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New Orleans Pelicans 2016-17 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the New Orleans Pelicans’ 2016-17 season.

Basketball Insiders



The New Orleans Pelicans entered the 2015-16 season with a lot of excitement and optimism. The Pelicans won 45 games in the 2014-15 season, made the postseason, were riding the back of Anthony Davis, their young superstar, and had just hired head coach Alvin Gentry to take the team to the next level. On the night the Golden State Warriors won the 2014-15 NBA championship, a celebrating Gentry – then the associate head coach of the Warriors – sent a message to his young superstar: “[Anthony Davis], we’re coming right back here!”

Unfortunately, the 2015-16 season didn’t result in a trip to the NBA Finals, or a trip to the postseason at all. The Pelicans were decimated by injuries (only Dante Cunningham and Alonzo Gee played in more than 70 regular season games) and were unable to fully implement Gentry’s pass-happy, movement-based offensive system. The hope for this team is that an offseason of rehab and training and will lead to a healthier 2016-17 season, and that Davis will finally be able to shake the injury bug he has struggled with throughout his young NBA career.

The Pelicans also hope that their offseason additions will offset the losses of contributors like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. Anderson and Gordon struggled with injuries as well, but when healthy they were two of the Pelicans’ main pieces.

Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 New Orleans Pelicans.


The Pelicans have unfortunately been decimated by injuries in recent seasons, so hopefully this will be the year that trend ends. The Pelicans will only go as far as superstar Anthony Davis will take them, but that means he too will need to overcome the string of injuries he has endured over the past few seasons. I like the additions of players like Buddy Hield, Cheick Diallo, Langston Galloway and Solomon Hill, but I’m not sure that their offseason moves will be enough to make them competitive enough for any sort of postseason run. While this is a team with young, developing players, it also features several veteran players who are there to make this team competitive now. While I am hopeful that this team can shake the injury bug and that Davis can take the next step in his development, I am not very optimistic about this team’s chances of making the postseason or any sort of deep playoff run.

5th Place – Southwest Division

– Jesse Blancarte

Buddy Hield should immediately pay dividends for the Pelicans, but the biggest concern for the franchise should be the fact that Anthony Davis hasn’t exactly earned the reputation of being an iron man. After four years in the NBA, Davis has yet to play in as many as 70 games in a single season. Last season, everyone expected the Pelicans to take a step forward but injuries to some of their key contributors undercut what looked to be a promising year. With Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon gone and Jrue Holiday out indefinitely pending his wife’s upcoming brain surgery, the Pelicans will likely need some major contributions from Langston Galloway. After working his way through the D-League and emerging as a plus-contributor for the Knicks, Galloway secured a two-year contract from his hometown Pelicans and it’s quite easy to be happy for him. That said, without Holiday, the Pelicans are likely to be playing catch up all season long and unless something similarly catastrophic happens to one of the other teams in the Southwest Division, the Pelicans are likely to be finishing last again this season.

5th Place — Southwest Division

– Moke Hamilton

What a difference a year makes. Heading into training camp last season, fresh off of a playoff berth, most were preparing for an absolute monster (and possibly MVP-level) campaign from All-Star forward Anthony Davis. But Davis limped to just 61 appearances and the club staggered its way to only 30 victories the entire season. Now, the heightened expectations have leveled off and the 2016-17 campaign is shaping up to be one of redemption for Davis and head coach Alvin Gentry. The team lost established veterans Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson in free agency, but invested over $70 million in role players E’Twaun Moore and Solomon Hill in early July. The gamble may pay off, as both guys have showed flashes of potential in limited roles. The key to the Pelicans’ success, however, starts and ends with the play of Davis. For New Orleans gets back into the playoffs, Davis would have to hear his name in the nightly MVP discussion.

