Celtics

30 teams in 30 days: Westbrook-George duo puts Thunder back into West mix

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30 teams in 30 days: Westbrook-George duo puts Thunder back into West mix

We’ll take a look at all 30 teams in the next 30 days as they prepare for the 2017-2018 regular season, which is when the real fireworks begin! Today's team: The Oklahoma City Thunder .

“Real g’s move in silence like lasagna.”
 
It was a catchy one-liner from hip hop artist Lil’ Wayne a couple years ago.
 
And in so many ways it describes how Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti seemingly came out of nowhere to orchestrate one of the more stealth trades last season in landing Paul George in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
 
Russell Westbrook had a phenomenal season, winning the MVP while averaging a triple-double of 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game.
 
Still, as good as Westbrook was, he was going to need help if the Thunder were to be anything more than first-round fodder for teams with more depth and overall talent.
 
In comes George, whose trade demand led many to believe he would wind up in Los Angeles with the Lakers, or possibly with the Celtics, who were among the favorites to land the two-way standout who has been named to four All-Star teams (2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017) and three All-NBA defensive teams (first team in 2014, second team in 2013 and 2016).
 
He’ll be a free agent next summer, with most anticipating he’ll play for the Lakers. A successful run in Oklahoma City could lead to a change of heart for George, as well as Westbrook, who has a player option after this season which would allow him to hit the free agent market as well.
 
Westbrook and George give Oklahoma City a dynamic tandem for sure.

Still, their place among the top teams in the West is cemented in part by the pieces surrounding their 1-2 punch of Westbrook and George.
 
Steven Adams is a bruising, physical 7-footer who gives Oklahoma City a strong presence around the basket defensively and an active body to attack the glass.
 
Last season, he averaged 11.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and should be able to be even more impactful with Sabonis out of the picture and the addition of Patrick Patterson, who is a stretch big capable of providing more opportunities for Adams at the rim.
 
The Thunder’s potent scoring punch gets headlines but Oklahoma City has a very underrated defense that returns most of its key players from a year ago when they ranked among the best teams defensively.
 
Oklahoma City was ranked among the top 10 in several key defensive categories such as a defensive rating (105.1, 10th in the NBA), defensive rebound percentage (.790, 3rd) and blocked shots (5.0, 10th).
 
Key free agent/draft/trade additions: Paul George (Indiana); Patrick Patterson (Toronto); Raymond Felton (Los Angeles Clippers).
 
Key losses: Victor Oladipo (Indiana); Domantas Sabonis (Indiana);
 
Rookies of note: Terrance Ferguson.
 
Expectations:
54-28 (first in the Midwest Division, third in the West)

Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

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Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

After arriving in Boston and spending some time with his new teammates, Kyrie Irving felt good about this group doing big things this season. 

But when asked about the experience thus far being what he thought it would be, Irving responded, “It’s probably exceeded that.”

He’s not alone. 

Few would have envisioned the Celtics (15-2) would have the best record in the NBA at this point, let alone be riding a 15-game winning streak which ranks as the fifth-best winning streak in franchise history. 

Irving and his Celtics teammates will try and keep it going tonight when they take on the Dallas Mavericks.

Irving’s ability to mesh with his teammates and still find success was among the many questions out there when the Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off the blockbuster trade this offseason. 

Blending in has not been an issue for Irving, bolstered by the reality that his game stands out. 

We saw that in Boston’s 110-99 win over the Atlanta Hawks, which was a game in which Irving had 30 points on an insanely efficient 10-for-12 shooting night. 

There were many factors that went into Irving’s strong night against the Hawks, but he said it really came down to one thing above all else.

“I just made some damn shots for once,” Irving quipped. “That right there kind of made it seem better than I actually been shooting over the start of the season.  It would also contribute to being able to be in the right spots and guys being selfless in their approach driving to the basket or getting into the paint. It’s tell-tale sign of all of us getting more comfortable.”

Here are five below-the-radar story lines to keep an eye on as the Boston Celtics face the Dallas Mavericks, with Boston gunning for its 16th straight win. 

BROWN’S POSITIVE PLAY

Jaylen Brown has been on a bit of an offensive tear of late, the last being a career-high 27-point performance in Boston’s win over Atlanta. But even more telling is how well things seem to flow with him on the floor. Brown’s plus/minus this season is +146 which is tops among all players in the Eastern Conference. His closest competition in the East? That would teammate Al Horford whose plus/minus this season is +143. In addition, Horford has had a positive plus/minus in every game this season. 

YOGI FERRELL

You can count Yogi Ferrell among the ones that got away from Brad Stevens when he was coaching at Butler. Ferrell, who played at Indiana, was a player on Stevens’ radar when he was coaching at Butler. “I recruited Yogi, unsuccessfully,” Stevens told reporters in Dallas. While Ferrell came on strong as an undrafted free agent with the Mavericks last season, Stevens said there’s nothing about Ferrell’s game now that he didn’t see when he tried to woo him to Butler. “He would have been awfully good at Butler,” Stevens said.

HOMECOMING

While Marcus Smart grew up in Flower Mound, Texas (less than an hour from Dallas), tonight’s game is a homecoming of sorts for another Celtics player – Semi Ojeleye. The 6-foot-7 forward played at SMU which is located in Dallas. A second-round pick by Boston in last June’s NBA draft, Ojeleye has been among the many surprise performers for the Celtics this season. “We knew he could be a versatile defender,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Probably has exceeded our expectations in that regard with his ability to guard one (point guard) through five (center) at certain times. And he’s been pretty consistent shooting the ball. Right now, embracing that kind of 3-and-D role is what he has to do and he’s done it well.”

DEEP DRAFT CLASS

The Boston Celtics struck gold by drafting Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick. But as you look at the teams that had lottery picks in last June’s NBA draft, few come away feeling disappointed or discouraged by the player selected. The Dallas Mavericks are among the teams pleased with their first-round pick, Dennis Smith Jr. who was selected with the ninth overall pick. He has emerged as one of the top rookies this year, averaging 14.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. And yes, he was a player that was on the Celtics’ radar leading up to last June’s draft. “We had Dennis in and he was really impressive,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s a guy that’s going to have a great career and he’s got good veteran players around him to help kick it off.”

DIRK NOWITZKI

The numbers aren’t anywhere close to what we’ve seen for the bulk of Dirk Nowitzki’s illustrious career that’s now in Year 20. But there is a demeanor about him that seems to be at peace with where he’s at basketball-wise, even if the wins aren’t nearly as plentiful as he’s accustomed to. “I appreciate his game a ton,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Just watching him talk on the court, cheer on the bench, sit at the scorer’s table with a smile on his face. You can’t play this long and be this good this long if you don’t’ love it. Everybody says they love it, but he’s got a different level of passion. You can feel it, you can see it. You root for guys like him to have success.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Mavericks in Dallas. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: C's need to play Smart in Dallas

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE