Brandon Bass,  Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo

Should we consider Boston a title contender now?

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The play for the first three quarters of this season confirmed the conventional wisdom going in — the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls were the class of the East, everybody else was a couple of steps back.

But in the past 10 days, the Boston Celtics have thumped the Heat twice. And although the Bulls beat the Celtics in that time frame, anybody who has seen Chicago of late and waited for the return of Derrick Rose knows the Bulls are not at their peak. They look vulnerable.

With their play of late, do we have to consider the Celtics contenders?

Yes. But for them everything needs to go right — health, good matchups. Which is pretty much what everyone said about Dallas before last playoffs and…

Boston has certainly hit its stride of late. That all starts with their defense — that has been their calling card during this run, it had taken a small step back in recent seasons but this year they are back to being the best defensive team in the league. When you defend like that, you have a chance every night in the playoffs. And Kevin Garnett is still at the heart of that (and he’s scoring well of late, too).

The Celtics also are getting great play from their role players — against the Heat on Thursday Greg Stiemsma was a force in the first half, defending at the rim and knocking down midrange jumpers. The emergence of Avery Bradley has allowed Doc Rivers to bring the scoring punch of Ray Allen off the bench, giving the Celtics frightening depth. Brandon Bass is an upgrade from Big Baby. Even guys like Sasha Pavlovic are stepping up.

Rajon Rondo keys the offense — he is the guy who has to create for others, to get some easy buckets in transition, he has to keep the ball moving. Boston has become an offense that finds the mismatch and takes what the defense gives them. Miami gave them jump shots, Boston was disciplined and knocked down the looks. Boston also runs some nice Paul Pierce/Garnett pick and rolls, plus they move off the ball well.

It may come down to matchups — Boston clearly gives the Heat trouble. Boston’s ball movement exposes the help rotations of the Heat, then Boston has guys who can knock down the jumpers. It was not a lack of effort from the Heat Tuesday night, they just struggle with Rondo and Boston. Chicago — from the same defensive school as the Celtics — may be a tougher matchup for the Celtics. And it’s also the more likely second round contest.

But right now, when you talk of teams that have a chance to come out of the East, you have to mention the Celtics. They have earned their way into the conversation.

Report: Goran Dragic pledged to re-sign with Suns before they traded him

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 10:  Goran Dragic #1 of the Phoenix Suns moves the ball upcourt during the second half of the NBA game against the Houston Rockets at US Airways Center on February 10, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Rockets defeated the Suns 127-118.  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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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With trade rumors swirling, Goran Dragic told the Suns in February 2015 that he wouldn’t re-sign the following summer. Dragic said he no longer trusted Phoenix’s front office.

So, the Suns traded him to Miami.

But did they have to?

Then-Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek apparently got Dragic to change his stance.

Ken Berger of CBSSports.com:

Within days of Hornacek having a heart-to-heart with Dragic and securing a commitment from the Slovenian point guard to re-sign with the Suns as a free agent the following summer, the Suns shipped him to Miami in a three-team trade, a person familiar with the situation told CBS Sports.

This substantially changes how we view that trade. At the time, it seemed the Suns got a tremendous haul for a player they were going to lose anyway. But if they could’ve re-signed him, it changes the equation.

Maybe not enough to say Phoenix erred, though.

Dragic was clearly wavering in his thinking. He later said he regretted his harsh comments about the front office. Just because he told Hornacek he’d re-sign doesn’t mean he was bound to re-sign

And Phoenix got solid return – a top-seven protected 2017 first-rounder that becomes unprotected in 2018 and an unprotected 2021 first-rounder. Picks with so few protections rarely move anymore. The Heat look solid right now, but they’re fairly old. That far into the future, anything can happen – giving those picks great upside.

So, maybe the Suns still made the right move. But maybe just keeping Dragic was more on the table than we previously realized.

Toronto security guard stops DeMar DeRozan: Do you work here?

TORONTO, ON - MAY 23:  DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors speaks to media with his daughter Diar DeRozan after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 23, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 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 Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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Kyle Lowry popularized the late-night workout in these playoffs, but he’s not the only one to practice until the wee hours.

Raptors teammate DeMar DeRozan shot until about 1 a.m. Monday, according to Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com, preceding Toronto’s Game 4 win over the Cavaliers.

But the funniest part came when DeRozan arrived at the arena earlier.

Haynes:

Upon entry into the bowl area, a female security guard spotted him and stopped him. She asked what he was doing there and even went as far to ask if he worked at the arena.

DeRozan just chuckled and kept walking down the 100-level steps and onto the court where his backcourt teammate Kyle Lowry was waiting. The security guard called for backup, assuming a possible trespasser was on the scene.

Once help arrived and saw who was on the court, he said to his colleague, “That’s our two best players.” He was not quite accurate. On Monday night, those two were the two best players on the court.

“That was the first time that ever happened,” DeRozan said of the incident. “I just laughed about it. You know me. I wasn’t tripping. You can call the whole security team in here and obviously somebody is going to know, but she was just doing her job.”

Jeremy Lin ought to feel better now.

Report: Trail Blazers receive permission to interview Stephen Silas

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 21: Assistant coach Stephen Silas of the Charlotte Bobcats (L) works on a computer with Cory Higgins #11 before a game against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on January 21, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This is putting the “carousel” in coaching carousel.

Hornets assistant Stephen Silas (a Rockets head-coaching candidate) and Trail Blazers assistant Nate Tibbetts (a Grizzlies head-coaching candidate) are also both interviewing to become the Warriors’ lead assistant. If Tibbetts gets the job, Portland would have a vacancy, so…

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Portland also was granted permission Sunday to talk to Silas about being its top assistant, league sources said.

Working for Steve Kerr in Golden State – which propelled Alvin Gentry to Pelicans head coach last year and Luke Walton to Lakers head coach this year – is probably preferable. But Silas’ star is rising, regardless. He’s a highly regarded assistant coach.

Terry Stotts, contract extension in hand, could add Silas without fearing being undermined. That’s the value of giving head coaches security. Hiring good assistants becomes more tenable.

Why would Silas leave another good coach, Steve Clifford in Charlotte, for the Trail Blazers? I don’t know for certain, but in these situations, there’s usually one place to start: money. Portland’s willingness to spend could pay off.

Coaching carousel report: Nate McMillan targets Bill Bayno in Indiana; Dave Joerger to keep Nancy Lieberman with Kings

12 Dec 1998:  Head coach Bill Bayno of the UNLV Rebels looks on during the game against the UCLA Bruins at Pauley Pavillion in Westwood, California. UCLA defeated UNLV 72-67. Mandatory Credit: Aubrey Washington  /Allsport
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While a couple of the big chairs have yet to be filled — Houston still hasn’t settled on a coach, neither has Memphis — the assistant coaching spots around the league are starting to fill up.

Marc Stein of ESPN dropped some nuggets about the bench of Nate McMillan in Indiana and Dave Joerger in Sacramento:

Bayno, the former UNLV head coach, had not been in the NBA this season but had been with Dwane Casey in Toronto the two seasons before that, and before that had been an assistant with Minnesota and Portland.

Corliss Willamson had been popular with players in Sacramento, as had Nancy Lieberman — but she also had a big fan on owner Vivek Ranadive. She is one of only two full-time female assistant coaches in the NBA (along with Becky Hammond in San Antonio).