AN UNRELENTING SCHEDULE: The Celtics will play their 15th game in 24 days on Saturday. This is Boston's fifth back-to-back of the season and the team is 0-4 on the second nights thus far. Saturday's visit to Atlanta comes amid a stretch of five games in five cities over seven days (the second time this year the team has had such a stretch). How does Stevens feel about the craziness? "I think the thing you don’t like about it is we just haven’t had time to practice," said Stevens. "Even after a back-to-back, you get in at 4:30 in the morning and you’re not practicing [the next day]. We really have had limited practice time and that’s why December will be a welcome [break] regardless of how we’re playing because you get a little bit more chance to get on the practice court together and try to get better."
A CHANCE TO HELP THEIR FUTURE: Keep in mind that Atlanta's 2014 draft pick is likely ticketed for Boston. The Celtics own the Nets' pick via the summer blockbuster, but the Hawks have the right to swap spots with Brooklyn via the Joe Johnson trade. Plenty can change before the end of the season, but given the Nets' slow start, Boston has to hope Atlanta endures some struggles as well to better that pick. The Celtics can help their own cause in the first of four head-to-head meetings this season.
HAWKS QUIETLY SOARING: The Hawks will look a little different without Josh Smith (Paul Millsap joined their frontcourt this offseason) and with a coaching change (Mike Budenholzer replaced Larry Drew). But Atlanta is actually playing some of the best ball in the East with an 8-5 record (sitting third behind Indy and Miami). The Hawks rank 11th in offensive rating (103.4 points per 100 possessions) and 10th in defensive rating (100.8). They share the ball well (second best in assist ratio), protect the defensive glass (fourth in defensive rebound percentage), and take decent care of the ball (11th in turnover percentage). That's giving them a chance to win games and they've won two in a row (both over old friend Smith and the Pistons).
WHAT ELSE? If Stevens watches film of last year's meetings he'll know to keep a body attached to Kyle Korver, who shredded Boston from 3-point range. As usual, Korver is near the tops of the league in points per possession (1.242), according to Synergy Sports data. and he's shooting a scorching 52.9 percent beyond the arc (36-of-68 overall). ... Keep an eye on the turnover total. As we noted today, the magic number is 14 for Boston. Anything north of that has assured a loss so far this season. ... Watch Boston's shooters coming off pick-and-rolls. The Celtics have found success having Avery Bradley and Jordan Crawford fire away dribbling off screens, but the Hawks are the second-best team in the league defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers.