Celtics

Celtics-Lakers preview: Youth will be served

Celtics-Lakers preview: Youth will be served

BOSTON – It doesn’t matter what the standings say.

The Boston Celtics facing the Los Angeles Lakers is always a must-see event.

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You’re talking about arguably the two most storied franchises in NBA history, set to do battle tonight at the TD Garden.

But for as much as we love to reminisce about the past, it’s the future of both franchises that has fans of both teams excited.

And that future is tied into the youngsters that will see plenty of action tonight.

For the Celtics, Brown and Jayson Tatum, taken by the Celtics with the No. 3 pick in the last two NBA drafts, are in the starting lineup. Rookies Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis both play significant minutes for Boston.

On the Lakers’ roster, you have Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, a pair of first-round picks (Ball went right before Tatum in last June’s NBA draft while Kuzma was the 27th overall pick).

In addition, the Lakers also have second-year player Brandon Ingram and fourth-year big man Julius Randle who turns 23 later this month.

Collectively, both teams have a strong core of young talent going forward which means this longstanding rivalry just might be reignited in the coming years.

Because lately, both teams have gone about rebuilding their respective squads with the Celtics being much further along than the Lakers.

After sending Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn in 2013, the Celtics were expected to be a franchise that would struggle for several years as they went about rebuilding itself.

Four years later, Boston was in the Eastern Conference finals as the top seed before losing to Cleveland in five games with their head coach Brad Stevens, winning more games than the previous season ever since he arrived as coach in 2013.

Meanwhile, the Lakers haven’t been to the playoffs since 2013 which is the longest playoff drought in the franchise’s history. And this season isn’t expected to be any different, either.

But as we’ve seen in the past, records mean very little when these two play.

Initially, the thought was that tonight’s matchup would be focused heavily on the Ball-Tatum dynamic, with both players going No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in last June’s NBA draft.

But the talk of the NBA tonight has to do with Boston’s nine-game winning streak. The Celtics (9-2) are the only team in NBA history to begin the season with back-to-back losses and recover to win its next nine games.

Kyrie Irving has been brilliant, especially down the stretch. Ditto for Al Horford whose play puts him near the front of the pack when talking about the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

However, the play of Boston’s young players is what really has allowed them to separate themselves from the rest of the league in this still-young season.

Tatum, whose minutes seemed uncertain after being drafted, has been one of the most consistent rookies in the NBA in terms of his overall contributions in addition to ranking among the league leaders in minutes played among first-year players. Celtics rookies Daniel Theis and Semi Ojeleye have both seen limited minutes but to their credit, have maximized their time with smart play at both ends of the floor.

Indeed, youth will be served in some fashion tonight by both teams.

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BEST OF BST PODCAST: C's back from All-Star break, how will Stevens change rotations?

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BEST OF BST PODCAST: C's back from All-Star break, how will Stevens change rotations?

(1:00) A. Sherrod Blakely joins Boston Sports Tonight to discuss Brad Stevens hinting that he will change the Celtics rotations after All-Star break, and what changes he thinks Brad will make. (4:30) How will Marcus Smart’s return impact Terry Rozier?

(5:40) Evan Drellich and Lou Merloni discuss why the J.D. Martinez announcement was delayed another day as doctors review his physical, and whether Red Sox fans should be concerned.

(11:50) DJ Bean reacts to the Bruins trading Frank Vatrano to the Panthers and Anders Bjork being out for the season following shoulder surgery.

(14:40) Mike Flynn joins Kayce Smith and Tom E. Curran to discuss Sports News article that says that the Denver Broncos could possibly release Aqib Talib. We debate what it would take to get Talib back to New England and how well he would fit in with the Patriots defense. 

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Celtics set to play with greater sense of urgency in return to action

Celtics set to play with greater sense of urgency in return to action

WALTHAM, Mass. – The road to getting back atop the Eastern Conference standings for the Boston Celtics following the All-Star break will begin – where else? – on the road.

And that’s a good thing.

Boston, which plays its first two games after the break on the road beginning at Detroit tonight and New York on Saturday, has been among the league’s best all season when it comes to winning on the road.

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Only two teams, Golden State (22-7, .759 winning percentage) and Houston (21-7, .750 winning percentage), have a better road winning percentage than the Celtics (19-8, .703 winning percentage) this season.

“Our schedule is really hard as we hit this last home stretch 23 games,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “And that’s a good thing with us. We are going to have to have that urgency.”

Boston (40-19) has lost three straight and four of its last five games.

Aware of how quickly a couple of losses can snowball into a full-blown losing skid, Boston players understand the importance of playing with a greater sense of urgency.

“I think we have a sense of urgency about ourselves,” Brown said. “I think we understand the second half of the season and the importance of it, getting ready for playoffs. And how you can see some of the older guys, Kyrie (Irving), Al (Horford), the attention to detail, the stress about the little things is becoming more evident.” 

Said Irving: “We hit a little bit of a stretch where we haven’t been playing our type of basketball. Not necessarily being as consistent as we’d like to be. We just want to get back to being consistent and doing the right things.”

Stevens added, “Hopefully these little hiccups that we have had prior to the break, which more pertains to who we are playing … hopefully benefit us down the road.”

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Al Horford said more than anything, the Celtics have to ratchet up their attention to details in all phases of play.

“The focus is really now more than any point in the season taking it day-to-day,” Horford said. “And I felt like we got better, today was a good practice. This is a good start, so now for us it’s just to keep building that and just take it game-to-game because these are … the rehearsal games, if you want to call them that. That’s what I like to call it with this group. So, getting everything straightened out for when the playoffs come around.”

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