NBA Season Preview: Boston Celtics

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Last season: They went 39-27 and won the Atlantic Division, which was nice but in Boston division titles are not how a team is measured. They handled the Hawks as expected in the first round of the playoffs, then in the second round ran into a plucky but inexperienced Sixers team and Boston won in 7 games.

But what really happened through the course of the season and the first two rounds is Boston found its identity — Avery Bradley starting at the two, going small with Kevin Garnett at the five, Brandon Bass at the four and playing great defense. That identity was enough to give the Celtics a 3-2 series lead over the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. They had a real chance. Then Chris Bosh returned from injury, Miami won the final two and Boston’s season ended with a feeling this core wasn’t done.

Key Departures: Ray Allen, frustrated with being the sixth man behind Bradley and not thinking Rajon Rondo was looking out for him, signed for less money in Miami. Boston is also going to miss the size and solid play off the bench that Greg Stiemsma provided. The other guys that left — Marquis Daniels, Ryan Hollins, E’Twaun Moore, Mickael Pietrus and others — can be replaced.

Key Additions: They brought in one of the better sixth men in the league in Jason Terry, who will provide both points and shot creation off the bench. They signed Courtney Lee, who will start at the two for Boston until Bradley returns from shoulder surgery, and Lee will bring good defense and three-point shooting that goes well with their style.

While technically he was around Boston last year, it’s like they add Jeff Green after he missed a season due to heart surgery. Good to see him back. I think Boston overpaid for Green, but he is a solid player off the bench. They also drafted a guy who should be solid as a rookie in Jared Sullinger (but some Boston fans seem to overvalue what he did at Summer League — he is not near the quality of Brandon Bass right now). Chris Wilcox is there and that’s a nice pickup. Jason Collin is there and… well, he’s there.

Three keys to the Celtics season:

1) The old guys all stay healthy and don’t regress too much. Yes, it’s cliché to say Boston is old and, really, they are not as old as they seem. With Allen gone and the return of guys like Green and Lee, Boston is younger overall than they were last year. They certainly are a deeper squad.

But in the end, they need Kevin Garnett (age 36) and Paul Pierce (35 when the season starts) to still be elite players. And to stay healthy. While neither are really injury prone, as players get older injuries (and the length of time they need to recover from them) become more prevalent. Pierce played through a knee injury last playoffs and it slowed him (even if he refused to admit it). Doc Rivers gets it as a coach and he is willing to lose games and sit guys to have his team ready, rested and healthy when the playoffs start. But it is still a concern.

2) They have got to improve on offense. We know Boston is going to defend like beasts — Rajon Rondo is one of the best defensive point guards in the game, Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley give them good wing defenders, and even a step slower Kevin Garnett’s defense in the paint is still quality. Boston will be a top three defensive team. But they were 24th in points per possession on offense last season (98.9 points per 100 possessions, when the league average was 101.8). One way to do that is to improve on their league-worst offensive rebound rate (they grabbed just 19.7 percent of their missed shots, the league average is 26.9 percent). Offensive rebounds are often easy buckets on put backs. Even if Boston is going small next season, they need to get more of these easy buckets.

3) Get to the free throw line more. This ties into No. 2 above. Doc Rivers has talked about this during the summer — last season Boston was 22nd in percentage of trips to the free throw line per possession. That number needs to come up for a couple reasons. It’s not Rajon Rondo’s game, but he needs to be part of the change. First, it’s easy points, just hit your free throws (and Boston is a solid free throw shooting team). Second, it lets them set their defense. Miami had success in the playoffs running off missed shots or turnovers, converting those into some easy buckets. Boston doesn’t score enough to make up for a lot of easy buckets. They need to eliminate them, and getting to the line more — meaning more guys attacking the rim and not settling just for jump shots.

What one thing should scare Celtics fans? Boston fans have let me have it on twitter when I suggested this before, but that may be because it strikes a little too close to home — even if everything goes right Boston still doesn’t beat Miami if the Heat are healthy. Boston fans point to getting to Game 7 with a host of injuries last year and a deeper team this year. Both true. But Miami had their second and third best players injured, they still won the series. Then they got better this summer. There’s a reason Rivers wants his team to hate the Heat. In the end, all the smart moves by Danny Ainge may not be enough.

