Should the Celtics follow the Lakers' lead?

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nba_pierce_250.jpgOf all the battles that NBA teams face, short-term thinking vs. long-term planning may be the most crucial.

On one hand, most teams are trying to win today, because dropping a loss at an inopportune time makes them prey in the standings. The team has an eye to the standings in an effort to connect to a potential playoff run that could seem ages away, by the primary objective is to go out there with the best players available and do whatever it takes to win tonight.

But on the other hand, decisions made in the NBA are rarely so short-sighted. Coaches keep a watchful eye on their players’ minutes, as to avoid wearing them down for the postseason. Practice schedules are meticulously organized, as to avoid late-season burnout, despite the fact that additional practice time could really help some teams. Some players need surgery on this or that, and others just need a few games to rest lingering injuries. None of these decisions necessarily come easy, but it’s how the game behind the game in the NBA is played.

Shutting down a player for a few games or even half of a season is an incredibly tricky endeavor. But the Lakers did it with Kobe Bryant, and now the Celtics may have to do it with Paul Pierce. From Julian Benbow of the Boston Globe:

It was the second game Pierce played with the injury, and it affected the way he caught the ball, gripped it, dribbled it, and passed and shot it. “That’s everything you do with a basketball,” Pierce said, running down the checklist. Pierce was 2 for 10 against Denver, making his biggest contributions on defense, blocking four shots. But he said the nagging injury to his shooting hand has limited him. “It’s sore right now,” Pierce said. “It’s affecting my shot a lot. Right now, I’m not really looking to be aggressive with it. I’m just trying to do the other little things to help this ball club and hopefully in the next few days it’ll get better.”

Pierce already has missed seven games this season with knee and foot problems, and coach Doc Rivers said he’s considering giving the forward more time off to mend. “You can see it on free throws,” Rivers said, alluding to Pierce’s 1-for-4 afternoon from the line. “I think the thumb, the knee, and the foot, it may have caught up to him right now. We may have to look at giving him some rest. I don’t know yet, but on the surface that’s the way it looks like it’s going.”

The Celtics may not be performing at a level on par with their 2007-2008 mark, but they’re still third in the East at 35-19. That said, Boston sits just a game ahead of the fourth-ranked Atlanta Hawks, and staying out of the fourth seed is crucial to Boston’s playoff run. The Cavaliers are the team to beat in the conference right now (even in spite of their current three-game losing streak), and likely will still be come April. If the Celtics want to avoid matching up with the Cavs for as long as possible, they need to either stay at third or climb up to second.

To make matters even more difficult, the Celtics have actually been playing very good basketball of late. Boston has struggled plenty this season, but they seem to be improving significantly. Additionally, the newly-acquired Nate Robinson still needs time to establish some on-court chemistry with his teammates, and the Celtics have a decidedly different look and feel without Pierce on the floor. If there’s a more important stretch for Boston this season, I know not of it. Yet Doc Rivers may have no choice but to rest Pierce in the name of the playoffs, despite the fact that resting Pierce may hurt team’s chances to make some noise when they get there.  

J.B. Bickerstaff calls Rockets ‘broken team,’ ‘fragmented bunch’

Houston Rockets interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff rubs his head in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Houston. The Wizards won 123-122. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
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Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff has been unafraid to sharply assess his team.

But after last night’s loss to the Trail Blazers – Houston’s third straight defeat and sixth in eight games – Bickerstaff kicked up the rhetoric even further.

Bickerstaff, via Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

“We’re broken,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s that simple. We’re a broken team, and we all need to use this break to figure out how we’re going to impact change. If we don’t want to impact change, then we need to be made aware of that, too, and we’ll go in a different direction.

“We can’t continue to go out and play this way. It’s easy to see it’s a fragmented bunch. You can’t win that way.”

This is why Dwight Howard is on the trade block. The Rockets are so incohesive, there’s no simple solution in sight. This increasingly looks like a lost season for Houston, which should emphasize future planning – like dealing Howard, who can become an unrestricted free agent at age 30 this summer.

Yet, the Rockets are just a half game from playoff position. They obviously dreamed much bigger when the season began, but at this point, merely making the postseason should qualify as a success.

It’s Bickerstaff’s job to get them there, no matter how unlikely. He has certainly shown little fear in trying, whether it’s giving these quotes or pulling all five starters simultaneously shortly into a game. He’s trying to put his mark on this team.

The players just aren’t responding, not more than periodically, at least. From James Harden down, nobody plays with the requisite focus and energy.

Nothing in Bickerstaff’s assessment is surprising. It’s just surprising he said it so bluntly publicly.

Then again, that’s nothing compared to what veteran Houston guard Jason Terry said. Eric Ringering of 750 The Game:

https://twitter.com/ringering45/status/697664478993756164

Devin Booker to replace Nerlens Noel in Rising Stars at All-Star Weeekend

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker reacts after hitting a 3-point shot against the San Antonio Spurs during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri
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Sixers big man Nerlens Noel — who has looked much improved this season once Ish Smith was feeding him the rock on offense — sat out the Sixers game Wednesday night due to tendonitis in his right knee. After he missed his rookie season with knee issues, you can understand why the Sixers want him to be cautious.

Noel is going to sit out All-Star Weekend as well — he had been scheduled to play in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night, but he is going to sit that out and Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns will take his place, the league has announced (Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic broke that story).

Booker has been one of the few bright spots for the Suns this season, averaging 10.6 points a game and shooting 40.3 percent from three.

He will play for the USA in the World vs. USA format of the Rising Stars Challenge (the former rookie/sophomore game, featuring first and second year players).

With Emmanuel Mudiay replacing Patrick Beverley, NBA reveals Skills Challenge bracket

Houston Rockets' Patrick Beverley (2) knocks the ball away from Denver Nuggets' Emmanuel Mudiay (0) in the first half of a NBA basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
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Out: Defending champion Patrick Beverley.

In: Emmanuel Mudiay Emmanuel Mudiay.

The NBA confirmed the Rockets guard would miss the Skills Challenge and that Mudiay would replace him. The league also release the bracket:

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My picks:

Quarterfinals

Semifinals

  • Isaiah Thomas over C.J. McCollum
  • Anthony Davis over Draymond Green

Final

  • Isaiah Thomas over Anthony Davis

NBA suspends Hassan Whiteside for elbowing Boban Marjanovic’s head

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Hassan Whiteside lost his cool and elbowed Boban Marjanovic in the head Tuesday.

The Heat center received a flagrant 2 and an ejection, and now he’s getting the rest of his punishment.

NBA release:

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside has been suspended one game without pay for throwing an elbow and making contact with the head of San Antonio Spurs center Boban Marjanovic, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident, for which Whiteside was assessed a Flagrant 2 and ejected, occurred with 9:35 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Spurs’ 119-101 win over the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena on Feb. 9.

Whiteside will serve his suspension when Miami plays the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 19 at Philips Arena.

The suspension will cost Whiteside $8,921. As a result, the Heat – in line to become the first team in NBA history to pay the repeater luxury-tax rate – trim their impending tax bill by $24,534.

More importantly for Whiteside, this will be a strike against him for teams considering offering him a big contract in free agency this summer.