Celtics

Celtics-Hornets preview: Trying to build chemistry while staying healthy

boston-celtics-brad-stevens-nuggets-31117.jpg

Celtics-Hornets preview: Trying to build chemistry while staying healthy

BOSTON – When it comes to the preseason, teams play with three goals in mind.

Stay healthy, get better as they inch towards the opener and if possible, win games.

But if the basketball gods only give them one to choose from, it would be a unanimous vote for good health.

Tonight’s game between Boston and Charlotte features two teams that to varying degrees, have felt the sting of the preseason injury bug.

Boston’s Aron Baynes suffered a knee injury in Boston’s 113-96 win over Philadelphia that wouldn’t allow him to return in the second half. He is questionable for tonight’s game.

Meanwhile, Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum has an elbow injury that will keep him out for at least six weeks.

While coaches are sensitive to losing key players to injuries, there’s a clear understanding that there’s no time to dwell on what happened or who is not available. 

Despite the shortened preseason schedule, the Boston Celtics have a pretty good feel for how their rotation will play out when the regular season starts.

Based on the first three preseason games, the Big Three – Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford – will start, along with Jaylen Brown. The fifth starter is named Vanilla Ice.

In fact, don’t be surprised if you see Gordon Hayward or Kyrie Irving on the floor for the bulk of most games.

For that to happen, it means that both players will have to work on not only meshing their games with the starting group but also with key role players off the bench.

“You want to play the game the same,” Hayward said. “The personnel changes a little bit; you’re trying to help guys maximize their strengths. You have to be conscious of that when different guys come in, or when you’re with a different group, knowing what those guys like to do.”

KEY MATCHUP

Kyrie Irving vs Kemba Walker

The two All-Star guards have been going at each other for years, which tends to bring out the best in each player. While neither player is expected to see a ton of minutes, look for Walker to be a bit more aggressive scoring the ball with Nicolas Batum (elbow) out for at least another six weeks. 

KEY STORYLINE

 If Marcus Morris makes his debut for the Celtics tonight, will he be in the starting lineup? And if so, how long will he play?

"QUOTE, UNQUOTE"

 “He is without a doubt extremely competitive and extremely driven. He’s been like that from Day One. Even when you drafted him, you knew that … everybody says everybody is that, but he’s really driven and really competitive. So that’s been – that’s been his … I think he leads authentically that way.” – Celtics head coach Brad Stevens on Terry Rozier.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Marcus Smart says he's 'strong enough to get back out there'

Marcus Smart says he's 'strong enough to get back out there'

MILWAUKEE – With Boston’s 104-102 Game 3 loss to Milwaukee, the Celtics are guaranteed a return trip to Milwaukee for Game 6 later this week.

At that point in the series, both team’s depth will be an issue.

Boston’s depth hasn’t been great, but it potentially could be better if Marcus Smart is cleared to play following a right thumb injury suffered last month.

The 6-foot-4 guard will have a check-up on Tuesday and if he’s cleared to resume practicing with the team, that would pave the way for him to be available to play in Game 6 on Thursday.

“That’s the plan. We’re still on the same track,” Smart said.

Smart has been working diligently with the training staff since he had his right thumb surgically repaired last month.

“I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there,” Smart said. “I’m just waiting for the OK.”

MORE CELTICS:

In the meantime, Smart has been walking around with one type of splint to help insure that he doesn’t accidentally bump his thumb and potentially do damage to it. That splint is different than the one he will play with upon getting cleared to return to action. While the idea of playing with a splint may not seem ideal, Smart said he’s comfortable shooting with it.

Before playoff games 2, 3 and 4 of this series with Boston, Smart has been on the floor prior to the game working on his perimeter shooting, dribble-drive, pull-ups, free throws and pretty much anything he does shooting-wise during a game. Smart has also worked on his conditioning, lateral quickness drills and other work to help strengthen his core, all done with him returning sooner rather than later. 

But ultimately, it is Smart's comfort level with his right hand and the splint that he'll play with, that will determine what kind of impact one can expect once he returns to action. 

“It feels like it’s nothing there,” Smart said of playing with the splint. “To have that comfortability in my dominant hand, my shooting hand, that’s a good feeling to have.”

Smart, who has distinguished himself as Boston’s top perimeter defender, has appeared in 54 games for the Celtics this season. The fourth-year guard averaged 10.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds this season while playing 29.9 minutes per game.

MORE CELTICS

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Frustrations continue to mount for Morris as Celtics drop Game 4

Frustrations continue to mount for Morris as Celtics drop Game 4

MILWAUKEE – Marcus Morris, in an iso situation with a chance to tie the game up and potentially force overtime. 

If you’re the Boston Celtics, you’ll take that scenario without hesitation. 

But this was a road game, in Milwaukee, a place where very little has gone the way Morris intended.

Sunday was yet another one of those days for Morris, whose shot was off the mark as time expired in Milwaukee’s 104-102 Game 4 win which tied the best-of-seven series at two games apiece heading into Tuesday’s pivotal Game 5 matchup at the TD Garden. 

After the game, Morris said the shot felt good on the release and he thought it was going in. 

The man defending him, Khris Middleton, felt the same way. 

“I just tried to contest it,” Middleton said. “He took a lot of tough shots. He’s a tough-shot maker. I just tried to challenge it. He got me with the same move in the first half and made it. This time I challenged it, used my length and I thought it was good from my view but it just went a little bit long.”

Morris led the Celtics bench with 13 points, but only shot 4-for-14 from the field. 

As you listen to Morris following the Game 4 loss, it’s hard to tell whether he’s more consumed by the disappointment of how this series has played out the last two games, or frustration over more and more attention being paid to him and his interactions with game officials. 

The 6-foot-9 forward was recently fined $15,000 for critical comments following Boston’s Game 3 loss. 

And it’s clear that he’s still trying to figure out why things have been as they are with him and officials.

“I mean, I don’t know … one thing is every day I come out here, I put my hard hat on,” Morris said. “And I love to play this game. It’s just … game-in and game-out, it’s the same thing. I’m not doing a lot of chit-chat. I’m being physical and I’m watching these other games and they give them warnings and … if it’s me a technical foul. You come to work every day and put your heart and soul into something, and you feel like it’s a quick whistle on you. That’s just how it goes.”

While the whistles may seem to come quicker on him than a lot of other players, that should not have as big an impact on the way he has struggled shooting the ball in the last two games. 

In Games 1 and 2 in Boston, Morris averaged 19.5 points per game while shooting 45.2 percent from the field. 

When the series moved to Milwaukee for Games 3 and 4, Morris’ scoring average dropped to just 10 points per game courtesy of him connecting on just 27.3 percent of his shot attempts. 

 The bottom line is clear: Boston has to play better on many levels, in order to regain control of this series. 

And part of that improvement involves Morris.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE