Celtics-Mavericks preview: Progress for both teams since last meeting

Celtics-Mavericks preview: Progress for both teams since last meeting

BOSTON – During Boston’s 16-game winning streak earlier this season, the Celtics were challenged in many ways.

But no team put them on the brink of defeat during that span like the Dallas Mavericks who had the Celtics in comeback mode late in the game before Boston ultimately rallied for a 110-102 overtime win behind Kyrie Irving's season-high 47 points.  

Since that game on Nov. 20, Boston (21-4) has been able to continue rolling along and remains at the top of the NBA standings.

And it seems that loss did a lot of good for the Mavericks as well.

At the time of the loss, it dropped Dallas’ record to 3-15.

Since then, they’ve won four of their last six games and are starting to slowly but surely play better, more consistent basketball.

Following that loss, Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle could sense his team’s turnaround was coming sooner rather than later.

"It was a very, very tough loss, no question about that," Carlisle said at the time. "We can't shake our heads."

Carlisle added, “We got to keep moving forward. We're making progress. We just aren't putting the kind of wins on the board that we feel we can. The only thing that can short-circuit us from more progress is to take our eye off the ball in terms of making more progress. If we stay in that process, we will win our share of games."
One of the keys to Dallas’ improved play since the loss to Boston has been their defense.

Overall, Dallas’ defensive rating in the last six games is 79.1 which ranks ninth in the NBA during that span. They have also limited the impact of opposing teams generating easy points off turnovers.

In the last six games, the Mavericks have allowed just 11.2 points off turnovers which ranks second in the NBA in that span.

And while their defense has improved of late, Boston counters with a much more robust offense.

In the Celtics’ last six games (five of which they won), Boston is shooting 52 percent from the field which is second in the league. The Celtics have also knocked down 43.4 percent of their 3-pointers which ranks third in the league, a statistic that has been fueled in part by the play of rookie Jayson Tatum who is making a league-best 51.3 percent of his 3’s this season while shooting 59.1 percent (13-for-22) in Boston's last six games.

The improved shooting has elevated Boston’s offensive rating of late to near the top of the NBA standings.

In Boston’s last six games, the Celtics have an offensive rating of 115.8 which is second in the league.

Despite showing a high level of consistency in terms of winning games, we are seeing a Celtics team that’s changing before our very eyes, one that’s showing a far more explosive side offensively than we saw at the start of the season and to a large degree, during their 16-game winning streak as well.

From where they were at the start of the season, Al Horford will be the first to admit that the Celtics are indeed a different team.

“As a group, we’ve grown tremendously in very little time,” Horford said. “And I feel we have a lot more to do, more growing to do.”


New All-Star format a success, but one tweak could make it even better

New All-Star format a success, but one tweak could make it even better

LOS ANGELES – Both players and coaches involved with Sunday’s All-Star game like the new format, but will surely look to tweak a couple of things.

Among the more likely changes will be the process involved in not just selecting the team, but making the selections known to the public. 

Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan has an idea, one that’s shared by some players, media and maybe most important, NBA fans. 

“Televise it,” DeRozan said. “Give the people what they want to see. I think everybody wants to see it. At the end of the day every single person that gets picked, you are an All-Star, so it doesn’t matter where you really go, so I think televise it.”

MORE - Irving, Horford give seal of approval to All-Star changes

The new format involved their being two captains – LeBron James and Stephen Curry – who picked their respective teams from the 22 remaining All-Stars regardless of conference affiliation. 

The NBA also increased the amount of money given to each player on the winning team - $100,000 – while the losing team members each received $25,000.

Regardless of what the changes may be going forward, it’s clear that players see this new format as the blueprint for how All-Star games should be structured going forward.

“This kind of changed the culture of it a lot, for the better,” said Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler. “It’s only going to get more and more competitive because guys see how it was for the last five minutes of that game. Everybody wants to compete.”

Here are five takeaways from the 67th NBA All-Star game with Team LeBron defeating Team Steph 148-145. 

MORE - Drellich: Here's how Kimbrel could greatly help Cora

Kyrie Irving

There were others who scored more, had more assists and certainly grabbed more rebounds than Kyrie Irving. But one of the more telling developments in the game was how Irving returned to the game in the fourth down 10 points, and didn’t leave until Team LeBron emerged with the win seven minutes and 16 seconds later. Even in an All-Star setting, Irving’s impact on winning stands out. Along with his 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, Team LeBron was a +16 when Irving was on the floor – tops among all All-Star starters. 


