Celtics

Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

As the NBA trade deadline drew near, Celtics Nation was hoping tonight’s matchup between Boston and New Orleans would be Anthony Davis returning to where his pro career began.

He’s still with the Pelicans, doing what Davis has done for most of his career – dominate play.

But there’s a new twist now … he’s also winning. 

That’s why the 6-foot-10 Davis is no longer seen as a player that might be on the move anytime soon. 

He’s not just one of the league’s best players, but a bonafide MVP candidate whose stock as an elite player is even greater since New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins (ruptured Achilles tendon) for the season on Jan. 26. 

Since Cousins’ season-ending injury, New Orleans (39-30) has a 12-9 record with Davis averaging 31.1 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 2.3 steals per game in that span. 

Davis is also averaging 7.8 free throws per game which ranks fourth in the NBA, although you wouldn’t know he was among the league leaders in that category based on the postgame rant by his coach Alvin Gentry following New Orleans’ 107-101 loss to Houston on Saturday night. 

“A.D. (Anthony Davis) never gets a call,” a visibly angry Gentry told reporters following the loss. “He never gets a call. We talk about them holding him. We talk about them grabbing him on rolls. We talk about them coming under him on post-ups. He never gets a call; not one. And you know why? Because he doesn’t (bleep) complain about it. He just keeps playing the game.”

Regardless of how often he gets to the line, Davis is still putting up MVP-caliber numbers this season in Cousins’ absence. 

But it’s not like Davis’ stat line this season overall – 28.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals – didn’t stand out for all the right reasons, either.

However, Davis’ shine isn’t quite as bright now with the Pelicans losing four of their last five games which has dropped New Orleans (39-30) down to the eighth and final playoff spot and just 1.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers (37-31).

So, the Celtics come into town facing not only one of the better teams in the West, but a club that is absolutely starving for a win.

While Boston (47-22) certainly wants to come into the Big Easy and get a victory, its impact on the Celtics’ playoff hopes is non-existent. 

Boston has the second-best record in the East and trail Toronto (52-17) by five games with 13 remaining. They face the Raptors two more times this season, but even if they win both of those games and thus the head-to-head series, it likely won’t come into play because of Toronto likely finishing with the best record in the East. 

And behind Boston in the standings is Cleveland (40-29), another injury-riddled team that’s seven games behind the Celtics in the standing and has shown no signs of threatening to gain ground on Boston. 

So regardless of how the Celtics fare, it’s likely they will remain sandwiched between Toronto and Cleveland in terms of playoff seedings are concerned. 

And that might factor into who plays – and who doesn’t – for Boston in these final few games of the regular season. 

Boston’s Daniel Theis suffered a season-ending torn meniscus injury in his left knee, and Marcus Smart’s right thumb injury will keep him out for the rest of the regular season with the earliest he might be back being the latter stages of the first round of the playoffs, or sometime during the second round if the Celtics advance that far. 

Boston must also make sure Kyrie Irving and his sore left knee, are good to go for the playoffs. In addition, the Celtics must work Jaylen Brown back into the fold after he suffered a concussion that has kept him out of Boston’s last three games. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has made a point of not allowing himself or his players to use their injury situation as an excuse for not playing good basketball. 

But he knows good basketball for his injury-riddled roster, involves players elevating their play.

“We’re going to be in the process of really looking at ourselves and redistributing responsibility on our team without guys going outside of what they do best,” Stevens said, adding, “We’re going to have to figure out how to play our best basketball.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Bucks approaching Game 5 as if they'll see Smart

Bucks approaching Game 5 as if they'll see Smart

BOSTON – When it comes to the playoffs, it’s always a good idea to have as many contingency plans as possible.

For the Milwaukee Bucks, that means making sure they are prepared to see Marcus Smart make his series debut tonight.

The 6-foot-4 guard has been given clearance to potentially play in tonight’s pivotal Game 5 matchup.

As much as Smart and the Celtics would love for him to be on the floor tonight, Brad Stevens cautions that his return tonight is not a given.

“He still has to go through some things later this morning after our shootaround, and then we’ll see how he feels after that,” Stevens told reporters. “If he feels good, then he’s been cleared physically to go. If he has any pain or anything comes up, then we’ll hold him out.”

Regardless of how those tests go, the Bucks are approaching Game 5 as if Smart will be on the floor at some point.

And while he hasn’t played in more than a month, the Bucks are well aware of how impactful a potential return by Smart can be.

Khris Middleton is one of the Bucks players who'll see plenty of Smart.

“He’s a competitor,” Middleton told NBC Sports Boston. “He goes hard. He’s a crafty player, a smart player. Great defensive player. So, you’ve just gotta be smart with him. He’s a guy that can make plays with the ball in his hands and knock down some big shots. Just gotta do a great job of trying to contain him if he plays tonight. We’ve just gotta be aware of him on the defensive side.”

Milwaukee interim coach Joe Prunty acknowledged Smart is indeed on the scouting report for tonight’s game.

“We know how he plays. We know how he plays within their system,” Prunty said. “He’ll definitely add an element for them. If he does play, we’re prepared for that.”

A potential Smart return comes at a time when the Celtics’ defense, which came into the postseason with a league-best defensive rating of 101.5, has actually been among the worst defenses in the playoffs.

Boston’s has had a defensive rating of 99.1 when Smart has played.

And while there’s no telling if Smart in the lineup will make that big a difference to the team’s defense against the Bucks, there’s no denying Smart playing tonight will provide a much-needed boost for Boston.

“He does a good job for them at both ends of the floor, by defending and on offense, moving the ball, facilitate a lot on the offensive end for them,” said Milwaukee’s Thon Maker. “With us, we have to find a way to match his energy if he does play tonight.”

Even though Smart hasn’t played in a competitive game in more than a month, the Bucks have every intention of going at him as though he had played in every game of this series.

“He’s still been working,” Middleton said. “You can’t disrespect him just because he hasn’t played in a while. You have to play him like he’s been playing all year long or this whole series, which is, get after him some too.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE