Celtics

Curran: Taking stock of Light's future

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Curran: Taking stock of Light's future

Covering the Patriots requires a reporter to use his intuition. In the years I've covered the team, my intuition's been good (signing of Rosey Colvin, rise of Tom Brady, usefulness of Danny Woodhead, the resurrection of the tight end position) and askew (not sniffing out the Moss deal looming, the release of Brandon Meriweather). I bring this up on this Tuesday because Ian Rapoport at The Boston Heraldhas read the smoke signals around veteran left tackle Matt Light and mentioned that there is a chance Light may retire. This being the dead period before the Combine and the start of free agency, the speculation gained traction. So it now behooves me to speculate on Rap's speculation. And while Rap looks up at this cloud and sees a horse wearing a party hat, I'm looking at the same cloud and saying, "Rap, that's a flippin' unicorn, fer crissake!"Money aside, why would Light want to retire? He played tremendously in 2011 (2.5 sacks allowed) and was as engaged as I've ever seen him. It's out there somewhere, the video of Light on the bench, head bowed, fists clenched as Billy Cundiff lined up the would-be game-tying kick in the AFC Championship. That level of desperate hoping was something I never thought I'd see from Light, who always maintained a respectful detachment from getting too overwrought about his job. He and Brian Waters were the Patriots best two linemen. Speed rushers, power rushers, young, old, didn't matter. Light was on lockdown all season. What Rap wrote in a larger post about Marcus Cannonwas this: "While it hasnt been said officially, the expectation is that Matt Light will not be back next year (with retirement definitely possible)."The money Light's due in 2012 -- reportedly 3.4 million in salary and a 100,000 workout bonus-- seems daunting to Rap. Especially with 2011 first rounder Nate Solder and third-year man Sebastian Vollmer in the mix. Here's why I see it differently. Light was given a 6 million signing bonus. So the Patriots will take a cap hit in the neighborhood of 3 million to not have a capable, veteran left tackle who's still playing at a high level around? Beyond that, Vollmer's back issues in 2010 and '11 should make the Patriots reticent about lopping Light or asking him to take a penal pay cut. And I'm not sure Solder is quite ready to step in at Light's level. This isn't a rebuilding Patriots team. It's one that was within a couple of plays and minutes of a Super Bowl win. Will the Patriots maybe ask Light to take less than he's due to make? Maybe. But releasing him or forcing him into retirement doesn't seem likely to me.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Hawks

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Hawks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Hawks in Atlanta. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”