Celtics Spotlight: Semi Ojeleye facing make-or-break season

Celtics Spotlight: Semi Ojeleye facing make-or-break season

Semi Ojeleye is one of the Celtics’ biggest riddles. 

He’s a defensive brute that Brad Stevens has the confidence to dispatch against the likes of NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and yet Ojeleye couldn’t consistently crack Stevens’ rotation last season. He’s a player that Stevens routinely raved about as one of Boston’s most improved and yet his minutes plummeted from 1,150 in his rookie season to 594 last season.

Spotlights: Walker | Smart | Brown | Hayward | Kanter |

Tatum | Fall | Wanamaker

Some of that was the talent glut on Boston’s roster, but Ojeleye did little to kick down the door. By the end of last season, you could sense the frustration in every single medicine ball that Ojeleye slammed against a training room wall after another night of light lifting on the parquet.

It’s a successful season for Ojeleye if… 

…he develops into a rotation-caliber wing who can operate as an undersized big and keep defenses honest with his 3-point shot. Ojeleye has connected on just 31.8 percent of his 3-point attempts in his career. The Celtics posted good numbers with him on the floor last season — a plus-6.0 net rating including a sizzling 100.2 defensive rating — but Ojeleye needs to find other ways of impacting the game individually.

It’s a disappointing season for Ojeleye if… 

…he struggles to gain Stevens’ confidence and watches a rookie such as Grant Williams earn minutes over him. Ojeleye had another underwhelming preseason, shooting just 32.1 percent overall and 22.2 percent beyond the 3-point arc. He looked like was pressing too much offensively and has to play with the confidence of a third-year player when he’s on the court.

2019-2020 Outlook

Feels like a bit of a make or break year for the soon-to-be 25-year-old Ojeleye. His work ethic is undeniable and his defensive potential is obvious. But Ojeleye needs to show he’s impacting the game in other ways. There’s backup minutes to be won at the 3 and 4 spots, particularly if rookie Romeo Langford is brought along slowly, but Ojeleye must impact the offense even when his shot isn’t falling.

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Smart: Oblique 'feels a lot better,' plans to play tonight vs Nuggets

Smart: Oblique 'feels a lot better,' plans to play tonight vs Nuggets

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics are likely to have their defensive leader Marcus Smart back on the floor Friday night. 

Smart, who suffered an oblique bruise on Sunday, said he plans to return when the C's host the Denver Nuggets. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Smart participated in the team’s walk-through this morning although that normally does not involve contact. 

Following the walk-through, Smart was put through a series of drills that included contact, along with him moving laterally and as over and under screens - the kind of movements he’ll have to make quite often in a game. 

“The soreness is at a lower level,” Smart said. “It really doesn’t stop me with my movements; my breathing is getting better, a lot better.”

And on top of the oblique bruise, Smart also caught a cold that transitioned into flu-like symptoms which, more than the oblique, was at the root of him not playing on Wednesday against the Miami Heat. 

While he’s not quite 100 percent, Smart said he feels he’s good enough to get on the floor and help the Celtics try to extend their home winning streak to nine. 

Smart said he will undergo additional testing of the oblique between now and tip-off.

“We just got done doing a lot of contact,” Smart said. “We’ll see if the oblique is fine. It held up well, really well. I’m proud of the results, they’re [Celtics medical and conditioning staff] proud so we’ll see what they say.”

This is the second time this calendar year that Smart suffered an oblique injury. 

The previous one was last spring and kept Smart out for nearly a month. 

Back then, he wore a flak jacket to help protect the oblique from additional damage and in all likelihood he’ll wear one tonight. 

“We tried it when I came back the first time,” Smart said. “The thing with the padding is, you tend to get hit where the padding is. Some way, somehow, you find yourself still injured with the padding. We’ll have to discuss that and see where it goes. Most likely, I will be trying some type of extra padding around the oblique area.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Nuggets, which tips off Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call at 8 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Celtics vs. Nuggets odds: Best NBA picks, predictions for must-see rematch

Celtics vs. Nuggets odds: Best NBA picks, predictions for must-see rematch

Through 20 games, the Boston Celtics have proven they belong with the NBA elites.

They'll have to prove that again Friday night.

The Celtics welcome the 14-5 Nuggets to TD Garden, hoping to avenge their 96-92 loss in Denver two weeks ago. The Nuggets have lost two of their past three, but they're still a deep, talented team led by elite scorer Jamal Murray and versatile big man Nikola Jokic.

Who has the upper hand in this clash of NBA titans? We think we have a good read on the situation, and we'll share our take with our moneyline, point spread and point total betting predictions for Celtics-Nuggets, along with two NBA locks against the spread.

(All odds provided by WestGate Superbook.)

Denver Nuggets at Boston Celtics, 8 p.m. ET

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Nuggets, which tips off Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call at 8 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Moneyline: The schedule gods are favoring the Celtics (-160). Like the Heat on Wednesday night, the Nuggets come to Boston on the second night of a road back-to-back. Denver is 6-2 on the road, but it's also 0-1 on the second night of back-to-backs this season. I'll take the C's.

Point Spread: The Celtics would love to have Marcus Smart (questionable with an abdomen contusion) back for what should be a grind-it-out defensive battle. This one will be close, but the strong play of Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker will help the Celtics (-3.5) keep their home winning streak alive and improve to 6-2-1 against the spread at TD Garden.

Point Total: The under seems like the logical play here considering these are two of the best defenses in basketball. But the total is set at 203, and the Celtics haven't scored fewer than 103 points at home this season. If this is a close game as I predict, both teams will barely top 100, pushing the total OVER.

Darren's record picking the Celtics' moneyline, point spread and point total: 28-19-1

NBA Locks of the Night

Washington Wizards at Miami Heat (-10.5): After a grueling back-to-back in Toronto and Boston, the Heat get a home date with the worst defensive team in the NBA. Sharpshooters Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro should have a field day.

Los Angeles Clippers at Milwaukee Bucks (-3.5): What an awesome game between two NBA title contenders. The Bucks didn't see Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last time these teams met, but they also weren't riding a 13-game winning streak. The Clippers are 2-6 against the spread on the road, so make that 14 in a row for Milwaukee.

Darren's record picking NBA locks against the spread: 17-14-1