By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) –  Prior to the start of the NBA season, the  Boston Celtics were seen as one of those teams that could contend with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.

Their core of aging stars in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett mixed with a new-attitude Rajon Rondo, along with what was supposed to be one of the best benches in the league, would have them in the upper echelon of the East and a shoo-in to compete for the franchise’s 18th championship.

But halfway through the season, the Celtics are nowhere near where they need to be for any of those preseason prophecies to come true. It goes much further than their lack off rebounding (on either end of the floor) or lack of a go-to scorer on a given night. While those issues are glaring, what ails this team is an overall lack of effort. They’re a team of wildly inconsistent play on both the offensive and defensive end, a team that is still searching for its identity, and, perhaps the most frustrating part of it all, a team that doesn’t show heart on a night-to-night basis.

In 2008, the Celtics were a motivated bunch. Hungry for a championship, they would have run through walls for each other. When a guy hit the floor, four green uniforms were immediately there to help him up. And out of a 48 minute game, the bench would be sitting for 30-seconds of it. This 2012 club on the other hand has a sense of entitlement, as Doc Rivers has stated a number of times this season. Instead of earned the honor of calling themselves a Celtic, these players are taking the green jersey they wear for granted.

Following Tuesday night’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Celtics hit the halfway point at 20-21 and as the eighth-seed in the Eastern Conference. It’s a spot the Celtics have settled into for most of the season, and can expect to remain if they continue to show up with little or no effort on a nightly basis.

That’s not to say the Celtics are doing everything wrong. Rookie Jared Sullinger’s emergence is a nice story, and the return of Avery Bradley proved just how important he is to the team. It should be no surprise the Celtics rattled off five straight wins shortly after the shut-down defender returned, and the team finally began to resemble just that – a team. It looked as though they were finally jelling, and found the identity they had been searching so hard for.

But that bowl of Jell-O has turned back to mush. And all that searching for an identity? They have an identity: A team that has all the potential in the world, but one that takes plays, quarters, and full nights off. In that sense, it’s very hard to actually call them a team.

Boston’s recent six-game was just a tease of what they can actually look like if they play to their potential. But instead of using that streak as a blueprint for success, one that could have potentially propelled them further up in the standings and ended the need for any Doc Rivers outbursts, the Celtics have fallen back to their lazy ways. The result: their second four-game losing streak of the season.

Read: Doc Calls Out Celtics Again, Threatens Moves

The up-and-down nature of the month is nothing new. It’s been happening all season, and will continue to happen until the team – the entire team – puts forth the full effort they need. In the past, as an old team, the Celtics rested on the fact that things would turn around in the playoffs. It worked last year, which is almost a smokescreen to what is currently going on. Too often fans look at last season’s success and hope something similar will happen this time around.

But this is a much different team, with much different pieces. Ray Allen, complaints and all, is gone – replaced by a Jason Terry imposter who, although his passing has looked pretty good, has not been the scoring force off the bench. Jeff Green, who yes, deserves somewhat of a pass after coming back from heart surgery, has not lived up to his big payday in the offseason. He plays well for stretches but more nights than not, you would think he wasn’t even in the building. Brandon Bass is … to make things easy, just re-read the Jeff Green excerpt.

While Garnett is trying his hardest, he cannot carry a team anymore. Pierce has tried as well, but has been far too inconsistent for long stretches, and his recent play is actually hurting the team. As for Rondo, the Ainge/Rivers-proclaimed new leader of it all, his wild inconsistencies are the perfect analogy the team as a whole: some nights the effort is amazing, other nights it’s flat-lining.  While he’s willing to lead any given night, one just doesn’t know if it will be that given night.

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That is the Celtics in a nutshell. Some nights they will all show up, and those nights are fun to watch. More times than not, the Celtics win on those rare evenings, thanks to a full effort. But on all those other nights, only a handful of players will show up, if any. Those nights lead to an evening of insufferable and frustrating basketball, and another loss in the standings.

So how do they turn it around? Maybe a better question is can they turn it around with the collection of players they have, or does Danny Ainge need to look at his current roster and blow it all up?

The Celtics could still turn it around. Some of them have done it before. But those players need to get the message across, “if we’re not all on the same page, playing with the same passion, we are going nowhere.” Until everyone starts giving their all each and every night — no matter the opponent, no matter the setting, no matter what’s on the line — it will be one step forward and two steps back.

And this team doesn’t have many steps back until they fall over that proverbial sports ledge.

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