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The Tougher The Opponent The Better For Celtics?

By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
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Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on the Celtics bench. (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on the Celtics bench. (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) – Sometimes, playing a good team isn’t always a bad thing.

That is especially the case when it comes to the 2012-13 edition of the Boston Celtics.

The Celtics have a tough back-to-back on the road this weekend, with visits to Dallas and Memphis. Dallas is out of the playoff picture but putting up a fight for the eight spot in the West, while Memphis touts a 46-21 record – good for third in the conference.

So two tough, playoff-like games are on the docket for the Celtics. Bad news for an aging, veteran team that has struggled recently and looking to rest guys like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for the postseason, right?

If only that were the case. Given the Celtics record against the lesser teams in the NBA this season, a weekend against two tough opponents may be a good thing.

That’s right, it might actually be better for the C’s to lace them up against the likes of the Mavs and Grizzlies rather than the Bobcats or Hornets.

Read: Celtics @ Mavericks Preview

I know what you’re thinking: whatever I’m on, you want some for the weekend. But this isn’t coming from lack of sleep thanks to the NCAA Tournament, or an anti-rage pill that was required after Harvard sent New Mexico home late Thursday– costing this basketball junky one of his final four teams.

The Celtics better off playing playoff teams on the road. If that doesn’t give new meaning to March Madness, what will?

But it is true. This season, the Celtics have not fared well against the NBA-worst – home or away. They are a combined 6-10 against the Hornets, Bobcats, Cavaliers, Pistons, Kings and 76ers this season, causing headaches comparable to those you get following a three-hour Curb Your Enthusiam binge.

Those six teams, all well out of the playoff picture in their respected conference, have a combined record of 135-276 this season, yet had their way with the Celtics. The Hornets, 23-46, swept the season series with Boston. The Bobcats, with their NBA-worst 16 wins, split the season-series 2-2 against the C’s.

Those numbers make it pretty obvious that the Celtics play down to their opponents, but that is clear for anyone who sat through those loses in Cleveland, Sacramento and most-recently, Charlotte. While Boston began to right the ship when the calendar changed from 2012 to 2013, their lackadaisical and poor play against the cellar-dwellars of the NBA has continued, and plays a big part into why they sit in the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and not as high as the fifth.

View: NBA Standings

The Celtics have lost two straight now, blowing second-half leads to Miami on Monday (respectable) and in Charlotte (much less respectable), so there’s little doubt they’ll be an angry bunch in Dallas on Friday. And although Dallas is currently out of the playoffs, usually recipe for disaster when it comes to the Celtics, they’re a veteran team that has a lot of fight left in them. The two teams tangoed for a double-overtime thriller in December, with Boston coming out on top 117-115.

But this time around, the Celtics don’t have Rajon Rondo to play 52 minutes. Instead, they’ll have a motivated group, and one angry guard. Former Mav Jason Terry put up a goose-egg on Wednesday (going scoreless in 20 minutes and shooting 0-for-5 in Charlotte), and will be highly motivated to bounce back in his old stomping grounds.

As for Saturday, the only downside to a measuring-stick matchup with Memphis is the fact it’s the second end of a back-to-back. With the “rest or rhythm” debate raging for Doc Rivers, it’s unclear if Garnett or Pierce may get that evening off instead of clashing with the likes of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol or Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen, respectively. It’d be nice to see them try for a true 60-minute effort against one of the better teams in the league, but that’s up to Doc.

A prime rest game for Garnett and Pierce would be Wednesday night’s game in Cleveland – which follows Tuesday’s final showdown with the Knicks – but the C’s might actually need KG and PP to pull that one out.

This weekend’s back-to-back is not going to be easy for the Celtics. Dallas is fighting for its season, and Memphis is rolling – winners of eight of its last 10. But these are the games the Celtics get up for, the ones they show their true colors to tease everyone with the hopes of another deep playoff run.

The Celtics have certainly lost their share of games against playoff teams, going against 11-10 against the East playoff teams and just 6-9 against those from the West. But at least those games, they show up – for the most part – and play to win, not show up and “deserve to lose,” as Rivers said Wednesday night.

The Celtics may not win both, or either, of their games this weekend, but it’s much easier to take a loss to the Mavericks or Grizzlies than it is any loss to the Bobcats.

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