How it likely works out: Boston is going to be one of the league’s better teams. They are going to defend. Jason Terry is going to have a big year (I think). The newfound depth will allow Doc Rivers to wear opponents down without wearing his own roster down. They are going to finish the season as one of the top three teams in the East… but the regular season is not how teams in Boston are judged. And in the playoffs the Celtics will be the kind of veteran threat that should scare opponents. They are going to make a run.

But in the end, their season probably ends pretty much like it did last year.

Prediction: 51-31, which I’m betting is the two or three seed in the East (the Heat will be on top and I think the Pacers will finish close to Boston in record). Come the playoffs, if they are healthy, another run to the conference finals is within their grasp. And if the Heat stumble at all, the Celtics could be right there. But don’t bet on a new banner in Boston, this team still remains a step below the league’s elite.

James Harden scores 27 as Rockets rout Warriors 107-86

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HOUSTON (AP) James Harden scored 27 points and the Houston Rockets routed the Golden State Warriors 107-86 on Thursday night in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference finals.

The Rockets (7-7), who announced before the game that they were “parting ways” with 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony, have won three straight and six of their last eight games after starting 1-5 to reach .500 for the first time since they were 1-1.

The Warriors, who were without Stephen Curry for the fourth straight game, have lost two of their last three. Curry has already been ruled out for Golden State’s next two games because of a groin injury.

Houston had a 13-point lead at the end of the third and opened the fourth quarter with a 12-2 run to make it 88-65 and spur Golden State coach Steve Kerr to call a timeout. The Warriors had two shots blocked and committed two loose ball fouls in that span to help Houston pad the lead. The Rockets got 3-pointers from James Ennis and Isaiah Hartenstein to cap the run.

The Rockets then scored the first nine points after the timeout, with six from Ennis, to make it 97-65 midway through the quarter and put the game out of reach. Both teams cleared their benches a couple of minutes after that.

Kevin Durant had 20 points for the Warriors on a night they were just 4 of 18 on 3-pointers.

Draymond Green had five rebounds and five assists in his return after serving a one-game team-imposed suspension for a dustup with Durant in Monday night’s overtime loss to the Clippers. Green addressed the situation for the first time after shootaround but did not apologize for his actions in the heated exchange.

He said he and Durant had spoken and that they were “moving forward.”

“I think there’s no secret that I am an emotional player,” he said. “I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I play with that same emotion. Sometimes they get the best of me. And (if) it doesn’t work to my favor I’m going to live with that.”

While the Warriors dealt with the drama between Green and Durant, the Rockets were left to answer questions about the decision to move on from Anthony.

Anthony played just 10 games for the Rockets after signing a one-year, $2.4 million deal during the offseason.

“In the summer we tried to hit a home run and it didn’t work out,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He tried everything he could. He was great while he was here. It just didn’t work out for whatever reason. I just thank him for his professionalism. It was good. He tried everything he could to make it work and it just didn’t work out.”

The Rockets led by six at halftime and opened the third quarter with a 7-2 run to stretch the lead to 54-43.

Harden scored five straight points to make it 63-47 after his 3-pointer with about 5 1/2 minutes left in the quarter.

Golden State got going on offense after that, using an 8-2 spurt to get within 65-55 a couple of minutes later.

Gary Clark ended the run with a 3-pointer, and two more 3s by him within a minute of each other late in the third extended the lead to 76-59. It was 76-63 headed to the fourth.

TIP-INS

Warriors: Curry was with the Warriors on the trip but it’s unclear when he’ll return. “We’re going to be very, very careful, and obviously he’s going to need plenty of court time before he returns,” coach Steve Kerr said. “When I say court time, I mean live action. He hasn’t had that.”… Kevon Looney scored a season-high 12 points.

Rockets: Gerald Green returned after missing the last two games with a sprained ankle. … Ennis finished with 19 points and Eric Gordon had 17 off the bench. … Houston made 16 of 47 3-pointers.

UP NEXT

Warriors: Visit Dallas on Saturday night.

Rockets: Host Sacramento on Saturday night.

Report: Draymond Green will try to get game check from suspension

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Should Draymond Green have been suspended for his repeated aggravation of Kevin Durant during an on-floor dispute against the Los Angeles Clippers this week? His teammates thought so, and even voted in favor of giving Green a one-game suspension.

Now, Green will try to get back the money he lost via a missed game check.

According to The Undefeated’s Marc Spears, Green will petition to get the money for his game check from the Warriors with help from the NBA Players Association.

Via The Undefeated:

The Warriors responded by suspending Green for Tuesday’s win over the Atlanta Hawks. While Green accepted the suspension, a source said he was surprised at being fined a $120,000 game check and plans to appeal the franchise’s decision with the aid of the players association.

It seems that at this juncture the suspension and fine was part of the team’s way of making sure Durant felt like he wasn’t being pulled over by the strong personality and Leadership position of green.

It’s hard to say whether Green will get his check for the Hawks game back from the team, but that’s probably not the most important part of this story at this juncture. For now, we have to wait and see what will happen with this Warriors squad moving forward.

Mike D’Antoni on Carmelo Anthony: ‘It wasn’t fair for him as Hall of Fame player’

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Things are over between Carmelo Anthony and the Houston Rockets.

It was announced on Thursday that the former NBA scoring champion would be departing from the team after playing just 10 games. This ended a rocky start to the 2018-19 season in which the Rockets tried gapping the loss of crucial role players with Anthony just a season after an unsuccessful stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The writing on the wall was apparent earlier this week, although the Rockets weren’t forthcoming about the situation with Anthony. Houston GM Daryl Morey told reporters on Sunday that Anthony was sick and that he would “expect him to be playing when he’s healthy.”

That doesn’t seem anywhere near a straight answer in retrospect, and now Anthony is no longer traveling with team. For his part, head coach Mike D’Antoni said nice things about Anthony on Thursday as reporters asked him questions leading up to Houston’s game against the Golden State Warriors.

In his comments, D’Antoni called Carmelo a “Hall of Fame” player.

Via Twitter:

Who knows where Anthony might end up from here on out? The Los Angeles Lakers seem like the most popular destination of speculation, although rumor has it the team is not interested in the aging superstar. That’s not to say that the Lakers are out of the running, but it certainly narrows the choices.

Anthony is a sub-replacement level player, he can be a locker room disturbance, and it’s unclear if he would be willing to mentor young guys much the way Vince Carter has done at this stage in his career.

It’s too early to say that Carmelo’s time in the NBA is over, but right now we are still waiting for a team to step forward and decide they’ll take a chance on Anthony.

Jarrett Jack thinks Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant will join Lakers with LeBron

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Jarrett Jack is no longer with an NBA team, but no doubt he is still plugged in and continues to pay attention to rumors and movements around the league.

Of course the biggest rumor heading into the next two seasons is about what will happen with the team surrounding LeBron James on the Los Angeles Lakers. Kevin Durant has been one rumored target. Some kind of trade surrounding New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis is another.

Jack recently decided to weigh in on what might happen with the Lakers in the coming seasons on Twitter and, according to him, Jack thinks that LeBron will team up with Davis and Durant.

Via Twitter:

This is of the utmost hearsay at this point, and it’s fun to look at these type of assertions by folks orbiting the league because of the cultural impact rumors have on just about everyone. The idea that a recent former player would be weighing in publicly about a super secret plan to get three major superstars on one team in the biggest market in the NBA would have been crazy a decade ago.

Now? Not so much.

Of course the reality of the situation is much different. The Lakers will have the cap space to sign Kevin Durant this summer if he chooses to opt out of his contract with the Golden State Warriors. Weather Davis can find a way to the Lakers is another thing altogether.

The Pelicans big man has appeared to say all the right things externally, and the only way New Orleans is giving him up is if Davis decides to force his way out. Even then, it’s not immediately clear what the Lakers could give up in order to get Davis that wouldn’t completely decimate their team.

Keep these rumors coming, to be honest. I am all for everyone getting in on these rumors early. If they turn out to be true, it becomes a fun tinfoil-hat experiment on what kind of secretive potential discussions were had before things were made official. Then again, if Durant decides to join the New York Knicks and Davis stays put in Louisiana for the rest of his career, it’s an odd commentary on nobody wanting to join up with LeBron in LA.

Either way, it’s a wild story.