NBA Season Preview: Boston Celtics

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Last season: 56-26 and a tough out by the hand of LeBron James.

Head Coach: The perennially fantastic Doc Rivers. He may not have the mystique of Gregg Popovich or the cult appeal of Stan Van Gundy, but Rivers consistently does a great job of balancing the personalities on Boston’s roster while drawing up highly effective plays. Swell guy, to boot.

Key Departures: Glen Davis, Shaquille O’Neal, Nenad Krstic

Key Additions: Brandon Bass, Keyon Dooling, Chris Wilcox

Best case scenario: Rajon Rondo puts together a complete campaign to power Boston to the East’s second seed, but a tough Conference Semifinal with the third-seeded Bulls looms. Even the Big Four’s collective brilliance in that highly competitive series isn’t good enough, as Boston’s run — and this era of Celtics basketball — is fittingly brought to a close due to the team’s lack of depth. The more things change, the more you have to uncomfortably rely on Jeff Green to provide productive minutes.

For that to happen: First, the obvious: Rondo needs to find a way to dispose of all that weighs on his mind, and make an impact rivaling that of the league’s other top point guards. When focused, Rondo is Boston’s best player, and a true terror on both ends of the court. When moody and distracted, he’s a legitimate tax on his squad, and a thorn in the side of Boston’s core vets. Sadly, there’s no Rondsetta stone (I’m so, so sorry) for the Celtics to harness, no cipher that reveals the path to accessing his complete potential. It’s all between Rondo’s ears, and if he can find some sense of peace (Or consistent rage? Rondo seems to play rather well when he’s angry), Boston will roll through almost any competition.

It’s also essential that Boston’s bigs stay healthy and productive for the entire season. This Celtics aren’t at all in a position to deal with a significant frontcourt injury; Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal, Brandon Bass, and Chris Wilcox make up a pretty solid rotation of bigs, but Green would have to play some serious minutes at the 4 in case of disaster. Considering the injury histories of Garnett and O’Neal — and Green’s career to date — that should make Celtics Nation a bit nervous.

More likely, the Celtics will: Follow a different course of action to a similar fate. Rondo’s performance may have a ridiculous amount of variability, but the same can hardly be said of the Celtics’ likely result. Boston — even if hobbled — isn’t likely at all to be dropped in the first round by inferior competition, and yet the Celtics lack serious potential to compete with either the Bulls or the Heat. There’s a chance they could still overwhelm the new-and-improved Knicks, but even that much is far from certain.

It’s been a great run for the Celtics, but the road ends in this year’s playoffs. Maybe the’ll go out in style as they claw their way into a Game 7, or maybe they’ll go quietly in the night. But it seems inescapable that the Celtics will go before they’re good and ready. This just isn’t a championship team — there are just too many pitfalls, and so little potential for offensive improvement. The league’s 18th best offense isn’t going to cut it for a title team, no matter how oppressive its defense.

Prediction: 44-22, good for the East’s third seed.

Stephen Curry reportedly will return to Warriors lineup Sunday vs. Wizards

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After four months off, the Warriors were looking for a soft landing spot to ease Stephen Curry back into the rotation.

How about Sunday, vs. Washington and the worst defense in the NBA this season?

That’s the plan, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Curry has said for some time he was targeting March 1 for a return, this would be that exact date (to be fair to the Wizards, they have played better defense of late). After that, Golden State plays at Denver on the third, has a Finals rematch against Toronto at the Chase Center on March 5, then the 76ers visit the Warriors on the seventh.

Curry suffered a fractured hand just four games into the season when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him. Recovery required two surgeries, one to put pins in to stabilize the bone through the healing process, then a second one to remove those pins once the recovery was far enough along.

While some fans had called for Curry to sit out the season and tank, Warriors coach Steve Kerr emphatically shot that idea down. As he should.

For one thing, Kerr wants to build some familiarity and chemistry between Curry and newly acquired Andrew Wiggins this season. Having Curry back may mean the Warriors don’t finish with the worst record in the league this season (which they have right now) but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not as big an issue. Besides, this is not a deep draft. This is not a situation where the Warriors will get instant help — in our podcast recently, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons. The Warriors may ultimately try to trade their pick for a player who can help more next season.

Ben Simmons has nerve impingement in lower back, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

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The biggest concern with Ben Simmons back issue is not that it will have him out weeks, it’s that nobody is saying what exactly is causing it.

Simmons has a nerve impingement in his lower back that will have him getting treatment daily, and he will be re-evaluated in two weeks, something first reported  by Shams Charania of The Athletic and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided some context, but nothing that is very encouraging.

A nerve impingement — what is commonly referred to as a pinched nerve — is exactly what it sounds like: Something is pressing on the nerve, “pinching” it and causing pain.

The big question: What is impinging on the nerve? That’s what Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes asked.

This does not sound like something that is going to be resolved in two weeks and Simmons will be back to normal.

Simmons injured his back last Wednesday in practice while grabbing a rebound, according to coach Brett Brown. Simmons sat out last Thursday’s Sixers game against the Nets, tried to play on Saturday vs. the Bucks but had to come out after one quarter, and has not set foot on the court since.

Simmons averages 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds a game, not to mention a league-best 2.2 steals a night. The All-Star is a core part of the Sixers rotation and will miss significant time they try to climb up into the top four in the East and get home court for the first round of the playoffs. Shake Milton started Monday in Simmons place.

Tilman Ferttita: Rockets don’t fear Lakers, Clippers like they did Warriors

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta likes to talk.

Volume 48.

Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:

“I think Milwaukee is head over heels above everybody else,” said Fertitta

“We just need to get home court for the first and second rounds and see what happens.”

“None of us fear L.A. or the Clippers or Denver like we feared Golden State,” he said. “It’s not like how we were scared of them. We could easily win the West this year or get knocked out in the first round. Both L.A. teams, Denver, Houston, we’re all excellent teams. Just comes down to somebody gets hot and makes a shot. Our chances are as good as they’ve ever been.”

The Rockets stood up to the Warriors far more than any other team. But that was most true before Fertitta put his imprint on the franchise. He’s somewhat culpable for Houston cowering to Golden State.

As far as this season, Fertitta is right all around: The Bucks are great, combining last year’s success with important playoff lessons. Houston could easily win the West or lose in the first round. The Lakers, Clippers and Nuggets shouldn’t be feared. (Nobody fears the Nuggets, though they are a real championship contender.)

But the Lakers and Clippers also look like darned good playoff teams. Even if not predicting victory, Fertitta’s comments could become bulletin-board material in Los Angeles.

Rumor: Warriors acquired first-rounder, Andrew Wiggins for Giannis Antetokounmpo trade

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Andrew Wiggins, who's now with Warriors
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The Warriors have the NBA shook.

Even in last place.

It was more understandablenot necessarily right, but understandable – when Golden State was dominating. The Warriors won a title, won 73 games, signed Kevin Durant then won two more titles. In the midst of the run, they were treated as invincible. A team that great had never signed an outside free agent that great. Golden State really did seem “light years ahead.”

So, when the Warriors traded D'Angelo Russell for Andrew Wiggins and picks, some people cowered about what Golden State had up its sleeve next. Speculation even turned to Giannis Antetokounmpo, who faces a super-max decision this offseason and looked quite chummy with Stephen Curry (similar to how Kevin Durant once did while still with the Thunder).

Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report:

Some around the league believe the Golden State Warriors acquired a first-round pick from the Minnesota Timberwolves, along with Andrew Wiggins, with the notion of a potential future trade with the Bucks.

This is so silly.

Minnesota’s first-rounder (top-three-protected in 2021, unprotected in 2022) is a nice asset. The Warriors’ 2020 first-rounder will also land high in the draft. But Wiggins didn’t suddenly turn into a valuable player in Golden State. Owed $94,738,170 over the next three years, Wiggins still carries negative value. The Warriors aren’t now deftly positioned to land Antetokounmpo.

Golden State showed incredible vision by building an excellent team that appealed to Durant and clearing cap space to acquire him. But the Warriors got multiple fortunate breaks – Stephen Curry taking a smaller contract extension while injured in 2012, Golden State blowing a 3-1 lead in the 2016 NBA Finals, the salary cap spiking in 2016.

The Warriors can’t duplicate everything, swoop in and land Antetokounmpo.

Sure, it’s possible Wiggins improves in Golden State. Maybe Antetokounmpo will decline to sign a super-max extension, which should force Milwaukee to at least strongly consider trading him. It’s also conceivable Antetokounmpo threatens not to re-sign with anyone besides the Warriors, scaring off other teams and leaving Golden State’s offer the best that the Bucks’ get.

But it’s such a remote possibility of all that happening, it’s not worth worrying about.

This is paranoia about the Warriors at its worst.