Bruins

Celtics-Bulls preview: Keep your eye on . . .

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Celtics-Bulls preview: Keep your eye on . . .

DEERFIELD, Ill. The Chicago Bulls (24-7) have the best record in the Eastern Conference. Throw in their 95-91 loss at Boston on Sunday, and you can count on the Celtics (15-13) getting a stronger effort from the Bulls, regardless of whether Bulls star Derrick Rose (back) is in the lineup tonight.

"He's still day-to-day; he's feeling better," said Bulls coach and former Celtics assistant, Tom Thibodeau. "He just did some shooting today. He's still a game-time decision."

Rose said he'll have treatments for his back now in addition to when he arrives at the United Center later tonight.

The Celtics have their own health-related concerns heading into tonight's game.

In addition to being without Brandon Bass (left knee), the Celtics may have to play without Kevin Garnett as well.

A hip flexor injury sidelined Garnett in Wednesday's 98-88 home loss to the Detroit Pistons.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Garnett, like Rose, will also be a game-time decision.

The health of the reigning league MVP (Rose) and a former league MVP (Garnett) are certainly important factors in tonight's game.

But they aren't the only ones.

We'll take a look at a few others right now.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - You can bet Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has been on his team lately for how freely they have allowed other teams to score. Despite having the third-best scoring defense (88 points per game) in the NBA this season, the Bulls have given up 105 points per game in their last two games which includes a 95-91 loss to Boston. "Defensively, we have to play a lot better," Thibodeau said. "Our defense has been OK most of the year. But the last two games, it's not where we want it to be."

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Ray Allen vs. Ronnie Brewer: Allen is currently trying to snap out of a mini-shooting slump in which he has averaged 7.7 points on 31.8 percent shooting from the field in the C's last three games. In addition, Allen has missed six of his seven 3-point attempts in that span. Brewer is what you'd call an intangibles guy who does a lot of little things to help the Bulls win, but may not necessarily show up in the final statistics. Against the Celtics, that would be trying to continue making Ray Allen an ineffective scorer.

PLAYER TO WATCH - Paul Pierce will look to bounce back from an inexplicable performance in Wednesday's loss to Detroit. He had 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting, but never at any point in the game looked like he was ready to take over. Rajon Rondo's career night scoring the ball did have a downside - it kept Pierce from ever getting into any kind of flow because Rondo had it going with points in the paint as well as from the perimeter hitting jumpers. Look for the Celtics to try and establish Pierce as a scorer early tonight.

STAT TO TRACK - Celtics coach Doc Rivers was not pleased with his team's lack of ball movement in the loss to Detroit. Indeed, it was an unusual night for the the C's in terms of spreading the wealth. Boston scores via an assist on 64.6 percent of their made baskets, which is tops in the NBA. In the 98-88 loss to the Pistons, the Celtics had 16 assists on 34 made baskets, or 47 percent. For Boston to have a shot at winning, they'll likely need to be trending close to what they normally do in terms of assists to field goals made this season.

Heinen beginning to look like a keeper for Bruins

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Heinen beginning to look like a keeper for Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – While it’s still early in the careers of all the young Bruins rookies making their way this season, it sure looks like 22-year-old Danton Heinen is among the B’s youngsters that are here to stay. The former University of Denver standout didn’t make the cut at the end of training camp this season and he failed early last year when it was clear he wasn’t ready during an eight-game audition with the big club.

But Heinen continued to look ready while scoring a pair of goals and three points in the three games on a pivotal road trip through California last week, and is now tied for fifth on the Bruins in points despite missing four games in the AHL. In all, Heinen has four goals and 10 points along with a plus-4 rating in 15 games this season, and is on pace for a really strong 21 goals and 52 points in his first full year.

This has been a really nice step forward for Heinen after being a point-per-game player for Providence during their playoff run last spring.

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“Last year’s playoff did a lot for him. When I saw him playing there, he was a different player than when he’d left [Boston],” said Bruce Cassidy. “There was a willingness to stay in the battle and his growth when it comes to winning pucks…you’ve seen it here. A lot of the things he’s down well are his second and third efforts on the puck where last year I thought he was pushed off the puck pretty easily [at the NHL level].”

