Celtics-Bulls preview: Looking to stay on roll into break

Celtics-Bulls preview: Looking to stay on roll into break

BOSTON – This is it, the final game before the All-Star break.
For some, it’s all that stands in the way of a week off from a work, a time to recharge before what many teams, the Celtics included, hope will be a strong run towards the playoffs.
But as much as the Celtics will benefit from having a few days off, they’re playing some of their best basketball right now, riding the kind of wave of success no one wants to stop.
They’ll try and keep it going for at least one more game tonight as they close out the pre All-Star break portion of their schedule at Chicago.
Boston (37-19) has the second-best record in the East, has won four in a row and 11 of their past 12 to close to just 2.5 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers.
A big part of the Celtics' success has been the ability for seemingly anyone on the roster to step in and contribute, regardless of how big the shoes are that they are called upon to fill.
There’s no better example of this than James Young.
He has been buried on the Celtics bench most of this season.
But with a hip injury to Jaylen Brown and Gerald Green at times being under the weather, or in Boston’s 116-108 win over Philadelphia, having a heel injury, Young has come on the past two games to do more than just be a warm body on the floor.
He’s made plays at both ends of the floor, showing a level of confidence and ability to contribute in a meaningful way, that we have not seen before from the third-year wing.
“It’s there; you can definitely say the chemistry is there,” said teammate Jae Crowder. “We play for one another. There’s no bad tension in the locker room. Once you have a team like that, good things happen. You can tell. We’ve been playing in a good groove of late.”
The same can’t be said for the Bulls (27-29), losers in four of their past six and sitting at seventh in the East.
Chicago’s struggles on the floor have led to increased speculation about the uncertain future of several players, including All-Star Jimmy Butler.
Butler was recently asked if the Bulls not telling him he’s off the trade market bothers him.
“Nothing surprises me nowadays,” he told reporters. “I’m not surprised by anything...anything’s possible. It’s a business at the end of the day.”
He is a player that several teams have interest in, including the Celtics, who have had conversations recently about a potential deal for Butler.
But league sources contacted by CSNNE.com have indicated that the Bulls, while open to the idea of moving Butler, are looking for a “massive haul” if they were to in fact deal the face of the franchise.
The Bulls would have to be in the mindset of rebuilding, a job that could be a lot easier for their fans to stomach if you’re talking about losing Butler but adding quality players from a playoff-bound team such as Boston. Plus, the Celtics’ pick that they'll have via the Brooklyn Nets is likely to be a top-three selection.
So far, Boston has been reluctant to include that pick with any potential trades due to its value in a draft loaded at the top with elite players, such as point guards such as Markell Fultz of Washington and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball.
But the way Boston has been playing, the last thing on the player’s minds right now is a possible trade to break up what has been a well-oiled machine of late.

“I just play basketball,” Crowder said. “Let the rest of those guys [Celtics front office] take care of the other stuff. We just try to win games, take it one game at a time, and do our job.”


Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Sometimes we forget that a big part of why Brad Stevens is in Boston is because of what he has done as a coach this time of year.

He led a pair of Butler teams to deep postseason runs before coming up short in a pair of national title games.

Well, he’s embarking on a different kind of March Madness in leading the Celtics to a string of improbable wins, the latest being a 105-100 victory at Portland on Friday night.

It was the kind of victory that when you start to roll out the reasons why Stevens should be this season’s Coach of the Year winner, folks will use the win at Portland as an example.

The Blazers are not only one of the better teams at home, but they came in having won 13 of 14 games with the lone loss coming to Houston, which has the best record in the NBA.

But what made the victory so unexpected was the cut-and-paste lineup Stevens has employed because of a long rash of injuries.

Kyrie Irving missed his fifth consecutive game and is expected to be lost for another three to six weeks after having a procedure to on Saturday to help alleviate some of the soreness in his left knee.

Jaylen Brown has missed several games with a concussion, but he has progressed to where he's now questionable for the game in Sacramento on Sunday night. 

Boston was also without Marcus Smart (right thumb) who won’t be back until sometime in the playoffs.

And that doesn’t factor in Gordon Hayward (dislocated left ankle) or Daniel Theis (torn meniscus, left knee), both out for the season.

It’s easy to chalk up Stevens’ success to great Xs and O’s work.

But he’s doing more than that.

He’s inspiring a level of confidence in players that generated results exceeding all expectations; that is, expectations outside of their locker room.

Even when this team struggled with no clear signs of hope on the horizon, they didn’t blink.

Rather than use their less-than-ideal state as a justification for poor play, they funneled that energy and focus into becoming a better team - not better players, but a better team.

Because frankly, that is what we’ve seen from this group all season. Of course, you have your star in Irving, but this team has been a get-it-done-or-else squad all year that doesn’t get too locked into the success or struggles of any one teammate.

And that has allowed Boston to withstand the kind of injuries to key players that would have crippled many other teams.

But with the lack of bodies, there has been a lack of respect for how good this team really is.

Stevens has tapped into that and used it to help focus this team on playing great and most important, giving themselves a chance to win regardless of the opponent, regardless of how dire a situation may be.

And that has created the kind of March Madness Celtics fans are absolutely lovin’ right now.



Optimism that Kyrie will be back for playoffs

Optimism that Kyrie will be back for playoffs

Kyrie Irving underwent a left knee procedure on Saturday that will keep the five-time All-Star guard out for at least the start of the playoffs.

The Celtics indicated that Irving will be out for 3-6 weeks.

According to the Celtics, the procedure was to remove a tension wire in his left knee. The wire was originally placed there as part of the surgical repair of the fractured patella injury Irving suffered in the 2015 NBA Finals when he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Removing the wire is expected to lessen the irritation it was causing in Irving’s left patellar tendon.

The fractured patella injury from in 2015 has fully healed and, according to the Celtics, Irving’s knee has been found to be “completely structurally sound.”

The timetable for Irving's return is roughly the same as that of Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who last week had surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb. 

Irving, who turned 26 on Friday, finishes his first regular season with Boston appearing in 60 games while averaging 24.4 points per game on a career-best 49.1 percent shooting from the field.