Celtics

Celtics-Pistons preview: Familiar matchup, unfamiliar faces

Celtics-Pistons preview: Familiar matchup, unfamiliar faces

BOSTON – Tonight will be the third time Boston has faced the Detroit Pistons this season. 

But with the changes made by the Pistons prior to the trade deadline, past meetings hold very little value especially when you consider Detroit added All-Star forward Blake Griffin while shipping out former Celtic Avery Bradley along with Tobias Harris.

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Since Griffin’s arrival, the Pistons have a 6-3 record and are among the teams on the rise in the East. 

“He’s a strong guy … he’s a veteran in this league the last couple years,” said Boston’s Marcus Morris. “He knows how to play the game.”

Since being traded to Detroit, Griffin has averaged 20.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game. 

While much of the attention leading up to tonight’s game will center around the Piston’s Griffin and how he meshes with Detroit’s Andre Drummond, Boston’s roster also looks a little different since the last time these two teams played. 

Boston has since added Greg Monroe who signed with the Celtics after he agreed to a buyout with the Phoenix Suns. 

He has appeared in four games for Boston, averaging 5.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in 13 minutes of court time. 

Knowing how successful the Celtics were prior to his arrival, Monroe is aware that there’s likely to be more attention paid to his impact on Boston’s play. 

“I would say it’s a little pressure; but I would say it’s good pressure,” Monroe told NBC Sports Boston. “They’ve already been rolling. Like I’ve been saying, I’m just trying to enhance it. They’re not asking me to do anything or be anything that I’m not. So that makes it easy for both parts.” 

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Boston will also benefit from the return of Marcus Smart, who is probable to play after missing the last 11 games due to a right-hand laceration suffered last month when he punched a picture frame and suffered cuts that required 20 stitches to close. 

The Celtics have been among the league’s best teams defensively and Smart’s play has a lot to do with that. His defensive rating of 98.9 is tops among all players who log 30 or more minutes per game. 

“He has a very unique understanding of the game, on both ends of the floor, being able to break down the defense and create opportunities for not just himself but for the rest of us,” said Boston’s Kyrie Irving. “We all know how great he is defensively. So what he adds to our team is great; it’s something else.”

And the same can be said for Boston’s play of late, which has been a stark contrast from what we saw earlier this season when they were the best team record-wise, in the Eastern Conference. 

Boston (40-19) has dropped three in a row and four of its past five and now trail Toronto (41-16) by two games in the Eastern Conference. 

“I think we have a sense of urgency about ourselves,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “I think we understand the second half of the season and the importance of it, getting ready for the playoffs. And how you can see some of the older guys, Kyrie (Irving), Al

(Horford), the attention to detail the stress about the little things is becoming more evident.”

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Bean: Kawhi in Cleveland makes great theater for everyone

Bean: Kawhi in Cleveland makes great theater for everyone

Other than LeBron Watch, Kawhi Watch will likely be the most captivating Watch of the NBA offseason,  and there's obviously a chance the two end up in the same place. Regardless of what happens with LeBron, I've officially decided where I want Kawhi to land. 

Cleveland. 

I've got my reasons, but I'll start with why I'm not clamoring for the C's to get one of the five best players in the league. Yes, the C's can offer the best package, but I don't want them to make an offer the Spurs can't refuse. I don't want them to trade Jaylen Brown and the Sacramento pick for a flight risk. I don't want them to trade Kyrie Irving. I want them to be loaded, as they currently are, and set to add to that in the future. 

Leonard supposedly wants to be traded to the Lakers. The more well-connected basketball reporters have noted the Spurs wouldn't have any motivation to turn the Lakers into a Western Conference powerhouse, which makes sense. 

So, if it's not going to be the Lakers, make it the Cavaliers. 

This might sound ridiculous, but I want LeBron James to be a character in this Celtics group's run. One of the things that made the 2017-18 Celtics' run so exciting was that it culminated in a showdown with LeBron, the best player in the league and the centerpiece of great Celtics series past. 

I don't want the Celtics to go on runs with LeBron in a different time zone. I want battling (and beating) the best player of this generation to be part of what the Tatum Era does. If the Cavs can land Leonard, maybe that will keep James from bolting in free agency. 

They're also rumored to be inquiring about Kemba Walker's availability from Charlotte to help surround LeBron with another star.

To be fair, I wrote last week that I'm fine with LeBron going to the Lakers and even forming a super team with Kawhi and Paul George. That's because I think either that team or the Warriors would be all tuckered out by the time they got to the finals against a Celtics team that just waltzed through the East. 

That wouldn't be as fun though, especially if the Lakers kept getting eliminated by Golden State. If the Celtics have another championship run coming during the final years of LeBron's career, I want it to involve a Kyrie/LeBron matchup. I certainly want it to involve a competitive underdog, and I don't trust the 76ers for that yet. Considering they probably wouldn't be able to get much else, a team of LeBron, Kawhi and a bunch of junk still wouldn't be favored against the Celtics at full health. 

If LeBron goes somewhere West this offseason, I'd still want the Cavs to get Kawhi. Assuming Kawhi actually plays, he'd at least keep the Cavaliers a playoff team and an interesting opponent. 

Could the Cavaliers actually get Kawhi? I don't see why not. If his status as a player who can opt out after next season scares some teams away, the eighth overall pick and whatever they could get for Kevin Love would already make their offer better than whatever the Lakers would try to scrape together. Sacramento could always trump everyone by offering the second overall pick for Leonard, but that would be stupid. Then again, sometimes the Kings are stupid. 

Kawhi in Boston? Not at the likely price, and not if it means that much risk. LA? Predictable. Put Kawhi in Cleveland, keep the East exciting and give LeBron a real decision to make. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

BREAKFAST POD: Jaylen and Rozier for Kawhi?

BREAKFAST POD: Jaylen and Rozier for Kawhi?

1:43 - Chris Mannix joined Gary Tanguay and Kyle Draper on Early Edition to discuss if the Celtics could trade up in the draft, and if the Celtics have any chance of acquiring Kawhi Leonard.

6:35 - Phil Perry talks about Albert Breer’s report that the Patriots talked with four teams (Lions, Titans, 49ers, Texans) about trading Rob Gronkowski. We also hear from Holley, Merloni, and DJ Bean about Tom Brady commenting “cuarenta y cinco” in response to an Instagram post about when he’ll retire.

10:34 - Lou Merloni and Chris Gasper debate how important it is for the Red Sox to avoid the Wild Card play-in game and win the AL East over the Yankees. 

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