Losers of three straight and staring at a .500 record, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after Tuesday's loss to the Chicago Bulls -- Boston's third straight by double digits during an unsightly three-game road trip -- that his team has to "keep searching."
Unfortunately, Boston's hunt is going about as well as a satellite dish searching for a television signal in a monsoon. Boston's help defense is a mess because of poor (or missed) rotations. Offensively, the Celtics have a growing propensity to settle for low-percentage jumpers (instead of attacking the basket and getting to the charity stripe). And the team can't get any sort of consistency from a bench that was singlehandedly outscored by old friend Nate Robinson (18-16) on Tuesday night.
As Clark Griswold might note this time of year: This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here -- even if Celtics players seem improbably nonplussed by their struggles, at least judging from their on-court effort. Rivers is rapidly adding items to his coaching Christmas wish list, but most of his players are on the naughty ledger.
"We're going to keep searching," Rivers told reporters in Chicago. "I think we've got the group. We've got to find the right group and the right combination at the right time. But we're going to keep searching. This team is not a good team right now."
Boston's search is complicated by the fact that Avery Bradley, the starting shooting guard by the end of last season and the team's best on-ball defender, is nearing a return to game action after enduring his first full-contact practice during an off-day session on Monday in Chicago.
Even still, Bradley is unlikely to be game-ready until closer to the new calendar year. So what can Boston do to emerge from this winter funk? While panic-button abusers will call for a roster shake-up, the more likely solution is Rivers simply shuffling his cards and tweaking lineups and rotations, hoping to find more consistent combinations.
With that in mind, here are a few tweaks Rivers could ponder:
1. Going Green: With Brandon Bass mired in a shooting slump (which has taken attention away from his defensive regression), Rivers could insert Jeff Green into the starting lineup at the power forward spot. Green had shown signs of emerging in December, and a starting role might help bring out more consistency in his nightly output. The downside(s)? Green and his (increased) ability to hit the corner 3 are probably better suited to play the perimeter rather than grind with 4s on a nightly basis. There's not enough court time together to properly judge a combination of Green alongside Courtney Lee, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. A closer inspection of four-man lineups shows that Green, while running with the Big Three, is plus-9 over 69 minutes of action.
2. Big expectations: The Celtics took flight after the All-Star break last season when they shuffled Garnett to center and Bass into the starting lineup (replacing underperforming and oft-injured Jermaine O'Neal). The Celtics again don't have a lot of pure size this season (particularly after the departure of Darko Milicic), but Jason Collins turned in a serviceable 12-minute cameo on Tuesday night and his defensive focus could entice Rivers to go big again. Or the Celtics could climb way outside the box and recall rookie Fab Melo. Scoff if you want -- and it's admittedly far-fetched -- but Boston has a recent history of nurturing young bigs such as Semih Erden and Greg Stiemsma. If size is a lingering issue, the Celtics won't have to open their wallet to lean on Collins or Melo -- at least until they make a move at the trade or waiver deadline.
3. Patience is a virtue: While 24 games is a decent sample size, there are still a whopping 58 regular-season games to be played. Let's remember that a year ago, the 66-game, lockout-shortened schedule didn't even start until Christmas Day (and you'll often hear that nothing in the NBA matters before Christmas). If Rivers elects to skip a larger lineup shuffle, then he could simply put a heavier focus on cleaning up all the little things that have plagued Boston. The question is whether that's enough to make a difference. The buzz out of Chicago on Monday was that the Celtics had one of their best practices of the season. They turned around and got pasted by a Bulls team playing the second night of a back-to-back (the Bulls lost in Memphis on Monday).
Your turn? What should the Celtics do to solve their inconsistency problems? Sound off in the comments section.