5th Place – Southwest Division

– Lang Greene

If we could count on Anthony Davis to stay healthy long enough to reach his full potential as a legitimate MVP candidate, it would be much harder to keep putting the Pelicans in the basement of the Southwest Division. However, he’s played between 61-68 games every year of his professional career, and that isn’t enough to guarantee much movement in an incredibly tough division. Frankly, this team didn’t do much to improve its chances this past offseason. Buddy Hield and Cheick Diallo look like strong rookie additions, but they don’t suddenly change this New Orleans squad into a contender. Plain and simple, there’s a dearth of talent here. Davis will have to be transcendent for them to make any real progress this year.

5th Place – Southwest Division

– Joel Brigham

Buddy Hield is one of my favorite prospects in this draft class and I think he can make an impact right away for New Orleans. His game is perfect for today’s NBA since he’s such an efficient scoring and excellent shooter. Outside of Hield, I wasn’t crazy about the Pelicans’ offseason moves though. New Orleans paid a lot of money to role players who are nice complementary pieces, but their core still leaves a lot to be desired. I believe the Pelicans will top last year’s win total, but I have them missing the playoffs once again.

5th Place – Southwest Division

– Alex Kennedy


Top Offensive Player: Anthony Davis

Davis is an all-around threat offensively. He has a smooth jumper that he continues to extend to the three-point line, he’s an effective pick-and-roll partner and is tough to keep off the boards for easy put-backs. There aren’t many limitations in Davis’ current offensive arsenal and he will surely continue to refine and sharpen the skills he already has.

A past criticism of Davis’ game was his thin frame and inability to back down bigger opponents in the post. However, as the league continues to move away from posting up big men in isolation situations, this concern becomes increasingly less of an issue. Additionally, Davis has filled out his frame considerably since entering the league, has improved his ability to leverage opposing bigs to clear space when necessary and is generally able to turn and shoot over most opponents because of his length and athleticism.

One area that Davis could improve is in his ability to make plays for his teammates. Davis is a better ball handler than most bigs and has pretty good court vision. The more Davis can facilitate the offense from the power forward or center position, the more Gentry can offset the fact that his lead guards are either sidelined indefinitely or not pure point guards, like Tyreke Evans and Lance Stephenson. Despite this, Davis is already one of the most dynamic talents in the entire NBA and is the best all-around offensive player on the Pelicans.

Top Defensive Player: Anthony Davis

There are reasons to question just how much of a defensive impact Davis has made throughout his career. He blocks a lot of shots, but this has become less of a measuring stick for all-around defensive impact with newer advanced statistics regularly being developed. However, while Davis doesn’t generally rank at the top of the defensive charts (e.g., Davis ranked 16th among all qualified power forwards in ESPN’s Defensive RPM statistic last season), he is the ideal defensive big man for today’s NBA. He has the length and mobility to protect the rim, the awareness to make weak side blocks, the footwork to attack ball handlers on the perimeter, the vision to play passing lanes and the intelligence to execute defensive schemes that require timely rotations and continuous communication.

The trick for Davis will be developing defensive chemistry with his teammates and taking care of his body to offset the impact of competing against opposing bigs each night. Davis has the tools to be one of the best all-around defenders in the NBA, but he needs to improve his consistency and effort on that side of the court and needs to get as many reps as possible with his teammates, which could be an issue if injuries continue to plague this team.

Top Playmaker: Jrue Holiday

Holiday is out indefinitely to be with his wife, Lauren Holiday, who was diagnosed with an operable brain tumor on the right side of her brain in June. There is obviously no timetable for Holiday’s return since his wife’s health and recovery take precedence over basketball.

Without Holiday, the Pelicans enter the season minus their starting point guard and best playmaker. Tim Frazier came on strong for the Pelicans in 16 games last season and even tallied more assists per-36 minutes than Holiday, but this was a small sample size and Holiday’s combination of size, skill and experience make him the team’s best playmaker.

