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Following a loss that will likely haunt the Celtics for some time given the current importance of every game in the Eastern Conference playoff race this season, the team is likely looking forward to the start of a new month and the beginning of a new chapter to their playoff run.

In addition to running through an analysis of the Celtics schedule this month, I will also be summarizing the quality of the schedules for the rest of the teams who would be in the playoffs if the season were to end today. As of this morning, here are the Eastern Conference standings:

THE CELTICS JANUARY SCHEDULE

1/2 vs. Nets: It is hard to imagine the Celtics losing consecutive home games to two of the worst teams in the NBA.

1/3 at Nets: The Celtics were unable to sweep the last home-and-home set.

1/6 vs. Pistons: The Celtics will be well-rested and Detroit is 7-10 on the road this season.

1/7 at Bulls: The Celtics first back-to-back of the month and Chicago is 13-5 at home, but this will be a national TV game for the road warriors, which might help compensate for any tiredness.

1/10 at Grizzlies: The Celtics will be well-rested for what will be the second of a three-game road trip. Memphis may be 11-7 at home this season, but they are also giving up more points (99.4) than they score (96.4).

1/12 at Knicks: While this is the type of game the Celtics have been winning, New York is 8-8 at home and 4-1 in the division.

1/13 vs. Pacers: Is the third time a charm? The Celtics will seek their first victory over Indiana this season after losing the first two. Hopefully, this motivation will help them overcome any issues related to the fact this is the second of a back-to-back.

1/15 vs. Suns: This was a game the Celtics should win a week ago, but with the injury to Eric Bledsoe, it is now a game they must win. Phoenix is also 4-13 on the road this season.

1/16 at Wizards: This will be the second of a back-to-back. Washington is 7-8 at home and own the worst defense (points against) in the Eastern Conference.

1/18 at Mavericks: The Celtics will look at avenge one of their most heart-breaking losses of the season while helping their draft position at the same time. Although Dallas is 10-5 at home, they are only 7-6 against the Eastern Conference.

1/20 at Raptors: Although this will be the final stop on their three-game road trip, it is first in importance given the fact these two are fighting for Atlantic Division supremacy.

1/22 vs. Bulls: The Celtics come home to play Chicago, who is 5-7 on the road this season.

1/23 at 76ers: The Celtics last back-to-back of the month, but against the worst team in the NBA.

1/25 at Wizards: This will be their second trip to Washington in January. Is a split likely?

1/27 vs. Nuggets: The Celtics come home for a matchup with the 12-21 Nuggets, who are 7-11 on the road this season.

1/29 vs. Magic: This will be the front-end of a home-and-home with Orlando, who is 7-7 on the road.

1/31 at Magic: Likely whoever wins game one will have a tough time winning here.

ANALYSIS

The Celtics play 17 games in January, which will be one of their busiest months of the season. It is important for them to be successful this month considering it will include their final two games of the year against the Nets, who are currently the third-worst team in the NBA. It is those types of games a team in the thick of such a crowded playoff race must win. In addition to two with Brooklyn, they also have games against the 76ers, Suns and Nuggets, who are all projected to be in the draft lottery, and Boston is 11-2 against teams with a losing record this year. Although I know what happened with the loss to the Lakers on Wednesday, they should win all five of these games.

The next tier of games are on the road against teams with losing records, which include two against the Wizards and one against the Knicks. Although these teams are under .500, they are capable of having moments of brilliance and play competent and competitive basketball almost every night. However, as referenced above, Boston is 11-2 against teams under .500 and 9-6 on the road. The goal and expectation should be two wins.

The next tier of games are at home against teams with a winning record. The Celtics are 9-8 at home this season and 7-12 against teams above .500. The games that fall into this category include the Pistons, Pacers, Bulls and Magic. Considering only one of the four does not have a losing record on the road this season, the goal and expectation here should be three wins.

The final tier of games are on the road against teams with a winning record, including the Bulls, Grizzlies, Mavericks, Raptors and Magic. Although the Celtics are 7-12 against teams with winning records, they are 9-6 on the road this season, so which trend will win out? I fear the latter. Chicago is a great home team and that will be the second of a back-to-back; Toronto is the last of a three-city road trip and also a tough out at home; Orlando will likely have extra motivation following their loss to Boston two nights earlier; and Dallas is playing some of its best basketball of the year right now. Fans should hope for two wins, but expect one.

Total Projected Wins: ELEVEN (11)
Projected Record as of 2/1: 29-20


JANUARY FOR THE REST OF THE TOP 8 IN EASTERN CONFERENCE STANDINGS:

1. CAVALIERS (21-9)

Summary: They play 16 games in January, including eight at home, where they are 13-1, and eight on the road, where they are 8-8. They play nine games against teams with winning records, who they are 9-5 against this season, and seven against teams with a losing record, who they are currently 12-4 against.

Away:: They have a six-game road trip through Washington (W), Minnesota (W), Philadelphia (W), Dallas (W), San Antonio (L) and Houston (L). Their other two road games are against Brooklyn (W) and Detroit (L).

Home: They play Toronto (W), Orlando (W), Golden State (L), LA Clippers (W), Chicago (W), San Antonio (L), Phoenix (W) and Minnesota (W). The last two are easy wins for the Cavaliers, who have only lost one at home this year. As for the rest, fans should expect at least four wins.

Total Projected Wins: ELEVEN (11)
Projected Record as of 2/1: 32-14


2. HAWKS (21-13)

Summary: They play 15 games in January, including 5 at home, where they are 12-6, and 10 on the road, where they are 9-7. However, they play nine games against teams with losing records, who they are 11-4 against this season, and six against teams with a winning record, who they are currently 10-9 against. Their month includes a four-game West Coast swing, but against teams with losing records.

Away: They play New York (L), Philadelphia (W), Charlotte (L), Milwaukee (L), Portland (L), Sacramento (W), Phoenix (W), Denver (W), Indiana (L) and Miami (L). Although seven of their opponents have overall losing records, look at their home records: Knicks 8-8; Hornets 13-6; Bucks 9-6; Blazers 8-6; Kings 8-9; Suns 8-10; Pacers 11-5; and Heat 13-7. This is not an easy month of road games, which begs the question: are there any easy road games in the NBA?

Home: They play New York (W), Brooklyn (W), Chicago (W), Orlando (W) and LA Clippers (L). Given the Hawks success at home, the first two should be easy wins. As for the remaining three, the safest projection is them finding a way to win two of three.

Total Projected Wins: EIGHT (8)
Projected Record as of 2/1: 29-20


3. RAPTORS (20-13)

Summary: They play 14 games in January, including nine at home, where they are 10-5, and five away, where they are 10-8. They play eight games against teams with winning records, who they are 10-7 against this season, and six against teams with a losing record, who they are currently 10-6 against. All of their road games are part of a five-game road trip. This is going to be one of Raptors easiest months of the season, which means they must capitalize and create distance between them and the Celtics in the Atlantic.

Away: They play Cleveland (L), Brooklyn (W), Philadelphia (W), Washington (W) and Orlando (L). With the Cavaliers 13-1 home record, expect a loss there, but also expect wins against the Nets and 76ers, who are two of the worst three teams in the NBA. As for the remaining two, expect a split.

Home: They play Charlotte (W), Chicago (W), Brooklyn (W), Boston (W), Miami (L), LA Clippers (L), Washington (W), New York (W) and Detroit (W). Of note, they finish out the month with seven consecutive home games.

Total Projected Wins: TEN (10)
Projected Record as of 2/1: 30-17


4. BULLS (18-12)

Summary: They play 16 games in January, including 9 on the road, where they are 5-7, and 7 at home, where they are 13-5. They also play 10 games against teams with winning records, who they are 11-8 against this season, and six against teams with losing records, who they are currently 7-4 against. As you will see, this is going to be one of their hardest months on the schedule.

Away: They play Toronto (L), Atlanta (L), Milwaukee (W), Philadelphia (W), Detroit (L), Boston (L), Cleveland (L), LA Lakers (W) and LA Clippers (L). In addition to six of the nine having overall winning records, which would be tough enough for the Bulls, who are 5-7 away from home this season, the Bucks are 9-6 home despite being under .500. The two against the 76ers and Lakers, who are at the bottom of the NBA standings, should be easy wins. However, the rest will be a struggle for a team that has left their home building as little as anyone this season.

Home: They play New York (W), Milwaukee (W), Boston (W), Washington (W), Dallas (L), Golden State (L) and Miami (W). Given their 13-5 record at home, we should expect more wins than losses here, especially with the Knicks and Bucks coming to Chicago.

