The Celtics will play two of their next three games against the teams that are first and second in the overall standings.
BOSTON — After completing a three-game homestand against sub-.500 teams Wednesday night, the Celtics are about to face much stronger opponents.
They will play two of their next three games against the teams that are first and second in the overall NBA standings.
Following their game against the Detroit Pistons Wednesday at the TD Garden, the Celtics were on a plane bound for Milwaukee, where they will take on the NBA-leading Bucks at 8:05 Thursday night (TV: TNT; radio: WPRV-790 AM, WROR-105.7 FM).
After hosting the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night, the Celtics will entertain the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers in another national TV game on Monday night.
The Celtics (27-11) entered their game against the Pistons second in the Eastern Conference, trailing the Bucks (36-6) by seven games. Milwaukee has won nine of 10 games since a Christmas Day loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
As was the case last week when the Celtics played the Sixers, they will be at a disadvantage going against the Bucks.
The Celtics lost to the San Antonio Spurs at home last Wednesday, then had to face the 76ers 24 hours later in Philadelphia. The Sixers had been idle the previous day, which is the same case this week with the Bucks, who played Tuesday night.
The Celtics figure to have Jayson Tatum back against the Bucks after he sat out against the Pistons due to a sore right knee.
Coach Brad Stevens said that Tatum has some tendinitis in his knee and the issue should not be long term. Marcus Smart replaced Tatum in the starting lineup with Jaylen Brown moving to forward.
Tatum had been the only member of the Celtics to not miss a game this season, and he has rarely sat out since entering the NBA in 2017. Tatum sat out two games as a rookie and three games last season.
The Bucks are 19-2 at home and Giannis Antetokounmpo is leading the way, averaging 30 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists.
The game against the Bucks will conclude a difficult stretch for the Celtics with nine games in 14 days.
“There’s not a day to really take a deep breath,’’ Stevens said. “You’re always prepping for what’s next and I try to stay ahead anyways. These are tough stretches, but it’s part of it. Everybody goes through it. We all manage accordingly. We signed up for 82 games of it and it’s part of it.
"I like what Larry [Bird] said — 41 at home, 41 on the road. It is what it is.’’
The Lakers’ annual visit will be the second trip to Boston for LeBron James in a Los Angeles uniform. James had 28 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists last Feb. 7 when the Lakers edged the Celtics on a Rajon Rondo shot at the buzzer.
Los Angeles (33-7) took a nine-game winning streak into Wednesday night’s game against the Orlando Magic. The Lakers had not lost since falling to the Los Angeles Clippers on Christmas Day.
After missing Monday night’s win over the Chicago Bulls, center Daniel Theis was back in the starting lineup against Andre Drummond and the Pistons.
Theis has been bothered by right knee soreness in recent weeks. Stevens said that his minutes would be monitored.
“We’ll manage him over the next couple of games, for sure,’’ he said.
Another center, Robert Williams, is expected to be sidelined until after the All-Star break due to a left hip bone edema. Williams had a CT-scan earlier this month and is increasing his activity with another scan scheduled in a couple of weeks.
With games coming at the Celtics at a fast pace, Stevens said that the coaching staff has to find time to get away when it can.
“There are nights when you do need to put down the computer and get away from it in the course of these stretches,’’ Stevens said. “It’s a little bit tougher when you have this many games in this many days.
“There have been many times when the plane has landed somewhere and the assistants and I have thrown those computers to the wayside and gone and done something else.’’
Jim Fenton may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @JFenton_ent.