The Pelicans also have Tyreke Evans, E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway and Lance Stephenson to turn to for playmaking, but Evans is hurt, Stephenson has been a shell of his former self and the other options haven’t proven they are the answer for any team as the full-time starting point guard. As previously mentioned, Davis should be used in a heightened playmaking capacity to expand his already considerable impact and to at least partially offset the loss of Holiday.

Top Clutch Player: Anthony Davis

The Pelicans took Buddy Hield with the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft. Hield has become a knockdown shooter and has a ton of confidence in his game, so he may eventually become the Pelicans’ best clutch player. For the time being, though, Davis is the team’s best option in high-pressure situations.

Davis has already logged a few game winners in his short career,and seems poised to be the team’s number one option moving forward.

“At the end of the game, I think we need to get the ball to Anthony more,” Alvin Gentry said about Davis. “We need to start training him to be the guy down the stretch. If you’ve got a great player, that’s what you do. He is gonna be our closer. And that doesn’t necessarily mean making the shot. But I think he’s gonna be the guy more times than not that we’re gonna depend on to make the play at the end of the game. That means maybe finding the open guy, or when a double team comes being able to swing the basketball and put guys in the position where they can make the shot.

“I think we’re gonna have to start trying to go through him — and it may be a screen-and-roll situation, where he screens and rolls to the basket. But we’ve got to have him involved in a lot of the plays at the end of the game.”

Davis can knock down a set jumper, a floater off the dribble, be the roll man on a pick-and-roll and can either finish a play or dish the ball to an open teammate after drawing in multiple defenders. Being able to either score or open looks for teammates down the stretch makes Davis a strong option at the end of close games and makes him the team’s top clutch player.

The Unheralded Player: Quincy Pondexter

It’s been a while since we’ve seen the sort of impact Pondexter can have on a game, so it’s easy to forget how valuable he can be when healthy. Pondexter missed all of last season with a knee injury and has had two surgeries within the span of eight months to address the issue. Pondexter just went through his first full workout earlier this week and will reportedly be ready for the start of the upcoming season.

Pondexter’s ability to knock down three-pointers and lock down opponents makes him a very valuable piece for the Pelicans. Defense has been a struggle for this team, so any help on that end of the court will be a big boost moving forward. Knee injuries like Pondexter’s can be complicated and tough to fully recover from, so new addition Solomon Hill will have to help Pondexter hold down this role for the Pelicans.

Top New Addition: Buddy Hield

Hield put together a fantastic senior season at Oklahoma and, as a 22-year-old, is one of the most NBA-ready rookies in this year’s draft class. Hield may not have a huge role early in the season considering how many more experienced guard the Pelicans have, but he should be one of the team’s most important rotation players sooner rather than later.

While his game may ultimately expand, Hield’s best attribute right now is his shooting. In his fourth and final season at Oklahoma, Hield averaged 25 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.2 steals while shooting 50.1 percent from the field and 45.7 percent from three-point range.

– Jesse Blancarte


  1. Alvin Gentry

Despite putting together a disappointing first season in New Orleans, Gentry is still a coach capable of pushing this team — especially Davis — to the next level. Gentry has done his best work as the lead assistant coach on teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors, but he has the knowledge, experience and philosophy to be a successful head coach in today’s NBA. Hopefully enough of his roster will stay healthy this season for him to successfully institute his offensive and defensive systems.

  1. Anthony Davis

He’s the foundation of the Pelicans and one of the best overall players in the league. Injuries have somewhat tarnished Davis’ glowing reputation around the league, but if he can play in 70-plus games this season and push his team into the playoffs, durability concerns will be quickly forgotten.

  1. Langston Galloway

When Galloway has received consistent minutes in his short career, he has produced. Galloway isn’t likely to ever be an All-Star caliber player or one of the top guards in the NBA, but he is a solid rotation player and a nice player to have on hand if a starter goes down with an injury. Galloway joins the Pelicans along with some other nice depth pieces like E’Twaun Moore and Solomon Hill, who will likely have to take on bigger roles than they had with their former teams.