Total Projected Wins: EIGHT (8)
Projected Record as of 2/1: 26-20


5. MAGIC (19-13)

Summary: They play 14 games in January, including 8 on the road, where they are 7-7, and 6 at home, where they are 12-6. They also play nine games against teams with winning records, who they are 3-8 against this season, and five against teams with losing records, who they are currently 16-5 against. The Magic have had quite the schedule so far. In addition to playing 18 of their 32 at home, 21 of their opponents thus far have losing records. Both those trends will change in January and it should be interesting to see how that goes for this young roster.

Away: They play Cleveland (L), Washington (L), Detroit (L), Brooklyn (W), Atlanta (L), Boston (L), Memphis (L) and Milwaukee (L). The Magic have struggled on the road and against teams with overall winning records, which accounts for five of their eight opponents. Moreover, the Wizards back to .500 earlier this week and are 7-8 at home this season, while the Bucks are 9-6 at home. Considering their struggles on the road, this will be a challenging slate of games for them.

Home: They play Indiana (W), Washington (W), Boston (W), Philadelphia (W), Toronto (W) and Charlotte (W). It is hard to project a loss here, especially given their 12-6 record at home. It is easy to see them splitting home-and-home sequences with the Celtics and Wizards, and the 76ers are the worst team in the NBA. Moreover, the Hornets are 4-8 away from home, Pacers 7-9 and I do not like the situation for the Raptors.

Total Projected Wins: SEVEN (7)
Projected Record as of 2/1: 26-20


6. HEAT (18-13)

Summary: They play 17 games in January, including an eye-opening 12 on the road, where they are 5-6, and 4 at home, where they are 13-7. They also play nine games against teams with losing records, who they are 11-3 against this season, and eight against teams with winning records, who they are currently 7-10 against. Miami has had the luxury of playing at home for most of the year, which should be of concern to Heat fans given the fact they have been a below .500 team on the road this season, where they will be playing 12 of their 17 January games.

Away: They play Washington (L), Phoenix (W), Utah (L), Golden State (L), LA Clippers (L), Denver (W), Oklahoma City (L), Washington (W), Toronto (W), Chicago (L), Brooklyn (W) and Milwaukee (L). As if 12 games outside Miami was not enough, they play them all during two long road trips, including one six-city swing through the West.

Home: They play Dallas (L), Indiana (W), New York (W), Milwaukee (W) and Atlanta (W). Given their 13-7 record at home, we should expect more wins than losses here, especially with the Knicks and Bucks on the slate.

Total Projected Wins: NINE (9)
Projected Record as of 2/1: 27-21


7. PACERS (18-14)

Summary: They play 15 games in January, including 9 on the road, where they are 7-9, and 6 at home, where they are 11-4. They also play eight games against teams with losing records, who they are 7-4 against this season, and seven against teams with winning records, who they are currently 11-9 against. The Pacers have played 20 of their first 32 games against teams above .500, which may indicate how seriously NBA fans should take their impressive start. However, they may have to improve their record away from home if they plan on having a successful month.

Away: They play Miami (L), Orlando (L), New Orleans (W), Houston (L), Boston (L), Denver (W), Phoenix (W), Golden State (L) and Sacramento (W). Of their nine opponents, six are at or above .500 at home, including the Pelicans, and two are just under .500.

Home: They play Detroit (W), Phoenix (W), Washington (W), Denver (W), LA Clippers (L) and Atlanta (W). Given their 11-4 record at home, as well as the fact all of their opponents struggle on the road, it is hard to project many losses here.

Total Projected Wins: NINE (9)
Projected Record as of 2/1: 27-20


PROJECTED EASTERN CONFERENCE STANDINGS AS OF FEBRUARY 1, 2016:

1. CLEVELAND 32-14
2. TORONTO 30-17
3. BOSTON 29-20
4. ATLANTA 29-20
5. CHICAGO 26-20
6. ORLANDO 26-20
7. MIAMI 27-21
8. INDIANA 27-21


QUESTIONS FOR THE READERS: Considering the schedules outlined for each Eastern Conference team above, what is your projection for the standings on February 1, 2016? Please list your top eight out in your comment.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Nathaniel S. Butler

Follow Max Sandgrund on Twitter @SotoSpeakz

Max Sandgrund 1/01/2016 05:50:00 AM Edit
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