Daniel Theis

Mock NBA expansion draft
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Mock NBA expansion draft: Celtics, Nets, Knicks, 76ers, Raptors

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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division. Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Atlantic:

Boston Celtics

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 7

Ineligible – 0

Analysis: Boston’s decisions are fairly cut and dry. Jayson Tatum, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams and Robert Williams are all on their rookie-scale contracts. Jaylen Brown will be starting a four-year contract extension. Kemba Walker was just signed to a max contract. Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are good values and key rotation players.

The toughest decision was on Gordon Hayward. Carrying a salary over $34 million, the Celtics are betting he’ll go undrafted and will return to the team. Everyone else was a fairly easy decision to leave unprotected.

Brooklyn Nets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Nets are keeping their big four in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. Jarrett Allen is still on his rookie-scale contract, so that’s an easy decision. With over $101 million on the books for just Durant, Irving, Dinwiddie and LeVert, Nicolas Claxton and Rodions Kurucs help bring some low-cost upside to the back-end of the roster.

DeAndre Jordan will likely go unselected, given his age and $30 million-plus owed through 2022-23. If Jordan is selected, Brooklyn can bank some potential luxury tax savings down the line. Taurean Prince was on the fence, but given his disappointing play this season, and lack of fit in a lineup featuring Durant, the Nets will take their chances he’ll be selected.

New York Knicks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 6

Ineligible – 1

  • Maurice Harkless

Analysis: The Knicks are clearing the decks for a run at free agency this summer. The expansion draft could only help along that way. New York is protecting their young players with upside, as well as Julius Randle, last year’s big free agent addition. The Knicks are also protecting Damyean Dotson and Allonzo Trier. Not out of fear of losing them, but in hopes that either of the expansion teams will select a bigger salary and take it off the New York cap sheet.

Dennis Smith Jr. was the only questionable player to leave unprotected, but $5.7 million is simply too much for a player out of the rotation. The other five players aren’t part of the future in New York, so that decision was easy.

Philadelphia 76ers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: Philadelphia’s decisions make themselves. The highly paid players are key rotation players. Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton are steals on minimum contracts. Matisse Thybulle is only entering year two of his rookie scale deal. Zhaire Smith was on the bubble, but he’s young enough, and under team control, that he’s worth protecting.

Al Horford is very unprotected. His signing simply hasn’t worked out for the Sixers. He’s a player Philadelphia is open to talking about a trade with either of the expansion teams. With an extra first-round pick, the 76ers hope to dangle it to entice a team to select Horford.

Toronto Raptors

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Raptors don’t have to expose any of their core rotation players in the expansion draft. Up front, Pascal Siakam just inked his contract extension, and OG Anunoby is still on his rookie scale deal. Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are all free agents. In the backcourt, Toronto can protect Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell, along with undrafted find Terence Davis. And Fred VanVleet is a free agent.

The leaves just a handful of players who don’t have a role for the Raptors. Toronto could even entertain offering a second-round pick to entice either expansion team to select Stanley Johnson and take his $3.8 million off the cap/tax.

Jayson Tatum scores 30, Celtics beat Pacers to clinch playoff spot

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INDIANAPOLIS — Marcus Smart’s leaning bank shot in the final minute gave the Celtics’ the lead after the team blew a 19-point advantage and Boston then held on for a 114-111 victory Tuesday night over the Indiana Pacers to clinch a playoff spot for a sixth consecutive year.

Jayson Tatum scored 30 points for Boston while Gordon Hayward added 27 points, 10 boards and five assists in his home state.

Smart put the Celtics ahead for good at 111-109 with 49.7 seconds left by scoring in the lane over Domantis Sabonis, who led Indiana with 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

Smart made two free throws with seven seconds to go for a three-point edge, and Justin Holiday missed badly on a contested 3-pointer as time expired.

Victor Oladipo finished with a season-high 27 points to power a stunning comeback for the Pacers, who fell into an 85-66 hole late in the third quarter.

T.J. Warren, who finished with 22 points, hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to complete the furious rally and tie the score at 104 with three minutes to play.

