Celtics

This old friend would be a real valentine

598656.jpg

This old friend would be a real valentine

Don't look now, but there could be another managerial candidate on the market very soon.

And one who's very familiar with Boston, to boot.

With the dismissals of Tal Smith, the director of baseball operations, and Ed Wade, the general manager, by new owner Jim Crane in Houston, you can't help but wonder if Brad Mills is next. Mills, the Red Sox bench coach under Terry Francona from 2004-09, has managed the Astros since 2010, and usually when the housecleaning starts it doesn't spare anyone . . . especially the guy in the dugout.

And especially when the guy in the dugout has a record of 132-192 in his two seasons. But it's beyond dispute that the talent cupboard in Houston is bare, and that no one -- Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Casey Stengel, John McGraw, you name 'em -- could have succeeded with the collection of palookas the Astros have had in uniform. As bad as the team has performed on the field, Mills has acquitted himself well. From Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle:

Hes an excellent communicator and holds players accountable. Forget everything else you think you know about managing a Major League Baseball team. If a manager doesnt do those two things, he has no chance of succeeding, and then all the other stuff we use to evaluate them doesnt matter . . . Mills has been able to walk that hard-to-define line to get his players to like and respect him while knowing they cant take advantage of him. Theres a decency about Brad that plays well over the long haul. Hes consistent with what he expects of players. Hes also got a tough side. He demands his guys play the game a certain way. He will not tolerate disrespecting either him or the game.Sounds like a nice fit for these chicken-and-beer Red Sox, doesn't it? Especially if -- like me -- you're not over the moon about either Bobby Valentine or Gene Lamont.The chances of Mills landing here are slim and none. He doesn't have a track record of big-league success -- say what you will about Valentine and Lamont, but they both do -- and he'd probably be (very) reluctant to take the seat of his best friend, Francona, after the somewhat acrimonious parting Tito had here. Plus, he hasn't been fired yet. A technicality, perhaps, but it's got to happen before he can go anywhere else.Still, as a card-carrying member of the Bobby V.Gene Skeptics Club, I can dream, can't I?

WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

stream-celtics-mavs.jpg

WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Mavericks in Dallas. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: C's need to play Smart in Dallas

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Celtics-Mavericks preview: C's need to play Smart vs. Dallas

Celtics-Mavericks preview: C's need to play Smart vs. Dallas

Get it done. No excuses.
 
That has been how the Boston Celtics have played most of this season.
 
And if there’s one Celtics player who embodies that on this team, it’s Marcus Smart.
 
The fourth-year guard has struggled all season with his shot-making, but when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter you can count on Smart to be on the floor.

THE WINNING STREAK

He has been among the many reasons Boston has won 15 in a row, which is the fifth-longest winning streak in franchise history.
 
And Smart will be among the Celtics looking to keep it going tonight against the Dallas Mavericks.
 
Most likely, Smart will make an impact with his defense, which is among the best in the NBA.

How good?
 
Smart has a defensive rating of 93.4 (points allowed per 100 possessions) which is tops among all guards in the NBA, and ranks third among all players who have played in at least 10 games this season.
 
But in the 110-99 win over the Hawks, Smart knocked down a couple of 3-pointers which was a big deal considering how mightily he has struggled shooting the ball this season.
 
Smart is shooting 27.3 percent from the field as well as from 3-point range – both career lows.
 
However, he’s also averaging career highs in assists (4.5) and rebounds (5.1) this season.
 
And while he certainly doesn’t appear to be affected by the shooting struggles, he acknowledges that it is something that he can’t help but think about from time to time.
 
“It does affect you, especially if you’ve been working (on shooting) all summer,” Smart said. “At the same time, I don’t take as many shots. But like I said, we got other guys who are playing well. My job is to get them the ball and do whatever I can, go back down the floor, play defense and get the ball again.”

In Boston’s win over Atlanta, Smart spent a good amount of time defending Marco Belinelli who had four points on 2-for-10 shooting compared to 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting when these two teams met earlier this month.
 
Coach Brad Stevens pointed to the job Smart did on Belinelli, in addition to the clutch offensive rebound he was able to snag and quickly put back up and in that gave Boston a 103-95 game with about two minutes to play.
 
“He was really good,” Stevens said.
 
The same could be said for most of the Celtics of late.
 
Kyrie Irving is coming off his most efficient game of the season, tallying 30 points on 10-for-12 shooting from the field. Jayson Tatum had a rough start, but he came on strong as well with 14 points – all coming in the second half.
 
But the backbone of Boston’s success lies in what they’re able to get done defensively.
 
So far, Boston’s defense has been as strong as we’ve seen this early, in quite some time.
 
Boston, which has a league-best defensive rating of 95.9, has length, savvy and an overall total buy-in by the players on what Brad Stevens is looking for, from them.
 
Meanwhile, the Mavericks (3-14) are coming off their most impressive victory this season, a 111-79 win over Milwaukee.  Dennis Smith Jr. has been among the more talented rookies this season. He’s averaging 14.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Dallas is indeed in a transition period where longtime superstar Dirk Nowitzki (10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds per game) is gradually passing the torch to his younger teammates like Harrison Barnes (18.7 points, 7.1 rebounds) and Smith Jr.
 
Much like the Hawks game, the Celtics must approach this game with a focus on the opponent and not their record.
 
Because the Celtics are no longer just a good team on the schedule. They are a measuring stick for most to see how they stack up against the league’s best.
 
And the Celtics understand how their success has changed how teams see them.
 
“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.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE