gone through an injury-plagued stretch of their own, and since then, they haven't played with the same fire that preceded it. But there are positive signs if you look at the numbers. Phil Kessel, who post-mono has been a shell of the dazzling player he was earlier this season, will enter tomorrow with four goals in his last three games, as many scores as he had amassed since Jan. 3. And Sunday’s stinker against Pittsburgh aside, when he certainly wasn’t helped by the zebras with whistles, Tim Thomas remains the league’s top goaltender. And 99 is better than 95, right?

In reality, the Bruins aren’t as good a team as they showed in November. The real question now, of course is, are they as bad as they have showed over the last 20 games?

Probably not.

It's been a lack of focus and intensity that has plagued Marc Savard and company more than anything this past month-plus, it’s nothing a little seven-game series in April can’t remedy. I mean, look, it’s a totally different beast, but picture yourself getting ready to watch tomorrow night’s game. Now, picture that same scenario in Game 1. There’s more anticipation, more belly-aching, more hootin’ and hollerin’. There’s probably a lot more beer.

These guys are no different. Complacency can be a serious downfall for this team in the late weeks of the season, but until they outright lose the President’s Cup (which is of some value this season seeing as Boston is winless on the road since a Feb. 17 victory over the Hurricanes), talk to me in April. Hey, maybe losing out on the top spot is the motivation this team needs right now.

Oh, and have you noticed those free-falling Canadiens are No. 8-bound these days? Think that might be a good first round to get the juices flowing?

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12 comments so far...
  1. Wade runner up MVP? Nope, he wins it this year I think. He has been down right scary lately and the team has improved markedly. Love The Bruins but the Sturm injury was huge. Taking away 30 goals from any team is never good. That said let's hope they wake up.

    Posted by Bob Griese March 18, 09 11:57 AM
  1. I am VERY concerned that BOTH the Celtics and the Bruins will go ONE AND DONE this year, perhaps even fairly convincingly. In fact, it's almost as if Mayor tom Menino sent out a memo last month telling them that the city of Boston CANNOT AFFORD a championship celebration due to the Economy or something.

    Regardless of when Kevin Garnett comes back, the C's are VERY INJURED right now... and there's no guarantee they will be healthy a month from now. What if Garnett comes back too soon and reinjures himself? What if the C's are still banged up and free falling when they enter the Playoffs? What if they draw Detroit as a #3 seed in the first round?

    As for the Bruins, it's VERY HARD to take them seriously when they are ALWAYS the first round upset. The last time they made a deep playoff run was over 15 years ago during the Cam Neely Era; since then, they've either gone ONE AND DONE (about 10 times) or lost convincingly in the second round (twice). And given the way they are tanking in March (and might draw those pesky Canadiens in the first round), there's LITTLE REASON to this B's team will be any different.

    Posted by Not One and Done! March 18, 09 12:16 PM
  1. Bob, unfortunately, the MVP race isn't decided by you. I think Wade should be the front-runner right now based on performance, but if the vote was today, he'd come in 2nd or 3rd.

    Posted by J-Bone March 18, 09 01:21 PM
  1. The Stephon Marbury Effect is taking hold; he's all yours!...lol

    Posted by jeff Bagwell March 18, 09 01:38 PM
  1. To the idea of "one and done" - you're crazy. The only team the Celtics have to worry about are the Cleveland LeBrons. There's no way a Detroit or Atlanta or even Orlando can withstand Boston in a 7 game series.

    And as for those stats on the Bruins dating back to the "Cam Neely Era" - I never really understood why people present stats like that. Its a different team every year! How does the playoff performance of the 1998 Bruins have ANYTHING to do with how they will perform this year? (Besides PJ Axelsson...)

    I love the point made about the NHL playoffs providing a spark to the Bruins. I completely agree. I believe that Coach Julien has downshifted this young team during the past month - and with the veteran help of Mark Recchi, the Bruins will come out bangin' in the playoffs.

    Posted by Stompkins March 18, 09 01:52 PM
  1. Agree with Stomp...
    Much as the Feds have engineered the recession, Coach Julien is deliberately slowing down the machine.

    Posted by Dan March 18, 09 02:25 PM
  1. And truth to the rumor that Doc is going to suit up tonight? Hahahaha!

    Posted by Beachman March 18, 09 02:30 PM
  1. It's the curse of Starbury that will sink the Celtics!

    Posted by Tbone March 18, 09 02:35 PM
  1. You guys need to cut the Bruins a little slack. They played around 9 games in 12 days and have traveled back and forth to Boston like jumping beans. Focus and intensity just can't be maintained at 100-110% in that stretch. It's the toughest professional game, and it should be expected they're wearing down a little. They play 82 or 84? games, 75% against crappy teams out to hurt them. They've done really well to put themselves in a position to stay healthy into the playoffs. We've had 15 years of weak, pulseless teams until last year. Now we have a very good team but you're whining because they may not win the regular season title? Fascinating.

    Posted by MJW March 18, 09 04:34 PM
  1. Jeff Bagwell....another DOPE adding two useless cents.

    Marbury has barely played, he has NOTHING to do with the current state of the Celtics. With all the injuries and considering how great Cleveland is playing - the Celtics are STILL IN SECOND PLACE.

    If your a real fan, stop with the sky is falling crap and man up. If not, get off the bandwagon at the next stop as we dont need you on the Celtic train.

    Posted by mrkleen2002 March 18, 09 04:50 PM
  1. Anyone that thinks Marbury has made ONE LICK of difference is a clueless mule that doesnt even follow the Celtics. He was low cost, has been a model citizen, and is either going to start hitting shots and get playoff time - or he will wither away on the bench. Either way, he has ZERO CHANCE of costing the Celtics anything. Nice try Tbone/Bagwell.

    Posted by Chris P March 18, 09 06:07 PM
  1. Lebron won the MVP after the 2nd game of the season. Everyone knows this, stop trying to argue for anyone else. (I'm a Celtics fan)

    Posted by Classless March 21, 09 11:48 PM
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