  1. Buddy Hield

Hield joins the Pelicans just as the incumbent sharpshooting guard, Eric Gordon, departs. Hield shares many of the same characteristics that Gordon boasted entering the league, so the hope is he can be the answer at the two-guard position in the way that Gordon never was because of injuries. Hield has the unshakable confidence that we see in the best shooting guards, but can suffer from inefficient gunning at times. Nevertheless, if Hield can lock in a manageable role, he has a chance to be one of the biggest impact rookies this upcoming season.

  1. Jrue Holiday

Like most current Pelicans, Holiday has suffered from injuries in recent seasons and is now out indefinitely as he helps to care for his wife. While Holiday has struggled to stay on the court, his experience and skill are key elements to this current Pelicans team. He will be sorely missed until his return, which hopefully comes sooner rather than later. If it doesn’t, the Pelicans are going to have a tough time keeping pace in the Western Conference.

– Jesse Blancarte


The Pelicans went under the salary cap this summer, signing players like Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway and rookie Cheick Diallo.  New Orleans also used most of the team’s Room Exception on Tim Frazier, leaving just $808,000 in spending power.  With 15 players under guaranteed contracts (and Lance Stephenson possibly becoming No. 16), camp invites Robert Sacre, Chris Copeland and Shawn Dawson have long odds on making the regular-season roster.

Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, who are in the final year of their contracts, are both eligible to have their deals restructured, but the Pelicans no longer have the cap space to accommodate them. Looking ahead, New Orleans projects to have roughly $28 million in spending power under next year’s salary cap, assuming Dante Cunningham and Galloway opt out of their final seasons.

– Eric Pincus


The Pelicans’ greatest strength is obviously Anthony Davis, one of the best all-around players in the NBA. The Pelicans were a mediocre offensive team last season, finishing just 16th in offensive efficiency. Gentry knows how to run an efficient offense, so hopefully with another year of experience and better luck with health he will get more out of Davis and his other players on offense. But not having Holiday at least for the early part of the season may make this difficult, though, Gentry does have a committee of playmakers that he can turn to.

Offense wasn’t a particular strength for the Pelicans last season, but if Gentry can successfully turn Davis into more of a facilitator and get him easier buckets through his pass-happy offense, then the Pelicans could see a nice bump in their offensive efficiency this season.

– Jesse Blancarte


Defense. The Pelicans were the third-worst defensive team in the league last season, giving up 107.3 points per 100 possessions. Of course injuries had a lot to do with this, but even when their key guys were healthy, the Pelicans simply struggled to lock down their opponents. As with most things, Davis is the driving force for the Pelicans and will need to continue improving his ability to anchor the team’s defense.

Gentry doesn’t have a reputation for being a defensive guru, so it’s not clear how much his coaching can push the needle forward in terms of the team’s defensive competence. Having a player like Pondexter should help, but it’s not clear that the Pelicans’ other offseason additions help shore up the team’s collective defense. The offense should improve this upcoming season, but it’s not clear that the same can be said for the team’s defense.

– Jesse Blancarte


Can the Pelicans overcome the injury bug?

Injuries are the great equalizer in sports and the Pelicans are no exception. Gentry can put together a masterful season of coaching, but it won’t make much of a difference if guys like Davis, Holiday and Evans are on the sideline for a significant portion of the season. Some injuries are unavoidable, and circumstances like Holiday’s obviously can’t be prevented either. But if the Pelicans can keep their guys on the court this season, they have the talent and the superstar to make things interesting in the West. They are unlikely to be competing for a championship, but they could push a team in the postseason if everyone is healthy and they buy into Gentry’s system.

– Jesse Blancarte



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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics

The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.

Moke Hamilton



Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.

Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.

Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.

As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.

Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.

Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.

“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by

“I’m tired of not playing.”

Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.

As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.

What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.

Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.

Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.

Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.

In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.

Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.

With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.

As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.

Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.

But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.

And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.

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