All of a sudden, Celtics playing for Atlantic Division lead


All of a sudden, Celtics playing for Atlantic Division lead

BOSTON The season began with Paul Pierce on the sideline with a heel injury. Rajon Rondo was out for eight games. A critical road trip ended with a loss at Oklahoma City, a game in which the C's only had three players 6-foot-9 or taller - and two were rookies.

Throw in the rumored trades and the slow start, and the last thing you would expect at this point in the season is the Celtics to be in position to take over first place in the Atlantic Division.

But that is indeed what's at stake Wednesday night as the Celtics face the division-leading Philadelphia 76ers.

The Celtics (20-17) positioned themselves for this following Tuesday night's 97-92 overtime win over Houston, which was Boston's fifth straight victory.

While it's clear that Wednesday's game is a big one for the Celtics, both the players and coaching staff tried to downplay its significance.

"I mean, we're just hanging in there, that's what we're doing," said coach Doc Rivers.

Kevin Garnett added, "You guys keep up with that, we don't. We try to take it a day at a time, a game at a time. Since we been doing that, it simplified a lot of things for us. We're not looking down the schedule and anticipating teams that we haven't even played yet.

Garnett added, "I just know that it's important for us to continue to play together basketball. It's more easier for everybody."

Still, with all that the Celtics have been through this season, to be where they are - on the cusp of taking over the top spot in the Atlantic Division - says a lot about this team beyond the fact that they're playing better basketball.

"It says we're fighters; grind this thing out and see what we can do," Garnett said. "If you know anything about this history for the last five years, we're going to grind and work and push for this thing and see how far we can take it."

While winning games - and not just the Atlantic Division - is the focus, don't think for a minute that the C's don't understand the added value that will come about in a win Wednesday against the Sixers (22-17), who have lost 8 of their last 10 games.

"This is definitely a division rival that we are going to have to overtake, and seeing as it's going to be important going into the playoffs," said Paul Pierce.

The Celtics (20-17) currently have the seventh-best record in the Eastern Conference. However, if they win the Atlantic it would guarantee them home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

"So these are important games," Pierce said.

Morning Skate: Not all smooth sailing for top picks


Morning Skate: Not all smooth sailing for top picks

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the return of Adolfo to Toucher and Rich this morning.

*Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid have received plenty of acclaim over the past couple of years as talented, young stars in the league, but Pro Hockey Talk’s James O’Brien details how things haven’t gone ideally for either of those youngsters, or their teams, this season. Clearly, it’s not at this level yet, but just think about the hype behind Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin when they were drafted 1-2 back in 2010, and what they have, and haven’t, been able to accomplish in the league since that time.

*Outstanding rookie Brock Boeser credits a conversation with Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green for helping spark his game this season.

*Good video piece on the near miss of Wayne Gretzky almost playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs after dominating them in the playoffs.  

*Salivating for some hockey trades? The 10 potential NHL trade deadline targets around the league as we wait for players to become available for trade later in the season.  

*Hockeybuzz is asking what the NHL, and more specifically the Hockey Hall of Fame, has against goaltenders?

*For something completely different: A great piece from Drew Bledsoe on the tragic passing of former Patriots wide receiver Terry Glenn, and how his death came just as he seemed to be putting all the pieces of his life together.


Marchand, Krug and Backes all practice, won't play vs. Devils


Marchand, Krug and Backes all practice, won't play vs. Devils

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins are getting closer to a healthier lineup, but it won’t be in time for the Thanksgiving Eve road tilt against the upstart New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center.

Brad Marchand (upper body), Torey Krug (upper body) and David Backes (colon surgery) all skated in red no-contact jerseys at practice Tuesday at Warrior Ice Arena, so none of those three banged-up B’s will be making the trip to Jersey. Anders Bjork (upper body) didn’t practice and is obviously out vs. the Devils as well, but Ryan Spooner might be a possibility after making it through his first full practice since tearing his groin almost six weeks ago.


If he can make it through Wednesday's morning skate without any problems, Spooner will likely be a game-time decision against the Devils after missing the past 14 games.  

The Bruins have continued to indicate that Marchand is in the concussion protocol, though it appears the Bruins agitator is dealing with both upper body and lower body issues. Marchand was encouraged by the progress he’s making while returning to practice, so perhaps the B’s could get back one of their leading scorers sooner rather than later.

“I feel pretty good. It’s good to be back with the guys and feel like you’re a part of the team,” said Marchand, who has missed five of the past seven games after returning for the home-and-home against the Maple Leafs. “It’s frustrating whenever you miss games and you miss time away from the team, but they had a great road trip and they’re playing well. It would be nice to be back in the lineup consistently and be back with the’ll come.”

Here are the projected Bruins line combos and D-pairings vs. the Devils based on practice Tuesday: