Bruins

Bradley set to return Wednesday vs. Grizzlies

973765.jpg

Bradley set to return Wednesday vs. Grizzlies

WALTHAM Avery Bradley can't walk on air or turn water into wine. So you can save all the talk of him being some sort of basketball savior for the Celtics.

Still, there is no mistaking that his return to the lineup on Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies (19-9) will make the C's a better -- a much better -- team than they are without him.

And his return could not come soon enough with the Celtics riding a season-long losing skid of three games in preparation for a Grizzlies team that is still among the better teams out West despite losing three of their last four games.

If he's healthy enough to play, C's coach Doc Rivers said Bradley will be with the first group.

"Avery's going to start," Rivers said prior to the C's practice on Wednesday afternoon. "We had him markered down -- not penciled down -- before the year that he was going to be a starter."

In terms of what his role will be, Bradley isn't consumed with starting versus coming off the bench.  

"I try not to worry about it," he said. "All you can do is go out and play hard. That's what I'm gonna do. That's how I play. Tomorrow that's what you guys will see."

However, injuries to both shoulders last season resulted in surgery that forced him to miss part of the 2012 playoffs as well as the first 30 games this season.

It was a disappointing finish to what was a breakout season for the former first-round pick of the C's who burst on to the scene as a defensive pest to opponents that was critical in the Celtics becoming a much better team after the all-star break.

According to Hoopsstats.com, the Celtics had an efficiency differential of plus 5.5 prior to the all-star break last season which ranked 10th in the NBA. After the break, the C's more than doubled that to a plus 11.5 which ranked fourth in the NBA.

Part of that bump was Bradley's ability to not only impact the game with his individual defense, but having it trickle down to his teammates.

"He knows his role," said C's guard Rajon Rondo. "He plays with a lot of energy. A lot of guys don't like to face a guy like Avery. I believe he's the best defender in the league, hands down.

Rondo added, "Hopefully we all try to step our level of play up when he steps on the court; the intensity he plays with, hopefully is contagious and we all do the same."
 
The impact that Bradley will make on the C's remains to be seen, although it is expected to be significant.

But Celtics coach Doc Rivers, well aware that the pressure isn't coming from Bradley's teammates or the C's, has made a point repeatedly to emphasize that Bradley should not be seen as some Knight on a white horse coming in to save the day.

"I'm anxious to get him back, but I know that he's not Bill Russell. He's Avery Bradley," Rivers said. "But Avery Bradley is going to be important to our team. He is one of those guys that helps change your culture as far as on the floor and how we play and the intensity that he plays. I hope when he comes it helps one or two other guys do that. Other than that, he's been out a long time. To think he's going to play well right off the bat, I don't know if that will happen or not. But he'll play hard right away."

And that in itself might be just what the C's need; a player who plays with great effort and intensity consistently.

"I don't have any expectations of how I'm going to play," Bradley said. "I'm just going to go out there and play hard. Whatever happens, happens. That's all I can control, how hard I can play."

But that effort in many ways is what fuels Bradley's defense which is his strength as a player.

"Defense, I feel it's an effort thing," Bradley said. "If you want to play hard on the defensive end, you have to want to. I obviously want to and that's what I can bring to this team."

Indeed, Bradley's on-the-ball defense has a way of containing or wiping out at least one member of an opposing team's backcourt.

"Unfortunately there are four others on the floor," Rivers said. "Avery's probably top-5 in the league on the ball defense and not getting beat. But if you can stop one of the guards from dribble penetration, it has to help."
 
And the Celtics (14-16) can use all the help they can get right now.

Bruins closing in on Nash with many details to iron out

nash_252018.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Photo

Bruins closing in on Nash with many details to iron out

TORONTO – It sounds like the Boston Bruins are on the verge of a fairly substantial trade if they can iron out some of the details both big and small.

According to multiple reports and sources, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney is closing in on a trade for New York Rangers winger Rick Nash ahead of Monday afternoon’s trade deadline. The 33-year-old Nash has 18 goals and 28 points in 60 games this season for the Blueshirts, and really has been in decline over the last couple of years in New York since scoring 42 goals and 69 points back in the 2014-15 season.

