Celtics-76ers preview: Philly heading in a positive direction

Celtics-76ers preview: Philly heading in a positive direction

BOSTON – In recent years, the Philadelphia brass has been selling their fans on this notion that by being really bad to get really good picks, would eventually pay off with a roster full of elite talent.

While the Sixers are far from being a squad with that kind of depth, but there’s no mistaking that they are slowly but surely heading in a more positive direction.

Nowhere is this more evident than tonight’s game in which the Boston Celtics find themselves hosting a Sixers team coming in with something we’ve seldom seen from them in recent years – momentum.

Boston (21-14) has won eight of its last 10 games which has them currently third in the East. Although the Sixers (9-24) are at the opposite end of the season win spectrum, they come into tonight’s game having won two in a row and will seek their first three-game winning streak of the season tonight.

One of the biggest concerns for head coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics will be how to handle the Sixers’ talented – but very youthful – frontline that includes Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric and Nerlens Noel.

“They just have a ton of interior talent,” Stevens said.

Too much, in fact.

That’s why trade rumors will continue to swirl up until the trade deadline that at least one of the Sixers’ big men will be on the move with the most likely players being Okafor and Noel.

And the Celtics have been linked with both players, although league sources have remained steadfast in believing that Boston has a preference for Noel who grew up in Massachusetts.

Stevens has been consistent throughout his time in Boston in not worrying about which players the Celtics may or may not be pursuing via trade.

Instead he has placed all his attention on coaching the players he is given to work with and lately, those players have been healthy which has done wonders for the Celtics team chemistry and maybe just as important, their overall record.

Core guys for Boston like Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder have all made an impact this season while reaching career marks in a number of statistical categories.

But they’re starting to get more production from some of their X-factors, among them being Jaylen Brown.

Selected with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft, Brown has managed to remain relatively level-headed despite the usual ebb and flow associated with being a rookie in the NBA.

He has appeared in all 35 games this season for Boston, averaging 5.1 points while shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 32.5 percent on 3’s.

In the last three games Brown has averaged 7.3 points and 2.0 rebounds while shooting 71.4 percent from the field.

On Dec. 3, the Celtics edged the Sixers 107-106 with Brown coming off the bench to score four points in 15 minutes of court time.

“(Tonight’s) a great opportunity to see how he progresses from Game one against a team, to Game two,” Stevens said. “So there’s always that new experience for guys that are invaluable when you’re 19, and playing a little bit.”

And unlike most high lottery picks, Brown didn’t join a team being viewed as the face of the franchise which in itself equates out to significant minutes from the start.

“He’s doing a pretty good job when you consider we got guys back and have accomplished something,” Stevens said. “We need him to add value to that.”

And even more so than the Sixers, the Celtics are also heading in the right direction as a franchise.

Celtics' Romeo Langford returns to Indiana for first time as NBA player

Celtics' Romeo Langford returns to Indiana for first time as NBA player

INDIANAPOLIS — Injuries and opportunity have kept Romeo Langford on the sidelines more than he would have liked in this, his rookie season. 

But that won’t stop the folks from his hometown of New Albany, Indiana, from making the two-hour trek to Wednesday night’s game to support him and the Boston Celtics in what’s being billed as New Albany Night at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Wednesday will be the first time Langford, selected by Boston with the 14th overall pick in last June’s draft, will return to the Hoosier State as a Celtic.

“It’ll be good, just to be back. I haven’t been back home in a while,” Langford told NBC Sports Boston, adding that the last time he was home was sometime in August. “It’s been a while. That first time going back, it’s going to be a good, special time. It’ll be nice for people who saw me grow up, to see me now in an NBA uniform.”

Langford was a four-year starter at New Albany High School and finished his prep career as one of the state’s most decorated basketball players ever. 

He took his talents to nearby Indiana University, where he played for one season before entering last June’s NBA draft.

There are many in the New Albany community eager to see one of their own come back.  

“We are excited to partner with the Pacers to provide our fans and community with an opportunity to celebrate Romeo’s return to Indiana,” New Albany Athletic Director B.J. McAlister said in a statement. “Our city’s support of Romeo over his high school and college careers was outstanding, and now everyone will get a chance to cheer him on in his first NBA game in our state.

Langford is with the Celtics but won’t see any action against the Pacers as he recovers from a sprained ankle.

“It is frustrating, but you just have to deal with it, try to get better and get back out there as soon as you can,” said Langford, referring to the series of injuries he has had thus far. “That’s all I really can do.”

Langford said he is feeling a lot better and thinks it’s just a matter of days before he’s officially cleared to resume full basketball activities.

Whether he plays or not, there’s very little that can damper Langford’s spirits on the eve of his first homecoming as an NBA player. 

“Like I said, it’ll be good to see a lot of people who helped me get to where I am now, at the game,” Langford said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Pacers, which tips off Wednesday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Celtics eye a potential return from Marcus Smart (eye infection) vs. Pacers

Celtics eye a potential return from Marcus Smart (eye infection) vs. Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS -- Yes, there is a chance that the Boston Celtics will have their defensive anchor back in the mix for Wednesday’s game against the Indiana Pacers. 

Marcus Smart, who did not play in Boston’s 110-88 victory over Cleveland due to an eye infection, made the trip to Indiana with the team but is still considered questionable to play. 

If the Celtics’ defensive stalwart is indeed healthy enough to play, it’ll be interesting to see whether he comes off the bench or rejoins the starting lineup.

Smart began the season coming off the bench while playing starter-like minutes. 

Once Gordon Hayward went down with a fourth metacarpal fracture of his left hand on Nov. 9, Smart was back in the starting lineup and, by and large, did a solid job. 

Will head coach Brad Stevens bring Smart off the bench like he did to start the season, or will he go with more of a mix-and-match kind of lineup that has one of their wings — Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum or Hayward — slide over to being a big-time, difference-making reserve?

No matter how they decide to use Smart, you can rest assured that he will make an impact of some kind. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Pacers, which tips off Wednesday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.