Jared Sullinger, Andray Blatche

Celtics show promise in Christmas win. Nets… it wasn’t pretty.


Boston should be better than a .500 team, which is how they came into Christmas Day. We keep expecting them to have a nice easy win, a jumpstart to start finding their groove. They need to find a team that would roll over and pretty much die for them.

Enter the Nets on Christmas.

How ugly were the Nets? Their CEO Brett Yormark tweeted after the game: “Nets fans deserved better today. The entire organization needs to work harder to find the solution. We will get there.”

The struggling Nets offense shot 40.6 percent for the game and had an offensive rating of 88.6 points per 100 possessions. Combine that with Boston getting good production off the bench from Jared Sullinger (16 points) and Jeff Green (15) and you get an easy 93-76 Celtics win.

If you want to know about this game, it essentially ended in the second quarter when Boston outscored Brooklyn 34-18. The Nets shot 36.8 percent for the quarter as they went with a smaller lineup. The Celtics picked up their defense, then Boston turned the stops into some easy buckets going the other way in transition. Jason Terry had 8 points in the quarter and was +16 in the 12 minutes to help push the win.

That quarter just seemed to deflate the Nets, which has happened a lot lately. In the second half, Gerald Wallace played hard and killed it, the rest of the Nets went through the motions. For the game Brook Lopez shot 5-of-12, Joe Johnson 4-of-14 and Andray Blatche 3-of-9. Deron Williams had 10 points and 6 assists, Rajon Rondo had 19.

The Nets have lost four of their last five and 9 of their last 12.

But as bad as the Nets were, don’t let this take away from a quality win for the Celtics. They came out and played hard, played smart and played like a team starting to figure it out. Maybe they will, remember they started last season 15-17 before flipping the switch. There are still questions about consistency of the bench play and what happens to their defense when Kevin Garnett sits, but they needed a few nice wins to get a flow going.

This could be one. They found a perfect doormat to get healthy against.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told NBCSports.com. The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.