BOSTON -- There was a time, and not too long ago, that Celtics fans would have looked at Boston's schedule and circled Friday night as one of those special dates.
But now, with James in Los Angeles and the Cavs a 4-16 team in rebuilding mode, a visit from this team is just a perfect chance for the Celtics to win a third straight game for the first and only time this month.
The Cavs have knocked the Celtics out of the playoffs each of the last two years -- but that is not going to happen again this season as Cleveland suffers through its year-after as one of the worst teams in the league.
They've already fired coach Ty Lue (after an 0-6 start, that would blossom into 1-11). Kevin Love, the lone remaining member of a Big Three that also included Kyrie Irving, now the Celtics' main man, has already been lost to foot surgery and won't be back until at least January. Wednesday, Cleveland traded valuable shooter Kyle Korver to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Alec Burks and two future second-round draft picks.
The rebuild continues, with Larry Drew coaching.
Burks is averaging 8.4 points per game while shooting 37.2 percent from 3-point range this season.
"That's my guy, really close with A.B.," Rodney Hood told cleveland.com when asked about Burks, his former teammate. "Good player. Sidelined by some injuries throughout his career, but really can score the ball. He's a good (player) that can defend and I think he will get more of an opportunity to show what he can do. I know he's excited. My wife is friends with his fiance, really good friends of the family and it will be good reuniting with him."
The Cavs have lost two straight, but before that posted wins over the Houston Rockets at home and the Philadelphia 76ers road. They lost 100-83 in Oklahoma City Wednesday night.
The Celtics (11-10) are coming off what could be a significant road win at New Orleans, but there have been significant wins before in this totally unpredicted up and down season.
With the struggling Jaylen Brown out with a bruised tailbone, the Celtics handled Anthony Davis and the Pelicans -- taking control from the start against a sloppy opponent.
"I think the unit that we had out there today, we really had that mindset going that we wanted to start out the game and have a defensive presence," Irving said after the game. "Marcus (Smart, added to the starting lineup) on the ball took some of that pressure off of me of being off the ball as well, offensively and defensively. So when my time was on Jrue Holiday, I was able to direct and do the right things, but Marcus was really taking that responsibility. And that's a role that he particularly plays for our team and we do really well.
"Also on the offensive end it takes pressure off me being able to play off the ball sometimes; my energy can get depleted coming up and down and directing the ball every single time. And having Marcus in there gave me that outlet to be able to get off the ball. So we did pretty well with our unit tonight. We started off the game well and we never looked back."
Brown's status for Friday was uncertain, but the Celtics are at Minnesota Saturday on the second half of a back-to-back, so sitting Brown Friday makes sense.
A report surfaced Friday that former Celtic Kendrick Perkins, currently out of the league, hopes to play again this season, which would be his last, and has reached out to Boston. But Celtics head Danny Ainge told 98.5, The Sports Hub, "I don't think it's a good fit for our team right now."