As Celtics offense falls off map they search for an identity

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It’s been this bad — in the last 10 games the Celtics offense has averaged 96.9 points per 100 possessions (via NBA.com’s own stats), which over the course of the season would be 29th in the NBA. Barely better than what’s left of the Wizards. At the other end, Boston’s defense has been inconsistent (it was not good against Chicago Tuesday, it had been better in general of late).

The result is a 12-12 team that is the current eight seed in the East. The Celtics right now are average.

Who are the Boston Celtics right now? A defensive team that likes to run and has great shooters? It doesn’t show and they look like a team searching for itself.

I’m not ready to start shoveling dirt on the Celtics yet, we did that early last season and they pulled it all together for a very good playoff run. But the hole is dug and they seem to be lowering themselves into it this season.

To me the issues start on offense. What leaps out of the statistics in the last 10 games is that while Boston is not shooting terribly well, they are really getting hurt by a lack of offensive rebounding and turnovers. Both of those have been long-standing issues for the Celtics, but ones they were able to overcome in the past by knocking down shots and getting to the free throw line. However Boston is pretty average to slightly below average in their last 10 games in shooting and free throws, which is not enough to cover up the flaws.

Boston turned its offense more over to Rajon Rondo this year and Doc Rivers told A. Sherrod Blakely he thinks Rondo is trying to do too much.

“He’s trying to do too much; forcing it instead of letting the ball find the scorer,” Rivers said. “It looked like Rondo was trying to make the play every time down. You know, that’s tough to do. And it’s not good for your offense anyway. He understands that.”

Frankly, I’m not worried about Rondo getting his groove back. Or for that matter Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce contributing well now and better late in the season and the playoffs.

But the bench is another issue — Boston thought they were adding depth this season but Jason Terry is not playing as big a role in the offense as he did in Dallas, Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee have struggled, and Jeff Green has been the guy Oklahoma City was willing to trade (he teases you with flashes and a good game or two, then reverts to form). Rivers is throwing everything, every lineup he can think of against a wall but nothing is sticking. Not consistently.

Which comes back to the identity question. Boston has always been a defensive team, but they just gave up a triple-double to Joakim Noah. Not Derrick Rose, but Joakim Noah. Rivers and Pierce said after Tuesday night they are still searching to see who they are, as reported by Blakely at CSNNE.com.

“This team is not a good team right now,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers whose team is now 12-12 on the season. “It’s who we are right now. We’re a .500 team and we play like that. We’ve won two games in a row for the season. Right now, we’re not a good team. We’re going to find, but not right now. We’re going to keep searching for it.”

“Right now we have no identity,” said a visibly disappointed Paul Pierce following Tuesday’s loss to the Bulls, their third straight. “We’re supposed to be a defensive team. But giving up 100 points every night, we’re inconsistent on the court … we’re still searching, trying to find out who we want to be for this season.”

More than 20 games in, that’s not good. Especially in an East where the Heat know who they are (even if they don’t execute it nightly) and the Knicks have figured themselves out.

Boston has a long way to go to reach their goals. But we said that about them last season.

Suns, Hawks reportedly show interest in Kuzma trade, Wizards see him as cornerstone

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyle Kuzma was the kind of quality, two-way role player the Lakers needed around LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win the 2020 NBA title (the type of player the Lakers wish they had now).

In Washington, his role has been elevated — he’s a 20-point-a-game scorer (20.6 points per game this season, to be precise) who is a key part of generating offense, not just playing off the stars of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. As he told Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“As soon as I got traded, I was ready to be more,” Kuzma told The Athletic.

It’s been enough to draw the interest of a couple of teams looking for a trade, Charania adds. The Wizards are not necessarily interested in moving on, however.

Several teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have expressed trade interest in Kuzma, according to league sources. By the same token, the Wizards have shown interest in Hawks forward John Collins, and the sides seriously discussed a potential deal last offseason, league sources added…

However, the Wizards’ front office, led by general manager Tommy Sheppard, has made clear that it views Kuzma as a cornerstone moving forward as the franchise has seen him thrive since the mega-trade in the 2021 offseason. The Westbrook trade provided future flexibility and assets for the Wizards, who have been known to be aggressive and active in research across the league.

Kuzma has a $13 million player option for next season that he will unquestionably opt out of, making him a free agent in search of a healthy raise (north of $20 million a year, although expect something more in the ballpark of the four-year, $104 million Jalen Brunson contract). If the Wizards are willing to pay they likely can keep him (they have his Bird rights). But if Washington isn’t sure it wants to pay market value, or if management sees a shifting path for future seasons, it should consider trading Kuzma at the deadline.

