Three Things to Know: Celtics win streak at 10, should we call them contenders?

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Celtics make it 10 wins in a row… is what Boston is doing sustainable? Are they contenders? Wednesday, Boston coach Brad Stevens finally unleashed his ultimate offensive weapon — Aron Baynes. For the first 11 games of the season Stevens been using some misdirection, putting the ball in the hands of Kyrie Irving, and having him do dribble handoffs with Al Horford. But that was just the hors-d’oeuvre, Baynes is the meal. Wednesday night against the Lakers Stevens finally unleashed the fury that is Baynes.

Okay, maybe that is overstating it. Slightly. But Baynes had 21 points on 12 shots starting in place of Horford — who is in the league’s concussion protocol — as he overwhelmed the Lakers inside on Boston’s way to a fairly comfortable 107-96 win over rival Los Angeles.

That’s 10 wins in a row for Boston, and it lead’s to the question: Just how sustainable is this? We knew Boston would be good this season, but are they contenders right now, even without Gordon Hayward?

Yes, they are.

Making the Finals is a good definition of a contender and this season that is not some far-off dream in Boston, it’s reasonable.

Boston moves up to contender status because of their defense — the best in the NBA this young season. Just ask Lonzo Ball, who was rudely introduced to Marcus Smart Wednesday.

No, this Boston run is not sustainable in the “they are going 80-2 this season” kind of way — they have won 10 in a row against the 10th softest schedule in the league so far. Think of who they have beaten and there are a lot of rebuilding teams (Knicks, Kings, Sixers, Lakers, Hawks) and even when they get the Spurs they get them without Kawhi Leonard. There will be rough patches ahead. The Celtics have had role players playing over their heads a little  (see Baynes dropping 21), and while the young tandem of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum keep playing incredibly well, they will have peaks and valleys as well.

However, Boston is a real and legitimate threat to come out of the East. Kyrie Irving has bought into what Stevens preaches on offense, and more importantly has hustled more on defense than we have seen in years (he doesn’t die on nearly as many screens as he did in Cleveland). Horford and Irving have developed a fast on-court chemistry, and their two-man dribble handoff game is hard to stop. Role players like Smart and Marcus Morris can sustain what they are doing, and Stevens puts guys in great positions to succeed.

The shadow of LeBron James still looms over the East. While the Cavaliers have struggled early — and there are legitimate questions about how good their defense can be — LeBron has been to seven straight NBA Finals for a reason. He has other gears has not even thought about reaching yet (well, except when Bradley Beal and John Wall decided to piss him off before a game). Getting through the Cavaliers to the Finals will be a huge mountain to climb — you are going to have to knock out the champ, he’s not just handing over the belt.

However, that is a question for May. Right now the Celtics have won 10 in a row, they thumped their rival Lakers, and the Celtics are going to keep Bostonians warm through a long winter. This team is for real.

2) Detroit remains the team pushing Boston… is that sustainable? The Detroit Pistons are 8-3, and Andre Drummond is shooting 68.3 percent from the free throw line. Those two facts are a bigger surprise than what is happening in Bean Town, and after the Pistons handled the Pacers on Wednesday, it’s time to ask:

Is Detroit for real? Is this sustainable?

Define for real. The Pistons are currently on a 60-win pace, and that’s not happening. They are not a threat to Boston now or Cleveland whenever that team decides to wake up.

However, are the Pistons a playoff team? Absolutely. One that can make the second round? Let’s see what the matchups are and how teams are playing in April, but it’s not out of the question.

The Pistons are ninth in the NBA in both offensive and defensive rating to start the season, and while being top 10 in both may not hold up (the defense may falter, teams are shooting fairly well against them and getting to the line at a good clip; and the offense still takes more long mid-rangers than I like) this is a team we thought would take a step forward last season but never got on track thanks to the Reggie Jackson injury, which threw everything off. Now, they are back on that trajectory, and Avery Bradley has been a better version of KCP so far to help that cause. They get some easy buckets in transition now, and they have guys who can shoot the rock.

Detroit has been one of the bigger surprises of the young season, but this is no fluke. Andre Drummond is for real (and not just at the charity stripe), and so is Detroit in its new downtown building. Stan Van Gundy has things back on track in the motor city.

3) Kevin Durant sits, Warriors don’t even break stride. Just a reminder: The Golden State Warriors won an NBA title and then had a 73-win season BEFORE Kevin Durant arrived. As Jeff Van Gundy said after the game, take Durant off this team — as a thigh contusion did Wednesday — and they are still the title favorites.

Minnesota came into Oracle Arena on a five-game win streak and as the poster child for “team on the rise,” then for two and a half quarters the upstarts hung around with the champs. Then, sparked by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (with some help off the bench from Shaun Livingston and JaVale McGee) the Warriors went on an 18-4 run, pulled away, never looked back and went on to win 125-101.

That’s just what the Warriors do. To everyone. So enjoy highlights of Curry and Thompson going off and know that with the thematic question of the day on this post — is this team for real? — we were never asking it about Golden State.