ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Boston Celtics

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Last season: The Celtics went 25-57, their worst record and first time out of the playoffs since their championship.

Boston set up its fate by trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce before the season, and Rajon Rondo missing a majority of the year due to injury sealed it.

Brad Stevens worked through his first NBA season and had his team playing hard, but the Celtics just didn’t have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot – even in the East. Brandon Bass was their best player. Let me repeat: Brandon Bass was their best player.

Signature highlight from last season: If you want the Celtics’ best play of the season, it’s Jeff Green catching an inbound with 0.6 seconds remaining and nailing a 3-pointer to beat the Heat:

But if you want the moment that truly captures Boston’s season, it’s Rajon Rondo sitting on the bench and cringing at the box score. The video has been pulled, but he asked for a box score, looked down at it and shuddered. Rondo on the bench, the Celtics losing and their star player unhappy – Boston’s year in a nutshell.

Key offseason moves:

Keys to the Celtics’ season:

Fitting in Rajon Rondo: This starts on the court, where Rondo is an All-Star-caliber guard. He’s an excellent passer, hounding defender and very good rebounder for his position.

But his skills are best used with other good players around him, and the Celtics are woefully short on those – which is why they might trade him.

There was a report Rondo asked to be traded this summer, and of course, denials followed. For now, we’re all in wait-and-see mode.

Rondo’s contract ends after the season, and he’s notoriously prickly, especially when his team is losing. Obviously, that makes him a prime trade candidate.

At this point, Boston will probably keep Rondo to begin the season, but after drafting point guard Marcus Smart at No. 6 and not improving the team in the short term this, the writing is on the wall for a Rondo trade.

Seeing progress from Brad Stevens: On paper, the Celtics lack talent to compete into the postseason.

But so did Butler.

Stevens came to Boston with a great college pedigree. Him translating that to the NBA might be the Celtics’ best chance of defying expectations this season.

If Stevens can implement the sound defensive and offensive systems that worked so well at Butler, Boston will be a very tough out each game. Any feisty team in the East has a chance.

Taking advantage of having a center: Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Kris Humphries often played the pivot for the undermanned Celtics last season. Not only were those players – power forwards by trade – ill-equipped to handle the job, it wore them down.

Humphries left in free agency, but with Tyler Zeller in line to start and Vitor Faverani hopefully healthy enough to back him up, Sullinger and Olynyk can take advantage. Both are skilled bigs, which they can better show if they’re no longer taking such consistent poundings.

Why you should watch: Rondo. Nobody impacts a game quite like him. Whether he’s turning down open shots to make a pass, gambling for steals or crashing the glass, Rondo is a point guard unlike any other. His all-out effort and high awareness give him a unique style.

Plus, watching Rondo is scouting. He might be playing for your favorite team soon.

Prediction: 24-58. Rondo is very good, and Green will have his moments. But I don’t think this team is good enough to be in the playoff race at the trade deadline, and I think that means Rondo gets dealt. The Celtics are probably capable of finishing better than 24-58, but I anticipate trading Rondo will be part of a tanking effort. Smart and Young could get plenty of minutes down the stretch, aiding their development and Boston’s losing. Danny Ainge seems ready to kick rebuilding into full gear.

Poor defense, Patty Mills game-winner keep LeBron James, Lakers winless

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LOS ANGELES — This loss stung. More than the first two. Because the win was in LeBron James‘ hands and…

The Lakers are 0-3 to start the season.

For much of the first 47 minutes Monday night, the Spurs out-executed the Lakers and exposed their porous defense. The Lakers ran enough, and got hot from three for a stretch, to keep themselves close, but then a LaMarcus Aldridge jumper had the Spurs up 128-120 with 1:10 left in regulation. Frustrated fans headed for the exits. The game looked over.

Then a JaVale McGee dunk and a Kyle Kuzma three (he had 37 points on the night) set up LeBron James forcing overtime in a classic LeBron fashion.

Overtime was the reverse of regulation — it was the young Lakers’ turn to make plays and dominate. A LeBron James driving and-1 had the Lakers up by six, 142-136, with just :55 seconds left. LeBron was on the doorstep of his first win as a Laker… then Bryn Forbes hit a driving layup, and after a Kuzma miss the Lakers gave up the one thing they couldn’t — a three. To Rudy Gay. Uncontested in any meaningful way. That made it a one-point game with 12 seconds left. LeBron was fouled instantly on the inbound pass but then missed two straight free throws, setting up Patty Mills for the heroics.

LeBron had one last chance to get his first win as a Laker… and nothing.

“I got to my spot, I got the shot I wanted, it just didn’t go down,” LeBron said.

For the third game in a row another team executed better than the Lakers when it mattered most, this time it was the Spurs, who pick up a 143-142 win. LeBron and the Lakers fall to 0-3 to start the season.

It was always going to be a process for these Lakers, but it’s going to take longer than fans and most pundits expected.

The same problems from the first two games remained for the Lakers — on defense they allowed 125.7 points per 100 possessions (it’s very early, but the Lakers are bottom six in defense so far). They struggled to slow LaMarcus Aldridge (37 points on 22 shots) and DeMar DeRozan (32 points), which happens to a lot of teams, but Laker defenders lost guys on back cuts and struggled with the Spurs ball movement. Los Angeles gives up too many easy buckets and fouls too much. Offensively the Lakers were impressive in transition and got their buckets in the paint (74 points), but shot 4-of-10 between the paint and the arc, and were 9-of-32 on above-the-break threes (L.A. hit 5-of-7 from the corners, a definite improvement).