Still, Nash has quite the resume as the first overall pick in the 2002 NHL Draft and a guy that’s scored over 400 goals and nearly 800 points in his 14-year NHL career while starring for the Columbus Blue Jackets and Rangers during that time. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder would bring the size, heaviness and experience factor that the Bruins have been looking to add to their wing ahead of the stretch run and playoffs, and certainly could be energized down the stretch while potentially playing a second line role with a center like David Krejci.

Don Sweeney indicated prior to the reports surfacing that the Bruins could be more invested into the rental market this season, given their strong campaign, than they originally thought they’d be when the season started.

“We’d like to think that the group can continue on along the path that they’re on, but if you can add to it and help it…the rental market depends on what you’re going to give up, and what that impact of that player is necessarily going to be and how they’re going to fit into the group,” said Sweeney. “The chemistry piece is an important piece in and around the trade deadline, so that’s something we have to be cognizant of.”

There are, however, a couple of issues for the Bruins and Rangers to work out before it’s a done deal. One is the massive cap hit for Nash that would still be well over $3 million even if the Rangers agree to eat half of his remaining contract, and that would leave the Bruins to need to clear some space with a corresponding deal elsewhere. There’s also the matter of ponying up assets in exchange for Nash, who it’s believed would cost the Bruins a first round pick and a solid prospect that is not yet on the NHL roster.

That means the Bruins would able to avoid potentially dealing Brandon Carlo, Jake DeBrusk or Danton Heinen from their NHL roster, which it wasn’t expected they would need to move in a rental deal for Nash. But it does mean the Bruins likely would be parting with a blue chip prospect still in the development stage, whether it’s Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jakub Zboril, Zach Senyshyn or even a college hockey prospect like Trent Frederic.

That’s a big price to pay from Boston’s future to be sure, but it would be done based on Nash being an impact player this season for a Bruins team that looks like they might have a pretty good postseason run in them.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Marcus Smart makes the Celtics great again

smart_2232018.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Photo

Marcus Smart makes the Celtics great again

Two games in and the return of Marcus Smart has had the effect many predicted it would for Boston.

There may be other Celtics who score more points, tally more assists and snare a few more rebounds.

But the impact of Smart’s play on what truly matters – winning – is undeniable.

His play was one of the keys to Boston’s 121-112 win at New York on Saturday night.

Smart came off the bench to score 11 points to go with five assists and three steals.

In his two games back, Smart is averaging 11.5 points, 5.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals while shooting 64.3 percent from the field.

Yes, it’s a small sample size for sure.

More than anything, it serves as a reminder of how one of Smart’s greatest assets as a player is his ability to contribute in a multitude of ways.

“He just adds a lot of versatility to our offense and our defense,” Boston’s Kyrie Irving told NBC Sports Boston following Saturday’s game. “He has a high awareness on both ends. He’s able to create opportunities for all of us at both ends of the floor and we appreciate that.”

Certainly Smart is credited for being a good defender, and his play-making skills have improved dramatically in the last year or so.

But arguably Smart’s biggest contribution is that his play allows others around him, to focus on whatever it is that they do well, knowing that Smart has the ability to do both his job as well as provide help when needed.

Boston’s defense struggled mightily before the break with teams scoring seemingly whenever they wanted to.

But in the last two games, Boston has looked more like the defensive unit that has been among the NBA’s best most of this season.

In the last two games, Boston’s defensive rating has been 104.5 which ranks 11th in the NBA during that span.

Several factors have played a role in Boston’s improved defense the last two games; among them being the return of Smart who missed 11 games after punching a picture frame last month that left him with 20 stitches.

“It’s the appreciation of Marcus Smart right there,” Irving said. “Implement him and him just putting his stamp and identity on our team as well. It just makes a lot of other guy’s job, easier. Because he covers up a lot of our mistakes as well as playing with unbelievable awareness at both ends of the floor. He understands spacing, he understands how the little things matter.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE