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Six Things to Know About the Boston Celtics

Here are six things to know about the Boston Celtics as they enter the second half of the 2013-14 season.

Jessica Camerato

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The Boston Celtics overhauled the roster last summer and look drastically different at this point in the season than they have in years past. New leaders, new faces, new coach. Here are six things you need to know about the Celtics approaching the second half of the season.

#1 – This is Rajon Rondo’s team

First it was “The New Big Three.” Then it was down to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

For years, Rajon Rondo played behind future Hall of Famers. Even as his status among the top point guards in the league rose, his veteran teammates were the face of the team. But with Rondo as the sole remaining player from the 2008 championship squad, there is no question who is at the forefront of the organization.

Last week Rondo was named captain of the Celtics prior to his return from an ACL injury. The 27-year-old became the 15th player in franchise history to receive the honor, a role held by Pierce since 2003. (Pierce was named co-captains with Antoine Walker in 2000).

“I’m just definitely honored, following Paul Pierce who was our last captain, and he held the seat for a long time,” Rondo said. “It’s definitely something I’m very proud of. I think I’ve earned it, but at the end of the day, it’s not just me as a leader. It’s honestly a lot of guys who lead this team.”

Previous Celtics captains include Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Larry Bird, Reggie Lewis and Robert Parish.

#2— Brad Stevens is a fast learner

When the season began, Brad Stevens’ lack of NBA experience was lumped into the checklist of reasons why the Celtics could struggle. The first-year coach quickly proved that wrong.

The team bought into the former Butler University coach early into his hiring. At his introductory press conference, he stressed the value he places on building relationships with his players. This summer he made phone calls, had lengthy conversations, and even traveled to Kentucky to appear at Rondo’s camp. The Celtics felt comfortable with their new coach and were energized by the confidence he showed in them. The once-timid Avery Bradley has emerged as an offensive threat and the often-chaotic Jordan Crawford, who Stevens says was one of the first to buy into the system, earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors as the starting point guard in Rondo’s absence.

The Celtics opened this season with a four-game losing streak but bounced back with four straight wins, including a road victory over the Miami HEAT. After an early skid Stevens kept his team fighting, and has done so throughout the season. Although the Celtics have had their fair share of difficulties (blowing double-digit leads continues to be an issue), the players have not stopped fighting under Stevens.

Stevens’ early efforts have already earned praise from fellow coaches around the league. He is signed to a six-year contract and has exceeded many expectations halfway through year one.

#3— The Celtics have picks … and lots of them

One first-round pick here, another second-round pick there, they all add up. The Celtics have been accumulating draft picks through various transactions and are stacked with options when it comes to June.

The Pierce-Garnett trade resulted in a bevy of picks, and they received more from the Doc Rivers trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. A recent three-team swap with the Miami HEAT and Golden State Warriors that sent Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks out west also yielded more.

Take a look at the upcoming 2014 Draft alone: In the first round the Celtics hold their own pick, the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick (less favorable between theirs and the Atlanta Hawks) from the Pierce-Garnett trade, and the Philadelphia 76ers protected first-round pick from the HEAT through the Brooks-Crawford deal.

Check out Basketball Insiders’ complete rundown of the Celtics’ picks owed all the way to 2018.

Will the Celtics draft players with all of these picks? Most likely, no. But they can use them as chips in trades to give them flexibility when maneuvering moves in the future.

#4— Tanking wouldn’t give the Celtics any guarantees

At the beginning of the season, many were calling for the Celtics to tank in order to land a high lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Drop as many games as possible and lock in a top selection, right? As exhibited in 2007, even an 18-game skid doesn’t guarantee Kevin Durant.

Tanking also doesn’t benefit the trade value of the current players, and the existing roster is just as important as future picks. Rewind to the 2007 Garnett trade with the Timberwolves. There were only two draft picks involved in the deal compared to five players moved from Boston. This season, the Celtics are building assets in their players, and their performances now could catch the eyes of other teams who want to make trades down the road.

It’s not all about players who would be sent elsewhere, either. Rookies and sophomores like Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger would not develop to their full potential in a system where losing is the priority. Hypothetically fast forward three seasons from now, and if still on the team their progress could be behind because it wasn’t fostered early in their careers. When building for the future, hindering its growth won’t help in seasons to come.

#5—The mystery of Jeff Green continues

Jeff Green’s transition to the Celtics has been an up-and-down ride since he was traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder in February of 2011. A starter in Oklahoma City, Green was moved to the Celtics bench to play behind Pierce. This role wasn’t just backing up a veteran scorer, it was backing up the team captain, mainstay of the organization and go-to scorer. So where does that leave the new guy?

Green missed the 2011-12 season due to heart surgery. He returned last season to a four-year, $36 million contract and encouragement of his teammates to play more aggressively. Garnett even urged him to be an “a-hole” on the court.

He showed flashes of that kind of player, driving the lane with intensity and slamming down dunks that became fixtures of Celtics highlights (like this dunk over Al Jefferson). And then … he’d just blend in with the others in the game.

This season Pierce is gone. So is Garnett. With Rondo sidelined as he recovered from ACL surgery, the opportunity was wide open for Green to emerge as an offensive leader on a shorthanded team. Although he ranks as the Celtics’ top scorer with 15.8 points per game in 33.2 minutes, it is only a slight increase from last season’s 12.8 points in 27.8 minutes. His field goal percentage has dropped to 42.9 percent.

Are these numbers bad? No. Has Green put up big games this season? Yes. But he has shown glimpses of the level to which he can play, and the Celtics haven’t seen that nearly enough. Green has made it clear he isn’t following in anyone’s footsteps – not Pierce, not Garnett, not anyone else. And that’s fine, too. The question, though, is when will Green fulfill the potential of his own footsteps?

#6— Things can change in an instant

Basketball is a business, and the Celtics front office works round the clock to identify players and deals that can help the team now and in the future. Yes, Rondo is the face of the team (as mentioned in point one) and Jeff Green is the squad’s leading scorer (point five), but how long that remains the same will have to be seen. Exploring all options – regardless of the fan base’s attachment to the player – is the responsible thing for an executive to do.

The Kendrick Perkins-Green trade in 2011 showed that what seemed to be an unbreakable core could be split up if the front office believed a better option was available. Two years later, many fans were outraged when the C’s traded Pierce and Garnett to the Nets. Regardless of their production or trade value, the Celtics faithful is a loyal group that holds tradition and longevity to a high standard. In the end, though, the organization made the move they believed garnered the most in return and put them in the best position for the future.

This season the Celtics have already traded three players (Brooks, Crawford and Courtney Lee) with a month to go before the deadline. With expiring contracts (see: Kris Humphries) and hefty deals that would be financially beneficial to unload (i.e.: Green and Gerald Wallace), expect them to actively investigate more moves in the coming weeks.

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Path Back to the NBA Finals

In the wake of Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Bobby Krivitsky examines the Los Angeles Lakers’ path back to the NBA Finals.

Bobby Krivitsky

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It’s been 15 games since a high ankle sprain sidelined LeBron James. 

With the Western Conference standings congested and Anthony Davis already out due to a right calf strain and a re-aggravation of his right Achilles tendinosis, the Los Angeles Lakers faced the threat of a fall that would require their participation in the play-in tournament.

However, the Lakers have fought admirably in the absence of their two stars, going seven and eight. As a result, their fall in the standings has been painless, going from third at the time of James’ injury to now occupying fifth place in the West.

The primary reason the Lakers have been able to tread water without their two stars is they’ve remained stingy on defense. Since James’ injury, they have the fourth-best defensive rating in the league. That’s despite facing four teams who rank in the top five in offensive rating and six of the categories’ top-10 members.

Right now, the Lakers are 2.5 games ahead of the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, with a 4.5-game cushion between them and the Dallas Mavericks, who are seventh in the conference. That should be a large enough gap to keep Los Angeles out of the play-in tournament, but the two teams are going to converge for a two-game series starting Thursday. For the Lakers, getting swept would re-open the possibility of having to compete in the play-in tournament.

Fortunately for them, even splitting that series would make it unlikely the Mavericks finish ahead of the Lakers in the standings. And help might be on the way for the Lakers: Davis may soon rejoin the lineup, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, meaning there’s a distinct possibility he’s active for at least one of those two matchups. As for James, he’s on track to return in three weeks.

While Los Angeles’ stars are getting closer to making their returns, the Denver Nuggets got dealt a more severe blow when Jamal Murray tore his ACL in a recent game against the Golden State Warriors. Denver is 10-2 since acquiring Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline and looked the part of a legitimate title contender prior to Murray’s injury. 

