- Peter May, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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The Celtics' second Western swing of the season is a four-game journey through a pair of time zones, involving two trips in and out of California. It could turn out to be a memorable road trip for a lot of reasons, some of them even having to do with the games themselves.
On the docket are two likely lottery teams, the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers, although one of the teams isn't playing like a lottery candidate at present. Also on the schedule are two probable playoff teams with their own internal issues: the Denver Nuggets (gee, wonder what that could be?) and the Utah Jazz (experiencing a coaching change for the first time since the waning days of the Ronald Reagan administration).
While the trip appears to have been designed by some manic geographer, the Celtics are fortunate in that they have no back-to-backs. The four games stretch over seven days with one day in between every game. That's a bonus for a veteran team and one might say a bit of payback after its last trip, which had the C's playing in Portland and Phoenix on consecutive nights.
The Warriors and the Clippers are the only teams the Celtics have yet to play this season. Boston will host them both within 10 days of returning home. (Mark it down: Blake Griffin's TD Garden debut is on March 9.)
Also on this trip, the NBA trading deadline, which is 3 p.m. EST on Thursday, Feb. 24.
With Marquis Daniels' status up in the air, the Celtics are investigating a possible addition to shore up their wing position. But Danny Ainge doesn't appear to be desperate to make a move, possibly believing that when the playoffs begin all his big men will be ready, willing and able.
So the Celtics team that will take the floor in Oakland on Tuesday night may not be the same team that will take the floor two nights later in Denver. Last year at this time, Ainge brought in Nate Robinson from the Knicks. Now it appears that if there is to be a trade, Robinson might be the one to go.
The trip also should mark the return to duty of Delonte West, who has been out since Nov. 24 with a broken right wrist. Shaquille O'Neal, who has missed the last six games with a sore right leg (Achilles tendon), also might be back at some point. Ditto for Semih Erden, who has missed the last four games with a strained right adductor muscle.
The Celtics went 3-1 on their first Western swing, which ended earlier this month. They'd like to do no worse on the second one, but distractions loom at almost every stop. And if they win just one game, it will be the first time the team has won at any of the trip's venues since the 2008-09 season.
Tuesday, Feb. 22 at Golden State: Can you name the one NBA arena where Doc Rivers has never won as the head coach of the Celtics? As bad as the Warriors have been over the years, Oracle Arena has been Boston's personal charnel house. Hard as it may be to believe, the Celtics have lost their last six games in the Building near the Bay. Boston's last road win against the Warriors was on Dec. 29, 2003, a month before Jim O'Brien resigned. The only two present Celtics on the roster at the time are Paul Pierce, who had 21 points in the 100-91 win, and Kendrick Perkins, who was inactive. (Perk played only 35 minutes that entire season.) The Warriors will present an excellent challenge to the Celtics' defense, as Golden State is seventh in scoring and No. 1 in 3-point shooting and has a starting backcourt (Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry) that averages 43.5 points and 11.5 assists a game. Alas, the Warriors are a woeful defensive team and Rajon Rondo carved them up last year, averaging 24 points, 13.5 assists and 5 rebounds in the two meetings. The Warriors are playing well, having won seven of nine with victories over the Bulls, Thunder, Nuggets and Jazz. Still, the Celtics have to feel the law of averages is on their side as they go into this one. Golden State comes to Boston on March 4.
Thursday, Feb. 24 at Denver: The new-look Nuggets will be without Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, both of whom were sent to the Knicks on Monday, and still will be getting to know each other. With this game tipping off seven-plus hours after the deadline (it's the second half of the TNT doubleheader, so it's an 8:30 p.m. local start), the Celtics might be down a player or two if they make a deal. The Celtics, who stomped the Nuggets 105-89 in Boston on Dec. 8, have fared only marginally better in Denver than in Oakland in the Rivers era, winning only once in their last six visits.
Saturday, Feb. 26 at LA Clippers: The Celtics get a dose of Blake Mania, as they get their first, in-the-flesh look at Blake Griffin, the de facto Rookie of the Year and now Sprite Slam Dunk Contest champ. It will also be the Clippers' first real home game since Feb. 2, when they lost to the Bulls. By the time the Celtics arrive, the Clippers will have played 11 straight road games before and after the All-Star break, although the last one is at the Staples Center against the Lakers the night before Boston's visit. And after the Celtics' game, the Clippers will play six of their next eight on the road, including the March 9 appearance in Boston. This latest stretch has been a humbling one for Griffin & co. The Clippers were an encouraging 9-5 in January but have lost 7-of-9 in February. Still Boston has had its share of woes in the Staples Center -- and not just against the Lakers. The Celtics have dropped two straight and three of their last four roadies to the Clippers. The Clippers have been without star guard Eric Gordon (24.1 ppg) for the last month because of a sprained right wrist and small bone chip fracture. He could be back in time for this one. Chris Kaman played last Wednesday for the first time since Dec. 5 (injured left ankle).
Monday, Feb. 28 at Utah: The last stop on this trip comes as the Jazz are still trying to adjust to life without Jerry. Utah dropped its first three games under Tyrone Corbin, the man who took over for Jerry Sloan, who had been on the Jazz sidelines since 1988. The Jazz are now in danger of missing the playoffs, an almost unthinkable prospect in Sloan's tenure (only three times in 22 seasons and in two of those seasons the Jazz had a .500 record or better). The Celtics drubbed the Jazz 110-86 in Boston on Jan. 21 as Utah was in the midst of a six-game skid. But the C's have dropped their last two in Energy Solutions Arena and three of their last four. Utah will have played three road games in four days prior to the Celtics' visit (Dallas, Indiana and Detroit), so it will be interesting to see if the Jazz will be able to get it back together. Utah was in a tie with Memphis for the eighth-best record in the Western Conference heading into the All-Star break (although still only 1.5 games behind No. 5 Portland). Phoenix also is breathing down the Jazz's neck. The Jazz are an underwhelming 17-12 at home and were dealing with injuries to Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko heading into the break.
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.
Trade deadline adds uncertaintly to the Celtics' four-game journey out West.