Sabonis’ spin move and score on Daniel Theis pushed the Pacers in front 107-104, but the struggling Celtics proved up to the challenge of recovering.

“We probably needed it,” coach Brad Stevens said. “Go down three and find a way to win is probably a good thing for our team in the long run. That was hard. That was a good thing.”

Boston shot 44% from the field and did just enough from 3-point range (13 makes) and the foul line (19 of 22 accuracy) to hold off the Pacers, who shot 50%.

“We have 18 games left after this,” Stevens said. “It’s hard to go to the playoffs. I didn’t know (we clinched). We’re far from a finished product, but we’ve got to start ascending soon, so it was important to go through a night like tonight.”

Boston led 30-22 after the first quarter and 59-50 at halftime. It was 94-80 entering the fourth.

Mike Conley scores 25 points, Jazz beat Celtics 99-94

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BOSTON — Mike Conley made six 3-pointers and scored 25 points, Jordan Clarkson added 17and the Utah Jazz beat the Boston Celtics 99-94 on Friday night for their fourth straight victory.

Donovan Mitchell added 11 points, and Rudy Gobert had nine points, seven rebounds and three blocks. The Jazz won their third straight in Boston, capitalizing on the short-handed Celtics’ shooting woes. Boston has lost three of four and three straight at home.

The Celtics were without injured forwards Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward.

Marcus Smart led Boston with 29 points, but he was frustrated with the loss. Boston coach Brad Stevens praised his team’s effort postgame, but Smart disagreed. Strongly.

“I disagree. I thought [our effort] was s***” Smart said, via NBC Sports Boston.

“It’s on us. I don’t know what’s going on out there. It’s like we let other team’s pressure take us out of the game. When that happens, this is the outcome. We have to fix that. We have to be aggressive. We gotta punch first.”

Jayson Tatum added 18 points, Kemba Walker had 13 points and seven assists, and Daniel Theis finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.

Boston couldn’t overcome Utah’s torrid shooting that the Jazz rode to a 16-point lead in the second quarter. Utah made 17 of 45 3-pointers.

The Jazz led 62-49 at halftime after shooting 60.5 percent (23 for 38) in the first two quarters. Utah hit 13 of 21 3-pointers in the half, going 8 for 11 from long distance in the second quarter.

The Celtics opened the third quarter on an 11-3 run that got Boston right back in it, but only briefly. Tatum’s free throw after a technical foul on Mitchell pulled Boston to 66-61, but O’Neale answered with a 3-pointer – the first of the second half for the Jazz – and Utah quickly pushed the lead back up to double-figures, taking a 79-66 lead into the final period.

A three-point play by Wanamaker pulled Boston within 87-78 with 6:54 remaining, but Boston never threatened and a 3-pointer by Smart just before the final buzzer made the outcome seem closer than it was.

Watch Caris LeVert drop 51, Nets come from 17 down in fourth stun Celtics in OT

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BOSTON — Caris LeVert scored 37 of his career-high 51 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to help the Brooklyn Nets erase a 21-point, second-half deficit and beat the Boston Celtics 129-120 on Tuesday night.

It was a stunning end to a four-game losing streak for Brooklyn, which is trying to hold onto the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Boston has lost two straight.

LeVert had all of Brooklyn’s 11 points in the extra period, finishing just three points shy of the Nets’ season high for a player. Kyrie Irving scored 54 points against Chicago on Jan. 31.

LeVert also sent the game to extra frame, getting fouled on a 3-point attempt by Marcus Smart and connecting on all of his free throws with 0.2 seconds left.

That capped a 51-point fourth quarter by the Nets, a franchise record for most points in any period.

Jaylen Brown led Boston with 22 points. Kemba Walker returned to action following a five-game absence with left knee soreness and had 21 points. Smart added 14 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out in overtime.

Boston went just 1 for 6 from the field in overtime.

The Celtics played without Jayson Tatum, who sat out with an illness. They also lost Gordon Hayward, who left the game at halftime with a bruised right knee. Boston scored 23 points off 21 Brooklyn turnovers and was in control before the Nets rallied behind LeVert and their bench.