Denver is fourth in the West, 1.5 games ahead of Los Angeles. But even if the Nuggets have home-court advantage, they’re the preferable opening-round opponent, not just for Los Angeles, but any team with a legitimate chance at the fourth or fifth seed.

Fortunately for the Lakers, that’s the place in the Western Conference pecking order where they’re most likely to finish this season. So long as the Nuggets don’t freefall in Murray’s absence, Los Angeles will likely start the playoffs against an opponent that’s gone from having the potential to present the greatest challenge to the defending champions’ quest to get back to the Finals to becoming a desirable first-round matchup.

After that, the Lakers may have to get past the Utah Jazz and or the Los Angeles Clippers to make a return trip to the NBA Finals. The former has the best record in the league this season, but locking horns with the defending champions in a best of seven series is a far more challenging and potentially rewarding proving ground.

The Jazz have a deep, reliable rotation, they have the best net rating in the NBA, they’re in the top five in points for and against per 100 possessions, and they’re attempting the most threes per game, but also rank in the top five in three-point shooting percentage. However, the Lakers would have the two best players in a series against Utah. Usually, an opponent doesn’t overcome that disadvantage.  

As for the Clippers, Rajon Rondo has quickly proven to be an impactful acquisition. Los Angeles is seven and one with him in the lineup, generating the highest net rating in the league during that span. Last season, the Lakers saw first-hand how impactful playoff Rondo can be. Now, the Clippers are hoping he can bring structure to their offense, something they sorely lacked last postseason and was at the forefront of them blowing a 3-1 series lead over the Nuggets. Doing so would go a long way towards maximizing the production of a team that has the talent to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in franchise history.

If this is the year the battle of LA takes place in the postseason, it figures to be a slugfest. Still, the Clippers have their doubters after last year’s meltdown in the playoffs. There’s also a large contingency who are skeptical about how far the Jazz can go in the postseason, given their lack of a top-tier superstar. Despite the validity of those concerns, both teams can beat the Lakers in a best of seven series. That no longer appears to be the case for the Nuggets, which is a shame for them and people who want to see the best possible matchups in the playoffs. But Murray’s injury, as unfortunate an occurrence as it is, makes it easier for the Lakers to get through the gauntlet that is the Western Conference and have a chance to claim an 18th championship, which would break their tie with the Boston Celtics for the most titles in NBA history.

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NBA AM: The Play-In Game – West

With the season winding down, Ariel Pacheco takes a look at how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Western Conference.

Ariel Pacheco

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With the regular season’s end in sight, teams are making their last push to make the playoffs in what has been a condensed season. But the new play-in tournament is providing more teams than ever a chance at a coveted playoff spot.

Here is what the new play-in tournament will look like: Teams that finish with the Nos 7 and 8 seeds will face off against each other. The winner of this game will be No. 7. The Nos. 9 and 10 seeds will also play and the winner will play the loser of the first game. The winner of this game will be the No. 8 seed. 

The play-in tournament provides intrigue and adds pressure on teams in both conferences to finish in the top six and avoid the play-in altogether. The Western Conference, in particular, is shaping up to have a rather exciting finish. There are a number of teams who could find themselves fighting for their playoff lives in this year’s tournament – all below in tiers.

Teams Likely To Avoid Play-In

Portland Trail Blazers (32-24)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 11

The Trail Blazers are currently the sixth seed in the West meaning, for now, they are safe from the play-in tournament. However, they are just two games above the Mavericks from possibly dropping down a place. They’re the team most likely to secure that sixth seed because they have more talent than the teams below them – hello, Dame – and they also have an elite offense. However, the defensive concerns are very real and if they were to slip, it would likely be because of their struggles on that side of the ball.

Likely Play-In Teams

Dallas Mavericks

Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 5
Games Against West: 8

On paper, the Mavs have a really easy schedule as the season winds down. They have just five games against teams over .500 and two against the Los Angeles Lakers, who may be without their two stars for those games. However, they are just 10-12 this season against sub .500 teams and are coming off a disappointing loss to the Sacramento Kings. There’s still a pretty good chance they get the sixth seed and avoid the play-in, but it also wouldn’t be surprising to see them in it as well.

Memphis Grizzlies
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 7
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 12

The Grizzlies are often overlooked, but they are about as well-coached as any other team in the NBA. It is likely they will be in the play-in game, but don’t be surprised if they are able to sneak into the sixth seed. They lost last year’s play-in game in the Bubble to the Blazers, so they do have experience in this type of setting. They may be getting Jaren Jackson Jr. back soon which should help. 

Golden State Warriors
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 6
Games Against West: 13

The Warriors are getting just other-worldly performances from Stephen Curry on an almost nightly basis at this point. However, they continue to struggle to win games, in large part due to the struggles when he sits on the bench. Their schedule is pretty light to close the season, which bolsters their chances. The talent on this team isn’t great, but Curry’s play should be enough to get them in the play-in tournament. 

San Antonio Spurs
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 7

The Spurs have struggled of late, especially after the All-Star break. Their defense has dropped off badly, but if there’s any reason to be positive, it’s that they are still coached by Gregg Popovich and their young guys continue to show improvement. They have been really good on the road this season and a majority of their games are on the road. It won’t be easy, but the Spurs should find themselves in the play-in tournament.

Outside Looking In

New Orleans Pelicans
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 9
Games Against West: 11

The Pelicans have been hit with the injury bug of late, but their inconsistent play this season continues to be a huge problem. Their defense continues to bleed three-pointers and while point Zion Williamson has worked, there just isn’t enough shooting to maximize him just yet. It seems unlikely the Pelicans make a late-season run to the play-in game.

Sacramento Kings

Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 14

The Kings are the least likely team to make the play-in tournament. Their defense is still problematic and they just recently ended their 9-game losing streak. It’ll take a huge late-season push and the Kings just haven’t shown that they are capable of putting it all together for a long enough stretch. 

The play-in tournament adds a new layer of competition that will bring excitement at the end of the season. Be sure to check out how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Eastern Conference.

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NBA Daily: The Play-In Game — East

With the play-in tournament just around the corner, Matt John previews who in the Eastern Conference might qualify for it.

Matt John

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It’s official: we’re entering the regular season’s endgame. Every game from here on out will have much bigger consequences, a statement even truer in 2021 than perhaps any other season thanks to the NBA’s new play-in tournament.

If you’re not familiar, the play-in tournament will consist of two matchups within each conference. The seventh and eighth seeds of both conferences will face off against one another, while the ninth and 10th seeds shall do the same. The winner of the seven-eight matchup will take their conference’s seventh seed, while the winner of the nine-10 game will face the aforementioned match’s loser for the eighth and final spot in the postseason. It’ll serve as a nice appetizer before the playoffs get underway.

So, now that we have 15 games left give or take, it’s time to get a full scope of who we’re most likely to see in this year’s play-in, starting with the Eastern Conference. There’s really no need to go over teams that have all but clinched their playoff spots like Philadelphia, Brooklyn, or Milwaukee. Just like there’s no need to mention teams that are way too out of a reach for a playoff spot like Detroit and Orlando.

But that does leave ten teams in the Eastern Conference that we could potentially see in the play-in. At first glance, it would sound ridiculous to say that Boston and Cleveland could be in the play-in seeing how they are separated by ten and a half games, but Boston is only two and a half games ahead of Miami for that seventh seed while Cleveland is only three games behind Chicago for the tenth seed.

The best way to evaluate is to divide these into tiers. One for playoff teams who are likely to avoid the play-in, one for teams that are most likely to be in the play-in, and those that are likely to miss out on the play-in.

Likely to Avoid

Atlanta Hawks (30-26)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Six
Games Against East: 13

Replacing Lloyd Pierce with Nate McMillan proved to be a genius move by Atlanta’s front office, as the Hawks have won 16 of their last 23 games. They may have had that stretch where they lost four of five, but that was on a West Coast Trip. Seeing how almost 75 percent of their remaining games will be at home, it’s hard to see Atlanta collapsing. They may be decimated by injuries right now, but the schedule seems a little too easy for them to blow this.

Boston Celtics (31-26)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Four
Games Against East: 10

Much like Atlanta, Boston’s really hit their stride over the past few weeks. Getting healthy and making a few roster changes have helped them rediscover the team that started out so well at the beginning of the season. It’s hard seeing Boston folding down the stretch primarily because they won’t be facing too many strong opponents from here until the regular season’s end. Given their recent strong play, don’t expect an appearance at the play-in tournament.

