Boston Celtics

Who has the brighter future — Sixers or Celtics?

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Who has the brighter future — Sixers or Celtics?

Without Joel Embiid and T.J. McConnell, the Sixers won't be at full strength tonight against the Celtics. Then again, the Celtics haven't been at full strength all season, playing every game without $30 million man Gordon Hayward. Boston has managed to go 18-4 to lead the NBA so far without him, which serves as just another example of how well constructed the Celtics' roster is.

The teams are on two different timelines, but outside of the Warriors, there are few if any teams built better to both win now and win in the future than the Sixers and Celtics.

Which invites the question: Which team is in the better situation moving forward with players, cap space, flexibility and draft picks — Sixers or Celtics?

Jessica Camerato — Sixers
The Celtics are ahead of the Sixers in their progress toward contention, but the Sixers have the pieces to catch up and even surpass them. The Celtics have designed their roster to compete now with All-Stars like Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Hayward (pre-injury) while developing their potential future in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They face questions about the makeup of their team, though, following next season when both Irving and Horford have player options for 2019-20. 

The Sixers, on the other hand, are just beginning to lay the foundation of a bright future. Embiid and Robert Covington are locked up for five seasons. The team is being extremely methodical with its cap space to have room available when it comes time to talk contract with Ben Simmons and also be able to make a run at top-level free agents in upcoming offseasons.

While the Celtics are running the East this season, the Sixers' combination of Embiid, Covington and Simmons is the group of assets I would rather have moving forward.

Corey Seidman — Sixers (by a 51-49 margin)
I'd also take the Sixers' situation, even though I genuinely believe the Celtics can win a championship at some point in the next three years if the Warriors suffer even one key, late-season injury. 

Kyrie is one of the best ball-handlers of all-time and one of the most clutch players of the last 25 years. The Sixers don't have a player like him — nobody does. But the Celtics don't have a player like Simmons or Embiid — nobody does.

One thing that could shift my opinion with this is if Jayson Tatum takes a quick leap to stardom at some point in the next two or three seasons. Aside from Simmons, he looks like by far the best rookie in this class. There's just so little hesitation with Tatum. Most rookies defer early in their careers and pass up an open look for an even better look because they think that's what a good NBA teammate does. Tatum takes those open shots and takes advantage of open driving lanes. It makes sense for Utah's Donovan Mitchell to do it because he has so little scoring help around him. But Tatum does have a lot around him and still is confident enough in himself to drive the car when he needs to.

Markelle Fultz hasn't scratched the surface of what he might be able to do in the NBA, but it's difficult for me to envision him making more of an impact — offensively and defensively, at the rim or beyond the arc — than Tatum will over the course of his career.

But for me, the Tatum > Fultz thing isn't enough to offset the unique, superduperstar upside of the Sixers' top two players. 

The Celtics are built to win 55-ish games for the foreseeable future. But does anyone really remember a 57-win season? The Sixers are built to — if they add one more star — have one of those crazy, 66-win seasons that don't come along often.

Paul Hudrick — Celtics
This is tough.

It's hard to dispute that the team with the best record in the NBA — that also happens to be missing its prize free agent — has the better roster going forward, but there is certainly a case to be made for the Sixers. 

Embiid and Simmons have the potential to be more dominant than any player on the Celtics' roster. Fultz is the obvious questions mark. Can he live up to the billing of being the No. 1 overall pick? I believe he can. Once he gets healthy and regains his confidence, I expect an elite scorer to emerge.

For most, the comparison of Fultz and Tatum will be the key to determining this question. For me, it's Fultz vs. Jaylen Brown. Brown has already shown flashes of being an elite defender and unstoppable in the open floor. He's also hitting 41 percent of his threes on over four attempts a game. 

The Sixers and Celtics both have dynamic duos. Will Fultz or Brown become a star first to make it a trio? For now, because of his NBA track record, my money is on Brown and the Celtics.

But Fultz's presence could easily change that assessment.

Rob Ellis — Split-decision: Celtics
I love the fact that we are even discussing which organization has a brighter future. It's been too long since the Sixers could even be considered in a debate like this. While there's no question the Celtics are certainly built for now in terms of contending in the East, I believe the Sixers' rise to compete with the big boys will be quicker than some anticipate. That said, this is very difficult. I actually think both teams will win at least one title and be really good for close to a decade. 

But in terms of which team has the brighter future, certainly who and what Fultz is or will become could be a swing vote one way or the other, especially considering how well Tatum has played in his rookie season in Boston. Another unknown on the Celtics' side is Hayward and how he will respond from a pretty horrific injury suffered in his first game in green.  

I view the Sixers' core five as Simmons, Fultz, Covington, Dario Saric and Embiid. Versus the Celtics' five of Irving, Brown, Tatum, Hayward, and Horford.

With the exception of Horford, these two teams are scary young and talented. While I think the upside of Simmons and Embiid is greater than any combo of two on the Celtics' roster, I have to lean toward Boston. Brown projects higher for me than Covington and maybe it's just recency bias on my part but I'll go Tatum over Fultz. If Fultz is who the Sixers thought he was when moving up to one to draft him, or if Hayward is not the same player we saw in Utah pre-injury, the nod goes to the Sixers.

Deck stacked against Sixers tonight in Boston

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Deck stacked against Sixers tonight in Boston

After earning a strange, roundabout victory at home Wednesday night over the Wizards, the Sixers are in Boston tonight and they're undermanned.