If he becomes available, far more teams than the Hawks and Suns would be interested, quality two-way forwards are in demand around the league. Kuzma would have some leverage over where he gets sent because he can leave as a free agent (teams would offer up less if they believed Kuzma would only be a rental for this season).

Magic send Jonathan Isaac to G-League for practice, rehabilitation

2022-2023 Orlando Magic Media Day
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There was a time when it was thought Jonathan Isaac might be the Magic’s next big star.

However, he has not stepped on an NBA court since he was in the bubble (Feb. 8, 2020), then he tore his ACL in August of that year (which came on the heels of missing much of that season with an injury to the same knee). Last March he had a setback and another procedure, and at this point he has missed two full seasons plus the start of this one.

Isaac is still working toward recovery and the Magic have assigned him to the Lakeland Magic of the G-League to get in some practice.

Because NBA teams barely practice during the season — the schedule of games nearly every other day plus travel and recovery doesn’t permit more than film sessions and walk-throughs — these kinds of baseball-style minor league rehab assignments are more and more common.

The story from the Magic’s official website notes this will be the first time Isaac will play 5-on-5 with other players during his rehab, which is a significant step forward.

There is no timeline for his return, but the Magic have him under contract this season for $17.4 million and two more fully guaranteed years at the same price. There is no reason for the franchise to walk away, even if some around the league question if his knees will ever let him back on an NBA court again.

The Magic have found their next star in Paolo Banchero and have built a promising young core, something Isaac — an elite defender before his injuries — should fit in well with. If he can get healthy and back on the court.

Antetokounmpo talks about plans for his 28th birthday while holding Simpsons plush

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Happy birthday, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak turns 28 today.

After he dropped a casual (for him) 34-13-5 line in the Bucks’ win over the Magic last night, Antetokounmpo discussed his birthday plans. He’s not going out, maybe just dinner, playing with his kids, and once they are asleep… ya know.

I feel safe saying Antetokounmpo is the first NBA player to talk about birthday sex while holding a Homer J. Simpson plush doll.

If you’re asking, why the Simpson doll… why not? Bucks reserve forward Sandro Mamukelashvili won it at Universal Studios, brought it to the game, left it behind in the locker room and Antetokounmpo appropriated it.

In a world where most postgame press conferences are formulaic and filled with cliches it’s good to see a player willing just to be himself and have some fun behind the mic.

Watch Pacers rookie Nembhard drop 31, outduel Curry, lead Pacers past Warriors

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SAN FRANCSICO — Rookie Andrew Nembhard outshined the Splash Brothers on their home court.

Nembhard scored a season-high 31 points and added 13 assists and eight rebounds to lead the undermanned Indiana Pacers to a 112-104 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Monday night.

A second-round draft pick, Nembhard made a key 3-pointer with 4:26 to go and another jumper less than two minutes later.

“He was masterful tonight … 31 and 13, those are high lottery numbers,” coach Rick Carlisle said.

Indiana played without starting point guard Tyrese Haliburton for a second straight game as he nurses soreness in his left groin.

Klay Thompson scored 28 points and made eight 3-pointers, moving up the NBA’s career 3-point list on the six-year anniversary of his 60-point masterpiece against the Pacers.

Thompson finished 9 of 23, but Stephen Curry was held to 12 points on 3-for-17 shooting. Jordan Poole scored 23 starting in place of Andrew Wiggins, who sat out with tightness of the adductor muscle in his right leg.

“No matter what we do, it’s going to be hard to guard these guys. We had some good fortune with them missing some shots they may normally make,” Carlisle said. “But our guys played with a lot of presence to start the game. We were switching a lot and everyone was tied together.”

Nembhard hit five 3s while Buddy Hield added 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists as Indiana snapped a three-game losing streak with just its second win in six games.

Nembhard and the Pacers hardly looked like a team playing the second game of a road back-to-back.

“He was hoopin’ and I think that starts in the first half for us,” Golden State’s Donte DiVincenzo said. “The guards have to get into it a little bit more.”

Golden State had its 10-game home winning streak snapped.

Curry went 1 of 7 in the first half, missing all four of his 3-point tries and was 2 for 10 from deep overall. Curry finally connected from long range with 5:13 left in the third after missing his first five.

The Pacers, missing six players with injuries or illness, jumped out to a 22-12 lead as Golden State started 5 for 17.

Thompson knocked down three straight 3-pointers – all from the right wing – to tie the game at 42 with 4:51 left in the second quarter before a Pacers timeout. Thompson also dished out an assist on Jonathan Kuminga‘s layup before his trio of 3s and nearly had another when Kuminga was fouled and made both free throws to cap a 20-2 run 3:40 before halftime.