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Celtics-Magic preview: Boston looks to improve shooting down the stretch

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Celtics-Magic preview: Boston looks to improve shooting down the stretch

BOSTON – When Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked about what he saw in the team’s newest (10-day) addition Jarell Eddie, his response was, “shooting  . . .  shooting.”

Indeed, shot-making has been the one area of play that has been problematic for the Celtics most of this season.

Boston comes into today’s game against Orlando (13-32) shooting just 44.8 percent from the field which ranks 25th in the NBA.

In the month of January, Boston has been even worse, connecting on just 41.8 percent of their shots which ranks 29th in the league this month.

While the addition of Eddie had more to do with the recent flu bug that has made the rounds throughout the Celtics lineup and the uncertainty a couple days ago surrounding Kyrie Irving’s sore left shoulder (it has improved and he’s expected to play today), adding Eddie speaks to a greater problem -- guys making shots -- that has to be addressed in some capacity sooner or later.

Boston always has the option to pursue a trade. They also have an $8.4 million disabled player exception they can use on free agent players, with the most likely pool of talent that they will choose from consisting of players who would have been bought out by their current teams.

Or there’s raiding the G-League for talent, which is what they did in signing Eddie to a 10-day contract.

Regardless, there’s a growing sense that this team has to add more scoring punch to the mix or at a minimum, improve the overall offensive execution of the roster as it stands now.

“We have to do our stuff better,” Stevens said. “The start of the season it was predictable, losing Gordon (Hayward who suffered a dislocated left ankle injury in the season-opener) and having to adjust. The middle portion of games we were pretty darn good. And then I thought we were reasonable in London, reasonable against New Orleans. But the other three of the last five games, we weren’t very good.”

Boston’s offense should get a boost from Irving’s return to the lineup after missing Boston’s 89-80 loss to Philadelphia with a sore left shoulder.

And while it was just one game, Irving understands the challenge that lies ahead in getting Boston’s offense to play better and more consistently.

“We have very unique talents on this team,” Irving said. “When you’re trying to put that together and guys are coming back into the lineup and getting their rhythm still and guys are in and out sometimes … big picture, down the stretch, we’re going to need everyone to be on the same page.”

Marcus Morris has been one of the players who has been in and out of the Celtics lineup because of a sore left knee.

However, the schedule has eased up to where he’ll be able to play more games, for longer stretches.

He comes into today’s game having scored in double figures each of the last three games.

“I’m just trying to get healthy. I know what I can do,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “My confidence is always going to stay high, no matter if I miss or make shots.”

In the last three games, he has averaged 15.0 points while shooting 45.7 percent from the field.

While Morris’ play of late is promising, it doesn’t diminish the concern Boston should have for an offense that for the most part, has been sputtering this season.

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Kimbrel's newborn daughter treated in Boston for heart condition

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Kimbrel's newborn daughter treated in Boston for heart condition

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Coming off a phenomenal season, Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel spent the offseason in Boston. Not to be closer to Fenway Park, but for proximity to something far more important: the city’s first-rate medical community.

Kimbrel’s daughter, Lydia Joy, was born in November with a heart issue.

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“It’s been a lot,” Kimbrel said Saturday at Red Sox Winter Weekend at Foxwoods. “My wife and I, we’ve kept it kind of private. But when she was born, she had some heart defects so we decided to stay in Boston and work with Children’s Hospital and just been going through that ordeal and it’s had its ups and downs but she’s doing great right now."

Focusing wasn't always easy in season, but Kimbrel said his daughter's condition has motivated him even more.

“They always say when you have a child, things change and they have," he said. "I’m definitely more focused towards her and her needs and our family needs. It’s just one day at a time and give everything I got. It’s real easy to look at her and understand everything I’m doing is for her and it makes it a lot easier.”

Kimbrel and his wife, Ashley, found out early in the 2017 season that they would be staying in Boston for the winter and were preparing.

“Everything has kind of gone as planned so far,” Kimbrel said. “She’ll have another surgery during spring training, so I’ll come back to Boston for a week and do that, but it’s been good. It’s definitely been tough, but one of the happiest, joyful times of our life.”

"Being in Boston, we feel blessed, because the doctors are the best in the world. Being able to work with them has been great.”

Kimbrel said his wife has stayed in touch with Travis Shaw’s wife. The Shaw family has had a similar experience, Kimbrel said.

“It seems like they’re doing pretty good,” Kimbrel said. “It’s been very encouraging to see.”

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Sale has a plan to increase durability in 2018

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Sale has a plan to increase durability in 2018

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — With spring training less than a month away, Chris Sale has a concrete idea of how to extend his dominance throughout all of 2018.

For Sale, a lot of talk at the end of the season centered on durability and rest. He led the majors in pitches per game at 107.1. The left-hander was incredibly successful early last season and started the All-Star Game for the American League for a second year in a row. Still, September and the postseason were out of character.

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One explanation Sale offered: he was, in essence, too amped up for his first year in Boston. 

“It’s just the gradual rise of my throwing program,” Sale said Saturday afternoon at Red Sox Winter Weekend at Foxwoods of what he can change. “I was new here last year. I came in and I felt like I had to prove something. I hadn’t thrown a single pitch in front of you guys, in front of any of the fans. So I felt, part of me felt I had to come in and say, ‘Hey, this is what you’re getting.’ And you know, I showed up to spring training really ready to go. You know, my arm was in almost season-form, and I think we’re going to gradually build that up this year instead of you know, coming out hot out of the gate.

“Started a bit later trying to ease into it a little more. In terms of working out, started working out earlier, doing Pilates. The same things I’ve been doing conditioning and strength wise, just kind of dialing back my throwing program.”

A plan has been formulated with Sale and the Red Sox staff, including pitching coach Dana LeVangie and manager Alex Cora.

Sale crossed the 300-strikeout plateau for the first time in his career in 2017 and probably would have taken over the team record from Pedro Martinez (313 Ks in 1999) had he made one more start. Sale finished with 308. 

“Yeah, I took some time in the offseason to kind of look back and you know appreciate the season as a whole,” Sale said. “Briefly, though. I mean those are things that like I said you don’t want to get stuck on that. Those aren’t things that are important. I mean they’re cool, they’re flashy but, you know strikeouts don’t get you championships. So, I appreciate it, I know I put a lot of hard work into it. I know it’s not easy to do but, I’m not going to be hung up on that."

The strikeout numbers may diminish some as Sale focuses on fewer wasted pitches. Theoretically, fewer wasted pitches could mean he’ll bring on more contact. But it doesn’t sound like he plans to take any velocity off (more than he does as a normal course of pitching).

"I don't know if it's less effort. It's never less effort,” Sale said. “For me, it's just more focus. I don't need to dial it back, I just think I need to eliminate waste pitches. I'd love to be able to get to the sixth inning on a very regular basis with 80, 85 pitches. Easier said than done and it looks good on paper, but those are kind of the things that we've been talking about. Throwing more effective pitches and things like that.”

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