Winderman: The lesson is the regular season is overrated

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Celtics_huddle.jpgWhat we have here is a referendum on the regular season, affirmation, if you will, of whether the first 82 games are, as many insist, indeed overrated.

At 50-32, the Celtics finished tied for the ninth-best record in the NBA. Only four of the 16 playoff teams finished behind Boston.

As a matter of perspective, it would be the worst regular-season record of an NBA champion since the Rockets took advantage of Michael Jordan’s absence to win the 1995 title off a 47-35 regular-season run.

Yet in recent years, the Heat won the 2006 title at 52-30 and the Pistons took the 2004 championship at 54-28.

But this is about more than Doc Rivers purposely putting aside regular season goals in favor of a healthy postseason roster.

It also is about two of the postseason’s biggest stories off the court.

It is about Mike Woodson being fired by the Hawks after winning 100 games the past two seasons, simply because his team proved unable to compete on the elevated stage of the conference semifinals.

And it is about Mike Brown being banished in Cleveland after winning 127 games the past two seasons because he could not push the Cavaliers back to the NBA Finals.

Could the Hawks possibly have gotten more out of a roster lacking a true center or ambulatory point guard the past two seasons?

Could Mike Brown have produced anything more during the late-October-to-mid-April grind?

Try telling either one of those two that the regular season matters.
 
For that matter, try telling Orlando, with its 59 regular-season victories, that the season’s first six months meant anything in terms of getting Vince Carter or Rashard Lewis ready for ultimate stages of the season.

About the only exception to this minimization of the regular season comes from the Nets, who have gone against the grain, with the hiring of Avery Johnson.

In many ways, Johnson, during his coaching tenure in Dallas, was exactly what Woodson and Brown had been these past two seasons in Atlanta and Cleveland, a coach who thrived during the regular season only to see his team melt under the glare of the league’s brightest lights.

Of course, coming off a 12-70 disaster, the 2010-11 regular season will matter plenty to the Nets.

But, otherwise, the signals coming from the NBA are that the initial 82-game marathon is a race that produces no true winners.

Rather it stands as an extended prologue to the only games that seem to matter.

The Celtics are poised to offer such affirmation.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
 

DeMar DeRozan powers Raptors past Trail Blazers, 112-106

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 23:  DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors dribbles against the Boston Celtics  during the first quarter at TD Garden on March 23, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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TORONTO (AP) DeMar DeRozan scored 33 points, Serge Ibaka added 18 and the Toronto Raptors beat the Portland Trail Blazers 112-106 on Sunday night.

The Raptors won their third in a row and wrapped up a second straight season sweep of Portland. They previously had beaten the Trail Blazers 95-91 in Portland on Dec. 26.

Damian Lillard scored 28 points for the Trail Blazers, who got 18 from Maurice Harkless.

Up 98-96 with 4:41 remaining, the Raptors scored the next six points, with back-to-back jump shots from Ibaka and a pair of free throws from DeRozan putting them up by eight with 3:16 remaining.

The Trail Blazers answered with six straight converted free throws sandwiched around a three-point play from Cory Joseph, before Lillard drove on Ibaka and converted the layup to cut the lead to 107-104 with 1:42 to play.

But DeRozan scored the next four points, hitting a jump shot and two free throws to put the Raptors up by seven with 30 seconds to play.

In a back-and-forth first quarter featuring 11 lead changes, Portland took control, overcoming 12 points from DeRozan to emerge with a 28-25 edge after 12 minutes.

Al-Farouq Aminu led the way for the Trail Blazers in the second with nine points as they extended their advantage to 12 points with 4:52 to play in the half. But the Raptors shot 61 percent in the period and went on a 15-2 run to close out the quarter and head into halftime lead 53-52.

Toronto scored the first six points of the third quarter to extend its lead, but Lillard had 10 points in the period to the Trail Blazers stay close. They retook the lead with 1:47 to play, before the Raptors surged back to enter the fourth up 82-80.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: G Evan Turner and C Festus Ezeli (left knee) did not play.

Raptors: G Kyle Lowry (right wrist) missed the game. Joseph made just his third start of the season in his place. . Toronto has now completed season sweeps against five teams this season (Brooklyn, Denver, Utah and the Los Angeles Lakers).

LACK OF LOWRY

Toronto coach Dwane Casey said Lowry’s sore right wrist was assessed over the weekend and it was still structurally sound.

“The images weren’t significant, there was no significant showing,” he said. “So it’s going to be day-to-day, treated symptomatically. Swelling’s gone down, so that’s a good sign. So we’ll see. He’ll be a day-to-day thing. It wasn’t broken, so that helps.”

UP NEXT

Trail Blazers: Visit Detroit on Tuesday looking to snap a three-game losing streak against the Pistons.

Raptors: Visit New York on Monday aiming for a sixth straight win over the Knicks.

Late 5-point possession lifts Celtics over Pistons 104-98

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 15:  Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics in action against the New York Knicks during the second half of their preseason game at Madison Square Garden on October 15, 2016 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Jaylen Brown sank a 3-pointer from the right corner while being fouled with 37.6 seconds remaining, part of a five-point possession for Boston that lifted the Celtics to a 104-98 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night.

The Celtics were down 96-95 when Brown connected while being fouled by Marcus Morris. Brown missed the ensuing free throw, but Detroit couldn’t come up with the rebound, and Tobias Harris was called for a loose-ball foul. Marcus Smart added two free throws to put Boston up 100-96.

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 33 points. Andre Drummond had 17 points and 15 rebounds for the Pistons, but he went 1 of 11 on free throws and was taken out for some key possessions toward the end to prevent Boston from fouling him.

Detroit went 16 of 35 from the line, while the Celtics were 24 of 30.

The Pistons rallied from a 15-point third-quarter deficit and led 96-95 when Reggie Jackson missed a 3-pointer with just under a minute remaining. That gave the Celtics a chance to take the lead, and Brown capitalized.

HONORED

The Pistons retired Richard Hamilton’s No. 32 during a halftime ceremony attended by several other players from Detroit’s 2004 championship team.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Thomas has scored at least 20 points in 43 straight games. … Boston led 54-50 at halftime and began the third quarter with a 13-2 run. … The Celtics were without G Avery Bradley, who was out with a sore right Achilles tendon.

Pistons: Detroit recalled forward Henry Ellenson and guards Darrun Hilliard and Michael Gbinije from the team’s Grand Rapids affiliate in the D-League. They did not play.

UP NEXT

Celtics: Host the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.

Pistons: Host the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

Russell Westbrook scores 41 in triple-double as Thunder top Pelicans (VIDEO)

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Russell Westbrook scored 41 points in his 29th triple-double of the season to help the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the New Orleans Pelicans 118-110 on Sunday night.

Westbrook had 21 points in the fourth quarter. He shot 7 for 19 from the field the first three quarters and was 7 for 10 in the fourth. He also had 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the 66th triple-double of his career.

Enes Kanter had 20 points and nine rebounds, and Steven Adams added 13 points and 10 boards for the Thunder, who won their third straight.

Anthony Davis scored 38 points and DeMarcus Cousins had 31 points and 10 rebounds, but he played just 22 minutes and fouled out while getting dunked on by Westbrook. The Pelicans fell to 0-3 since acquiring Cousins in a trade with Sacramento.

Mike Conley scores 31 as Grizzlies beat Nuggets 105-98

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DENVER (AP) Mike Conley scored 31 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter, and the Memphis Grizzles held off the Denver Nuggets 105-98 on Sunday.

Zach Randolph finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds for Memphis, which snapped a two-game skid. Marc Gasol chipped in 23 points and found his mark from long range by hitting three 3-pointers.

The Grizzlies have now won four straight in Denver – an intriguing run, considering they’re just 9-32 all-time in the Mile High City.

Danilo Gallinari had 24 points as Denver dropped to 0-12 this season when failing to reach the 100-point plateau.

The Grizzlies outscored the Nuggets 21-13 in second-chance points and outrebounded them by a 49-39 margin. What’s more, Memphis finished 22 of 25 from the free throw line.

Before the game, Memphis coach David Fizdale talked about needing someone outside the usual cast to step up down the stretch.

Once again, though, Conley raised his hand – and game. He gave the Grizzlies the lead for good on a pair of free throws with 7:54 remaining, the start of a 7-0 run that gave them some separation.

Nikola Jokic was more assertive after back-to-back shaky performances. He finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.

Jokic has indicated he’s feeling drained. Nuggets coach Michael Malone understands, but said everyone in the league is worn out this time of year.

“The great players and the great teams find a way to fight through it and get their second wind and get ready for the postseason,” said Malone, whose team is narrowly holding on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. “I hope that’s what our guys can do.”

TIP-INS

Grizzlies: G/F Vince Carter picked up a technical late in the second quarter. … F/C Brandan Wright isn’t with the team for personal reasons. … F JaMychal Green had 10 rebounds.

Nuggets: All five starters scored in double figures. … F Kenneth Faried didn’t play due to a sore lower back. … Denver recalled rookie G Malik Beasley from Sioux Falls of the NBA Development League. He didn’t play Sunday. … C Roy Hibbert was in uniform after being acquired from Milwaukee at the trade deadline. He didn’t get into the game.

NEW ROLE

Emmanuel Mudiay has dealt with a troublesome back, inconsistent play and now a demotion. Usually a starter since being taken with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft, he’s backing up Jamal Murray and Jameer Nelson.

“My message to him is this is not set in stone,” Malone said. “A lot of things can change – continue to work and continue to stay ready.”

UP NEXT

Grizzlies: Host Phoenix on Tuesday as Memphis tries to complete the season sweep of the Suns.

Nuggets: Open a two-game road swing Tuesday in Chicago.