There could be a period when his offense slows down or some other part of his game drags his minutes down, but right now he looks like he’s well on his way to establishing himself in a key role with the Black and Gold. The difference has been Heinen increasing his speed and also adding a little more tenacity to the skill and offense package that he was always bringing to the table.  

“I don’t want to say that because when we get our guys healthy then we’ll see where we’re at,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked if Heinen was a keeper at the NHL level at this point. “But I think he’s certainly shown he’s a much more consistent player than he was last year. He’s probably a bit ahead of the other younger guys because he has gone through a bit of it [at the pro level]. The fact that he’s been able to play in a lot of different situations, play left or right wing, and moved up in the lineup while being very effective with [Sean] Kuraly and [Tim] Schaller down in the lineup, as a coach it’s to have a guy like that who can move around and fit in a lot of different places.

“So he’s certainly helped himself [to stay in the NHL]. I think it’s too early to say if he’s here for good, but I don’t envision him leaving [Boston] anytime soon with the way that he’s played.”

Only time and consistently good play will allow the playmaking Heinen to truly lock up his spot on the NHL roster, but it’s increasingly difficult to envision any scenario where the fifth-round pick isn’t playing an increasingly important role for the Bruins. 

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Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

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Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

The first came in the second quarter, when Brandin Cooks turned on afterburners to beat a Raiders double team and glide underneath a Tom Brady heave for 52 yards. The second came in the third quarter, on the third play from scrimmage of the second half, when Cooks faked an out-route, jetted past rookie corner Obi Melifonwu, and sped into the end zone to make the score 24-0. 

Both deep completions in New England's 33-8 win over Oakland just added to cumulative effect that Cooks has had on the Patriots offense since arriving before the season to become their top deep threat. 

Paired with Brady, Cooks has actually become the most productive deep threat in the NFL. 

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According to Pro Football Focus, Cooks leads all receivers with 431 yards on deep passes (throws that travel 20 yards or more down the field). In second place is Houston's DeAndre Hopkins with 313 yards. 

And Brady, who has long been more effective in the short-to-intermediate range than he has been deep, is now among the league leaders in creating explosive plays from the quarterback position. The Patriots are third in the NFL with 41 pass plays of 20 yards or more, and they are tied for second with nine plays of 40 yards or more. 

"You're always trying to work on that," Brady told WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show of his team's deep passing game. "It's not one particular year [you work on it]. I think that's been a concerted effort by our entire offense, trying to make more explosive plays in the pass game. 

"Sometimes your offense is built differently. We actually have some guys now that can really get down the field so that becomes more of a point of emphasis. The way Brandin runs, the way that Chris Hogan runs, the way that Phillip Dorsett runs, they're very fast. You need to be able to take advantage of their skill set . . . 

"When we had David Patten we were throwing it deep. I mean, but David Patten didn't run a lot of short routes. I would say Brandin Cooks, in general, he doesn't run a lot of short routes. Everyone has a different role. If we can get by you, I think that's a good place to throw the ball. if we can't, we gotta figure out ways to throw it underneath and different weeks are going to call for different things based on the strengths of the defenses we're playing, too."

A week before beating the Raiders, against the Broncos and their talented corners, the Patriots had less luck pushing the ball down the field -- though they tried to hit Cooks deep multiple times. In Mexico City, Cooks matched up with a weaker secondary, and he wasn't at all slowed by the altitude, catching six passes in all for 149 yards and a score. 

Per PFF, Cooks has seen almost one third of his targets (30 percent) come on deep passes, which is the ninth-highest rate in the league. He's caught all 11 of his catchable deep passes, three of them accounting for scores.

"Obviously when you're throwing the ball 50-60 yards down the field," Brady said, "your chances of completion go down, but if you hit it, it ends up being a very explosive plays and you can change a lot of field position and get a defense really on their heels if they have to defend every blade of grass on the field." 

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