They are 26-11 — easily ensconced in the very upper region on their side of the NBA map, but handily behind and no real threat to Milwaukee or the Lakers above.
They lost three straight for the first time this year, but came back with a thorough beating of the Pelicans, who were made to order for the situation.
We have seen mostly good but occasionally awkward moments from the team that entered the season as very much a mystery guest. So what’s between where the Celtics are now and where they need to be for these wins in the Initial 82 to translate to greater success?
“Well, we have to improve quite a bit,” said Coach Brad Stevens. “I don’t get too caught up in the results still. I get caught up in how we can play when we’re at our best. And, you know, when we’re really clicking on both ends of the court, we’re a pretty good team. So how do we get there more often? It’s a lot easier said than done.”
Stevens paused and put things into an interesting perspective that may have helped center the Celts before they took the floor against New Orleans.
“I told these guys that you’re in one of the very few professions where the very best in the world are all in a small box and they all compete against each other,” he said. “That’s tough. So every day you have to be great.”
That requires as much mental acuity as physical ability. And that’s how Marcus Smart answered the initial question.
“I’d have to say just our focus. Once we’re locked in, we play like that,” he said referring to Saturday night’s 35-point win over New Orleans. “When we’re not locked in and not focused on just having fun and playing the game, we play like we’ve been playing the last three games up until this last one. So it’s plain and simple. When we’re having fun out there, the games turn out like that. It gives us a chance to win every game.”
“Consistency,” said Smart. “That’s all we need. We’ve got to stay consistent. That’s the key.”
If Stevens isn’t sweating the day-to-day results that can be skewed by unequal factors such as schedule, Kemba Walker is positively calm on that score. He was out sick when the Celtics played two of their worst games — losses to the Wizards and Spurs — and returned as they played better but still not nearly well enough in a defeat in Philadelphia.
But the All-Star point guard isn’t making any larger judgments based on results like that. Asked about the obstacle between here and the squad goals, he took his time.
“Hmmm … I don’t know yet,” Walker said.
When it was suggested that consistency might help, he nodded then detoured slightly.
“That’s what I was thinking,” he said. “But, you know, that’s as expected, I feel like, especially for the kind of team we have. We have so many young guys, and we’ve had so many injuries, not having our whole team together a lot — I feel like any problem with consistency is normal right now. I think the consistency will come the more we play with each other.”
And while last year’s Celtics clearly lacked the requisite basketball trust, Walker is confident in that regard.
“I think we have that,” he said. “The more we play with each other, the more we get used to it and we’ll feel each other out more. I think that’ll definitely come, especially when things start to slow down a little bit. I kind of expect that come more after the All-Star break.
“But, yeah, we’re still trying to find certain things within ourselves and still learning each other, man. We’re still a new team, you know what I mean? We hit it off pretty early, then we had some stretches where we struggled. Then I didn’t play and I came back. Things have been changing. It happens.
“We’ll figure it out though. That’s the best thing about this team. We’ll figure it out, for sure.”