Likely Play-In Teams

New York Knicks (30-27)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Nine
Games Against Teams Over .500: Eight
Games Against East: Six

Give credit where credit is due. The Knickerbockers are not going away. They’ve stayed the course when many thought this was going to be another wasted year for them. They’ve given no reason to indicate that they’re stopping now. The reason they’re not as sure of a thing as Atlanta or Boston is because, over this last stretch, they’re going to face off against several Western Conference contenders looking for the highest seeding possible. As tough as that’s going to be, the Knicks are going to make each one of them earn those wins, guaranteed.

Miami HEAT (28-28)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Seven
Games Against East: 11

It’s been difficult to get a read on the reigning Eastern Conference champions. They go on stretches that basically even out each other. After starting out 11-17, they win 12 of their next 13, then follow that up by losing their next six games, then win six of their next seven, then finally and most recently, they lose their next three games. No one really knows what Miami’s ceiling is right now. Odds are, the HEAT will probably be in the play-in. It’s just a matter of where. Also, why have we still not gotten any updates on Victor Oladipo?

Charlotte Hornets (27-28)
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Eight
Games Against East: 13

What’s happened to the Hornets over the past few weeks is just straight up not fair. If LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward were playing, they’d solidly be in the same tier as Boston and Atlanta. With their squad fully healthy, Charlotte’s a playoff team, but being down their two best players definitely takes them down a peg. They deserve props that they haven’t rolled over since losing those two, but sadly they’re nowhere near as good as they were with their whole squad. Their schedule is easy enough that it shouldn’t knock them out of the play-in. If LaMelo and Hayward are back by then, then it’s hard not seeing the Hornets get into the postseason.

Indiana Pacers (26-29)
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Seven
Games Against East Teams: 11

It hasn’t been talked about enough how injuries have really shaken up Indiana’s season. TJ Warren’s foot injury was a substantial season-long setback and Caris Levert’s cancer, as miraculous of a story as that was, was another prolonged absence. Overall, Indiana’s injuries have led to a rather underachieving season compared to past results. Luckily their schedule for the rest of the season shouldn’t be too tough, so making the play-in seems realistic.

Outside Looking In

*One of these teams will get the play-in as the 10th seed.

Toronto Raptors (23-34)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Nine
Games Against East Teams: Seven

That’s right, the same Raptors, who only weeks ago were in serious talks to trade Kyle Lowry to the highest bidder, have suddenly found themselves in the fight for the final spot for the play-in. It’s not that they’ve suddenly turned it all around. It’s that the competition is too weak for them to bow out completely. Their schedule may allow them to go all-in on the tank, but maybe one last hurrah with the franchise’s greatest player isn’t the worst way to go.

Chicago Bulls (23-33)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Seven
Games Against Teams Over .500: Nine
Games Against East Teams: 16

Good news: Nikola Vucevic looks like he’s fitting in splendidly. Bad news: The team has been on a downward spiral since his (and others) acquisition. Chicago has only won four of their last 13 games since the trade deadline and their remaining schedule is not going to be a breeze. On paper, they should be a shoo-in for the 10th seed, but the roster holes right now appear to be too glaring for Chicago to take the next step. If they don’t at the very least make the play-in, that’s not going to be a good look after all the moves they made.

Washington Wizards (23-33)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Five
Games Against East Teams: 10

Remember when Washington was one of the worst teams in the league record-wise? And how they managed to only slightly improve themselves over the course of the season? Well, apparently that was enough to get them into the conversation for the play-in because, lo and behold, they’re now tied with Chicago for that 10th seed. It gets better too. They only face two tough challenges from here on out – Lakers and Bucks – but after that, it’s honestly easy enough that they might be the favorite to get that last play-in spot.

Cleveland Cavaliers (20-36)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Nine
Games Against Teams over .500: Six
Games Against East Teams: 12

This sounds the most ludicrous seeing how the Cavs are currently the East’s 13th seed, but being three games behind Chicago while facing only six teams over .500 gives them a fighting chance. If the Cavaliers are actually able to get the play-in, that’s a big stepping stone for their future. It’s an accomplishment to build off of in an era with no LeBron James to speak of, which they haven’t been able to do since Friends was on the air.

As you can see, the play-in has, in a way, brought a new dimension to the NBA season. In any previous season (excluding the last one) no one would bat an eye at the 10 through 13 seeds. Their season at this point would be all but done and no one would care, but because of the possibility of going to a play-in tournament, teams suddenly have the chance to make something of what usually would have been a lost season.

Some teams may get annoyed by it because their time is coming to a close and there’s no need to delay the inevitable. For others, the play-in signifies that it could just be the beginning.

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