“We’re going to continue to get better. I like the direction we’re going it,” LeBron said. “Obviously, we don’t have too many wins right now, but it’s such a long process. We had our chances…

“We want to defend, we know that’s going to be our staple. We know we’re going to defend. When we defend and rebound, we’re very good, we’re just trying to figure out how to defend without fouling.”

It was a game all about pace (which ties to the Laker defense). In the first quarter Spurs put up 40 points and shot 72.7 percent, and with that made the Lakers take the ball out of the basket time after time. Los Angeles couldn’t run and trailed by as many as 16 in the quarter. In the second quarter the Spurs shots didn’t fall, and the Lakers were off and running getting 34 points. For the game, the Lakers had 41 fast break points.

It just wasn’t enough.

Lakers’ coach Luke Walton earned himself a fine after the game with his frustration with the referees, something that has been a running theme with the Lakers for a couple of games now.

“It’s 70-something points in the paint to 50-something (74 to 50), again they outshoot us from the free throw line, 38 free throws (the Lakers had 26),” Walton ranted after the game. “Watch the play — watch the play where I got a technical, watch what happens to LeBron James’ arm. It’s the same thing that James Harden and Chris Paul shot 30 free throws on us the night before. Then LeBron pulls up on a screen and somebody’s trying to fight over it, same thing they shot free throws on. Same thing.

“We are scoring 70 points a night in the paint. We’re putting pressure on. Josh Hart, watch how plays the game, played 40 minutes tonight, all he does is attack the rim — zero free throws tonight. Zero. I know they’re young, but if we’re going to play a certain way then let’s not reward people for flopping 30 feet from the hole on plays that have nothing to do with that possession. They’re just flopping to see if they can get a foul call. And then not reward players who are physically going to the basket and getting hit. That’s not right.”

We’ll see if Walton gets his money’s worth with that rant when we see the calls Los Angeles gets in Phoenix on Wednesday.

Boston offense stumbles, Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic scores 24 in Magic upset win

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BOSTON (AP) — Nikola Vucevic had 24 points and 12 rebounds while the Orlando Magic survived two 3-point attempts by Boston in the closing seconds to beat the Celtics 93-90 on Monday night.

Jonathan Isaac added 18 points and 12 boards for the Magic (2-2).

Kyrie Irving led the Celtics (2-2) with 22 points. Al Horford had 15 and Gordon Hayward 11. Irving and Hayward each missed a 3 in the final seconds. Boston shot 9-of-40 from three on the night and 40.7 percent overall, looking out of sync as they have much of the season (and preseason).

The Celtics, who never led in the game, trailed by at least five points from the midway point of the final quarter until Jaylen Brown nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner, closing it to 89-86 with 71 seconds left.

But Isaac answered with a foul-line jumper on the next possession.

Horford and Irving then had consecutive baskets 32 seconds apart, slicing it to 91-90 with 14.2 seconds to play.

With Boston forced to foul Evan Fournier after Orlando inbounded the ball after a timeout, he stepped to the line and made both free throws with 7.8 seconds left.

Irving then missed his 3 from the right corner, and after Horford grabbed the rebound and fed it out – Hayward’s rimmed out just before the buzzer sounded.

Orlando had pulled ahead by 13 points twice late in the third quarter before Boston closed the period by scoring 10 of the final 12 points to slice it to 75-70 at the break.

 

Watch Stephen Curry get the volleyball set assist from his mom during warmups

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Wherever the Warriors are, home or road, fans are filling the building long before tip-off just to watch Stephen Curry warm up. With good reason, he’s a show even before the ball goes up.

Curry’s mother, Sonya, was courtside for his warmups before the Warriors hosting the Suns. Curry played a little volleyball with her, got a good set, and hit the corner three.

Pretty sure rules prohibit him from doing that during the game, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Warriors say DeMarcus Cousins making “good progress,” will participate in part of practice soon

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Don’t confuse this with “DeMarcus Cousins is almost back on the court.” The Warriors are going to be CSPAN call-in show host patient in bringing Cousins back, and a return date is still well down the schedule. There is no official timetable.

Cousins is, however, making progress and will be part of some segments of team practice shortly, the Warriors announced Monday.

“DeMarcus continues to make good progress with his rehabilitation program. After spending the last few weeks doing various individual on-court activities and drills, he will, in the near future, be integrated into controlled aspects of team practices, although not scrimmages at this point. Additionally, he will continue with his off-court strength and conditioning program.”

The Warriors want to keep Cousins happy but also know they don’t fully need him yet — they need him in the playoffs as another option to punish switches. Golden State needs Cousins healthy, back in shape, rust off and ready to go in April, but he doesn’t need to be on the court in October, or even by Christmas, to get there. Cousins wants to play, but as a guy looking to get paid next summer, he needs to come back right and show what he can do, not come back too early and damage his stock. It’s a fine line.

The Warriors and Cousins are moving closer to that line, but there is still a long way to go.