LeBron James

The calendar says he’s 33 years old. But other than that, there’s nothing about LeBron James that even remotely looks like his time as the best player on the planet will end anytime soon. In a game full of stars on the rise as well as established stalwarts such as himself, James totally crushed it Sunday night in walking away with his third All-Star game MVP trophy after a double-double of 29 points and 10 rebounds to go with eight assists.  


DeMar DeRozan

We know him as the king of the mid-range game. But as we saw on Sunday, DeRozan has a lot more offensive versatility that he’s capable of unleashing. He’s arguably the biggest reason why Toronto has the best record in the East right now. Playing for Team Steph, DeRozan tallied 21 points attacking the rim off the dribble and of course, knocking down mid-range jumpers


Jimmy Butler

A bit under the weather, Butler never set foot on the court to play. The league’s leader in minutes played this season (37.3), Butler wasn’t expected to play a ton of minutes anyway. Still, it would have been nice to see him out there even if it was for a minute or two. He’s one of the league’s best two-way players whose play has been instrumental to the Timberwolves looking very much like a playoff team this season. “I have to rest,” Butler said. “I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”


Joel Embiid

The ring leader of Philadelphia’s “Trust the Process” movement, Joel Embiid, was impressive in his All-Star debut. For Embiid, it’s one thing to believe you are one of the NBA’s best players. It’s an entirely different matter to step on the floor with the game’s best talent and validate yourself as one of the game’s best players.  “During the season, I thought I was a top-five or top-10 player in the league,” said Embiid who had 19 points and eight rebounds. “And before the game I wanted confirmation of it. I felt like I could hang with them.”


Irving, Horford give seal of approval to All-Star changes

Irving, Horford give seal of approval to All-Star changes

LOS ANGELES -- Kyrie Irving and Al Horford were on different teams for the NBA's All-Star game pitting Team LeBron vs Team Steph, so somebody was coming back a loser.

But considering how competitive the game was for longer stretches than usual, both players came away feeling good in a relatively close All-Star game that ended with Team LeBron edging Team Steph, 148-145.

LeBron James led all scorers with 29 points along with 10 rebounds and 8 assists and walked away with Game MVP honors for the third time.

Irving, who played for Team LeBron, had a near double-double with 13 points and nine assists along with seven rebounds.

And Horford, who came off the bench for Team Steph, had six points and five rebounds along with two assists.  

“This was pretty fun,” Irving said. “I think that we showcased that tonight with an incredible competitive spirit. The game was kind of getting away, but I think a few of us took it a little personal that we wanted to keep the game still competitive and at a high level. Fans and everyone across so many different countries want to see the best players in the world showcase their talent.”

Horford echoed similar sentiments about the game, which had a different format this year. LeBron James and Stephen Curry picked the two teams from the 22-player pool of players from both the Eastern and Western Conferences.

“Early, guys were making [defensive] plays,” Horford said. “Guys were making a point, they weren’t going to let it be a dunk fest.

Horford added, “Even last year and the year before, there was a lot of heat on how bad the game was. I felt like this game was, it was good.”

Irving, a five-time All-Star, also acknowledged how he and some of the players wanted to change the perception of the All-Star Game as being nothing more than a glorified lay-up line.

“I think we all took it kind of personal,” Irving said. “Individually we wanted to come out and be competitive. Last year it was (192-182), that’s just not as fun as communicating with guys that you don’t necessarily play with every single day, bouncing ideas off in the time-outs. It’s just that competitive fire that we all share.”

And then there’s the payday for winning.

Not only will various charities benefit from the game -- LeBron James’ charity of choice gets $350,000 because his team won and Steph Curry’s charity of choice gets $150,000 -- but the players on the winning team get a pretty nice check as well.

The winning team members each get $100,000 while the players on the losing team come away with $25,000.

“There was something that, something that we could look forward to if we got the win,” Irving acknowledged. “You know, they’ll probably bring up the cash prize, but . . . $100,000 to $25,000, I think everybody in this room would be doing the same things we were doing.”