Irving, who left the Celtics in free agency this past summer, was sidelined for the Nets’ second visit of the season to Boston after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on Tuesday to relieve a right shoulder impingement. Irving was ruled out for the season in February because of the injury.

His absence didn’t stop fans from taunting him with chants of “Where is Kyrie? Where is Kyrie” in the fourth quarter.

The Nets trailed by 17 entering the fourth quarter, but rallied to 106-103 with 2:28 to play on a 3-pointer by by Chris Chiozza. Walker responded on the Celtics’ next trip with a 3 of his own. LeVert then connected on a jumper on Brooklyn’s ensuing trip to make it 109-105.

It was 110-105 when LeVert made another 3. But Walker found Robert Williams under the basket, who was fouled on his dunk and completed the three-point play.

The Nets got it back to 116-112 with less than a minute to play when Brown came up empty on a jumper. LeVert was fouled on Brooklyn’s next trip down the floor, but made just one of his two free throws.

Brooklyn got the rebound and LeVert had a great look at a 3, but his shot rattled in an out. Boston’s Daniel Theis got the rebound, was fouled and hit both of his free throws.

DeAndre Jordan got a dunk with 6.7 seconds left to make it 118-115. The Celtics had trouble getting the ball in bounds and Rodions Kurucs forced a tie up with Walker with 3.6 seconds left. He won the ensuing tip-off and called timeout with 1.4 seconds left.

Brooklyn got the ball into LeVert, who was fouled and calmly sank his three free throws to send it to overtime.

While Celtics focus on James Harden, Russell Westbrook scores 41 in Rockets win

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BOSTON — The Boston Celtics managed to shut down the NBA’s leading scorer for most of the second half and overtime.

Just one problem.

“We had a lot of attention on James Harden.” Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said, “and we forgot about the other MVP over there.”

Russell Westbrook scored 41 points and Harden had 21, including a pair of free throws with 25 seconds left in overtime to give the Houston Rockets a 111-110 victory on Saturday night.

Boston rallied from a four-point deficit in the final 20 seconds of regulation and sent the game to overtime on Brown’s 3-pointer at the buzzer after an intentionally missed free throw. The Celtics scored the first basket of the extra period and led 110-109 but did not score in the final 2:49 of the game, missing their last six shots.

Harden, who averages almost 35 points, was held to nine points on 3-for-12 shooting over the final 29 minutes, going scoreless for all of the fourth quarter. Westbrook also had eight rebounds and five assists, scoring 18 in the second half and three more in overtime.

“This is his first year as a Rocket. It’s going to take some time and he’s finally there,” Harden said. “You can have the confidence but not the ability. But he has both and that’s what makes him so special.”

Robert Covington added 16 points and 16 rebounds for the Rockets, who have won six straight and 10 of their last 12 while beating Boston five times in a row.

Jayson Tatum had 32 points and 13 rebounds, Marcus Smart scored 26 points and Brown had 22 for the Celtics. Daniel Theis had 15 rebounds for Boston, the last in the final seconds of overtime to set up a short baseline jumper that was released after the buzzer before harmlessly swishing through the net.

The Celtics had won 14 of their previous 17 games and could have moved into a tie with Toronto atop the Atlantic Division with a win.

“I thought the right team won,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought they were better than us — not by much, but at least by one.”

Boston led by as many as 17 in the first half, but the Rockets scored 13 straight points near the beginning of the second to take their first lead of the game 66-64. Boston missed nine straight shots into the fourth quarter and still trailed 102-98 after Westbrook hit one of two free throws with 19 seconds left.

Smart leaned in for a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game, but Westbrook got away on the fast break and Theis reached out to grab him; they had to go to a replay to determine that it wasn’t a clear path foul. The Houston guard hit both free throws to make it 104-101 with 8.1 seconds left in regulation.

The Rockets sent Tatum to the line, where he missed the first free throw. He intentionally banged the second off the front of the rim, Smart deflected the ball and Brown grabbed it at the top of the key before hitting the tying 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime, tied 104-all.

“It’s something we practice, if we need to miss a free throw, try to make a play,” Tatum said. “JB was in the right spot at the right time and he knocked down a big shot to give us a chance.”