Crucial stretch ahead for C's

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When everyone talked about the dreaded, eight-game road trip in March as being the toughest part of the Celtics’ schedule, Doc Rivers said that he always dissented. He asked one and all, "Have you all looked at what lies before us in April?"

Wednesday night’s game against San Antonio starts what could be a season-defining stretch for the Celtics of 11 games in 15 days. Eight of those games are against teams that now would make the playoffs and they all are back-to-backs. The other three are on consecutive nights, all on the road, in Toronto, New Jersey and Charlotte.

Who made out this schedule, Pat Riley and Mitch Kupchak?

Celtics.com Schedule

Here’s what the Celtics have in just the next five days: Wednesday vs. San Antonio; Thursday at Chicago; Saturday at Indiana and Sunday vs. Philadelphia.

According to ESPN research, the Celtics will be the third team to play a stretch of 11 games in 15 days this season, joining the Chicago Bulls and the Charlotte Bobcats. They did it in January.

“This season is nuts,’’ Rivers said.

The coach said not to be surprised if he decides to make lineup changes to give players a game off in this period of time. (Paul Pierce, however, said flatly, “They pay me to play in the games, so that’s my plan.”) Rivers said that if it comes down to getting his key players needed rest at the risk of tumbling in the standings, he will not hesitate.

“The thing is, we don’t know,’’ Rivers said about the upcoming stretch. “I wish I knew. I don’t have any idea how the guys are going to react to it, how their bodies are going to react to it. If we think we see something, we’ll change the lineup to get different guys more rest. Or we will sit a guy here and there. Who knows? I wish there was a formula for this. This stretch is going to be hard. That’s why it’s so nice going to into this stretch having won games.”

The Celtics, who have won five straight, seven of eight, and are 15-5 since the All-Star break, are likely to be traveling on each of the four off-days in this stretch, which includes the four back-to-backs and the aforementioned back-to-back-to-back. According to ESPN research, the only team that will have its first set of three games in as many nights later than the Celtics is the Golden State Warriors (April 20-22.) However a number of teams, including the 76ers, will have a back-to-back-to-back situation after the Celtics finish theirs on April 15.

Pietrus 'better,' but still not close

Mickael Pietrus showed up at the Celtics’ practice Tuesday and, according to Rivers, yelled out, “I feel better.” Then, Rivers said, “I don’t know what the hell that means.” Pietrus has not played since suffering a concussion on March 23 and Rivers said that Tuesday was the first time he’d seen the garrulous Frenchman without sunglasses and a hoodie.

“I saw him the other day and he didn’t look so good,’’ Rivers said. "[Tuesday] he looked so much better. I’m hoping it keeps going that way, but none of us know. Concussions take their own course and we have to wait for it to do that.”

According to Rivers, Pietrus is still a ways away from returning, and it’s beginning to appear that the team may not see him again until the playoffs.

“They haven’t even started the preliminary [tests], and when they do, it’s still a week to a week-and-a-half out before they have any chance of clearing him. So the fact that they haven’t even started the preliminaries tells you they don’t think he’s anywhere close.”

Bragging rights for Rondo

Rajon Rondo celebrated his alma mater’s victory in the NCAA Tournament by wearing Kentucky shorts during the Celtics’ practice. Asked what he had said to Kansas’ Paul Pierce after the game, Rondo said, “Show me the money.” Then he said what Pierce really owed him was 1,000 push-ups within the next month. He might have been serious. Pierce, meanwhile, didn’t want to talk about the game. The Celtics have had an alum from the NCAA champion in four of the last five years with Pierce (Kansas, 2008), Shelden Williams (Duke, 2010), Ray Allen (Connecticut 2011) and Rondo ... Pierce said he thinks the team’s long road trip in March was a key factor in the team coming together when it did. “It brought us even closer,’’ he said. “We were able to bond a lot. Road trips like that, even though we only went .500, tend to bring you closer, especially a veteran group. Now things are starting to turn for us right in the nick of time.” ... Rondo on whether he gets flak from the Celtics’ big men for stealing their rebounds: “At times I get cussed out a little bit or an elbow swung at me here and there. Our bigs are pretty cool when I do take a couple rebounds. Kevin [Garnett] will say some kind words at me. And Brandon [Bass] as well. He’ll try and bite your head off.” ... Garnett stayed long after practice to work on low-post moves with newcomer Ryan Hollins. Rondo at first joked that Garnett was doing so only because reporters were there to see it (although Garnett asked that cameras be turned off). Then, in a more serious vein, Rondo said, “He’s scored over 20,000 points. He’s the man to listen to.”