Joel Embiid will sit in the second game of a back-to-back. This is only the Sixers' second back-to-back set of the season — the NBA lengthened the schedule this year to reduce back-to-backs and situations where teams played four games in five nights.

The last time the Sixers sat Embiid as part of a back-to-back, they were destroyed in Toronto 128-94, their largest loss of the season.

In addition to missing Embiid, the Sixers will also be without backup point guard T.J. McConnell, who won't play after suffering a left shoulder contusion Wednesday night.

Brett Brown said after the Wizards game that in a "twisted way," he's looking forward to seeing how an undermanned Sixers team measures up against the 18-4 Celtics.

"We'll go to Boston without Jo and T.J. and we'll fight," he said.

McConnell had been rolling before getting hurt against the Wizards, averaging 11.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists over his last four games while shooting 61 percent from the field and 3 for 4 from three.

With McConnell out, it would ordinarily be expected for floor general Ben Simmons to play additional minutes. But keep in mind that Simmons played a career-high 41 minutes last night and was questionable heading into that game with a sprained ankle.

Jerryd Bayless (14 points, four assists in 26 minutes vs. Washington) should see an uptick in playing time.

The last time the Sixers played the Celtics — a 102-92 loss on Oct. 20 — Embiid had 11 points and 14 rebounds but shot just 4 of 16 from the field and 0 for 6 from three. The Sixers shot just 38 percent that night against Boston's top-rated defense. (The Celtics have a defensive rating of 98.3, which is a full point better than the next-best team, the Blazers.)

It could still be a game, though, even with Embiid and McConnell out. The Celtics own the NBA's best record but have lost two of their last four games. As of Wednesday morning, the Celtics were favored by nine points. Boston hasn't played since losing to Detroit at home on Monday.

Best of NBA: Andre Drummond dominates as Pistons edge Celtics

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Best of NBA: Andre Drummond dominates as Pistons edge Celtics

BOSTON -- Andre Drummond scored 26 points with 22 rebounds -- both season highs -- and Tobias Harris scored 31 to lead the Detroit Pistons to a 118-108 victory on Monday night and send the Celtics to their first loss in Boston since their home opener.

Drummond had 10 rebounds in the first quarter and 11 points in the last 5:36 to help Detroit win the matchup of old-school rivals who are once again the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Reggie Jackson scored 20 points with seven assists for the Pistons, who have won three of their last four.

Marcus Smart scored 23 points, making 6 of 9 from 3-point range, and Kyrie Irving had 18 with nine assists for the Celtics. Boston has lost two of four since a 16-game winning streak.

Detroit led by 11 points in the first quarter, but it was tied 100-all with 5:36 left before the Pistons pulled away thanks to eight straight points from Drummond. With just over three minutes left, the Pistons center stole a lazy inbound pass at midcourt and drove for the dunk, drawing a foul from Irving.

The three-point play made it 109-102.

It was 114-108 when Smart's long, leaning 3-point attempt rimmed out with 34 seconds left (see full recap).

Harden drops 37 as Rockets win 5th straight
HOUSTON -- James Harden scored 20 of his 37 points in the first quarter to lead the Houston Rockets to a 117-103 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night.

Harden added 10 rebounds and eight assists to guide the Rockets to their fifth straight win. When he took a break with 1:28 remaining in the first quarter, he was outscoring the Nets 20-17 by himself, not to mention four assists at that point. He was 5-for-5 from 3-point range in the first quarter and finished 8-for-13.

Clint Capela added 20 points for Houston, and Chris Paul had a season-high 14 assists on "Chris Paul Bobblehead Night" at the Toyota Center.

For the Nets, Isaiah Whitehead led scorers with 24 points off the bench. Spencer Dinwiddie had 14 points, Caris LeVert had 13 and Sean Kilpatrick added 12. Coming off of a 98-88 win in Memphis on Sunday night, Brooklyn has lost four of its last five.

Houston led 66-55 at halftime and entered the fourth quarter with a 16-point lead.

Brooklyn's bigger lineup outscored the Rockets 54-40 in the paint and had 43 rebounds to Houston's 42. But the Nets struggled to guard the sharpshooting Rockets on the perimeter. Houston made 20 of 50 3-pointers, good for 40 percent (see full recap).

Lillard, Blazers top Knicks to end road trip
NEW YORK -- Damian Lillard scored 32 points and the Portland Trail Blazers wrapped up a strong five-game road trip with their third straight victory, beating the New York Knicks 103-91 on Monday night.

Pat Connaughton added 17 for the Trail Blazers, who also won at Memphis, Brooklyn and Washington while losing only in Philadelphia. They needed to come from 17 down in the fourth quarter to beat the Wizards last time out but were in charge of this one most of the way.

Kristaps Porzingis returned from a one-game absence and scored 22 points, but the Knicks were without starting center Enes Kanter for a third straight game because of back spasms. They lost all three, falling back to .500 at 10-10.

The Knicks blew big early leads in the last two losses, in Atlanta and Houston, but mostly played from behind -- sometimes way behind -- Monday. New York never led by more than two and trailed by as much as 26.

Lillard made the last basket of the third quarter and he won't have any easier ones all season. Shabazz Napier stole the ball while the Knicks were on the fast break and threw it down to Lillard, who had remained behind on the other end. He dunked the ball with no other players on that side of the court to make it 90-64 (see full recap).