PHILADELPHIA – For the third time in as many games, the Boston Celtics will field a different lineup.
It will have a domino effect on Boston’s usual starters, but no one more than Al Horford who will slide over to power forward with Aron Baynes inserted into the starting lineup where he’ll be charged with trying to defend Sixers 7-footer Joel Embiid.
Meanwhile, Horford will be assigned to defend Robert Covington who is one of Philadelphia’s better perimeter scorers.
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“I feel like one of my strengths is being able to play multiple positions,” Horford told NBC Sports Boston. “It presents a different challenge for me, which is making sure I do a good job of covering him out on the perimeter, staying between him and the basket.”
In Philadelphia’s 120-115 season-opening loss to Washington, Covington led all Sixers with 29 points which included him going 7-for-11 from 3-point range in addition to grabbing seven rebounds.
While Covington will be Horford’s first defensive assignment, he knows he will also be called upon at times to defend Embiid who ranks among the best centers in the NBA despite having played just 32 games over the course of three NBA seasons.
In the loss to the Wizards, Embiid had a double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds.
Horford’s defense will be critical for Boston (0-2) to get its first win of the season, but the Celtics will also need him to take advantage of scoring opportunities as well.
“We have some guys down, but that creates opportunities for other guys to step up and contribute,” Horford said. “It’s going to all of us, the veterans, the young players, all of us to get that first win.”
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens agreed.
“I think that’s how we have to look at it,” Stevens said. “We’re going to have to make a few tweaks on how we do things, obviously. Hey, it’s gonna be something that we’re going to have to do really, really well on the fly.”
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WALTHAM, Mass. – Aron Baynes was doing something we seldom see the Celtics big man from Down Under do – he was shooting 3’s.
“I’m comfortable [shooting 3’s],” Baynes said following practice on Saturday. “Pass that on to Brad [Stevens] if you want.”
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Baynes, who has missed six of his seven 3-point attempts in the NBA, understands his role on the team is still to defend the rim and rebound the ball.
He hopes to do both of those in the season opener at Cleveland with his injured left knee well on its way to a full recovery.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens liked what he saw out of Baynes during practice on Saturday.
“He did well,” Stevens said. “He went through most if not all of practice. He’s felt better and better every day and has probably exceeded our expectations. We’ll see how he feels [on Sunday].”
“I’m doing well, considering how I felt the other night,” he said. “I’m able to get out here, run around a little bit with the fellas, it’s always good.”
I asked him about being ready for Tuesday night.
“I’m definitely on track for that,” Baynes said. “It’s still day-to-day. I’m going to go out on the limb here, literally, and say I should be available. Love a good pun!”
Having Baynes available would especially be helpful for the Celtics against the Cavaliers who field a team that includes Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, two of the better rebounding bigs in the NBA.
Without Baynes, Boston’s frontcourt muscle would be limited to Al Horford, Marcus Morris with rookies Daniel Theis and Guerschon Yabusele.
Former Washington Wizards center Daniel Ochefu, signed by the Celtics on Friday, will reportedly be waived Saturday and assigned to their G-League affiliate the Maine Red Claws.
Celtics signed Daniel Ochefu yesterday... They'll waive him today, and he'll join their G-League affiliate in Maine.— Steve Bulpett (@SteveBHoop) October 14, 2017
Baynes, who signed with Boston this offseason, appeared in three preseason games and averaged 8.0 points per game and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 53.3 percent (8-for-15) from the field.
His preseason defensive rating of 79.6 was tops among all players who played in more than one game.
And while no one is ready to quite slap the “stretch big” label on Baynes yet, Stevens said he has been impressed with his shooting touch from the perimeter.
“One of the things about Aron, he can really shoot the ball,” Stevens said. “He’s got great touch. He’s always shot it from 15 to 18 feet, max. But I do think being able to put a guy like him in the corner on occasion, to help space the floor and drag his defender away, isn’t a bad thing. If you can increase your range to do that, it just gives yourself more opportunities to play with other people.”
That said, Baynes is well aware of what his strengths, literally and figuratively, are for the Celtics.
“I know where my bread is buttered,” Baynes said. “I’m going to stick around the paint, try and get the other guys open as best I can.”