Celtics

Celtics-Spurs preview: Same records, but trending in different directions

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Celtics-Spurs preview: Same records, but trending in different directions

BOSTON – The last time Boston walked off the parquet with a win over the San Antonio Spurs (Jan. 5, 2011), Rajon Rondo dropped 23 dimes, Ray Allen had 31 points and the starting center for the Celtics?

His name is Shaquille O’Neal.

Since then, the Spurs have reeled off six straight wins on the Celtics’ home floor.

None of the Celtics today were on the roster back then, the kind of clean slate the Celtics hope will result in a different ending tonight when the two teams, each boasting a 4-2 record, face off at the TD Garden.

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While their records are the same, each team is trending in a very different direction.

Boston comes in having won its last four games. Meanwhile, the Spurs have dropped two in a row, the last of which being a 97-94 loss at Indiana that wasn’t decided until the final seconds of play.

Regardless of the record, the Celtics will have their hands full against a San Antonio team that, like the Celtics, is missing at least one key player.

San Antonio All-Star Kawhi Leonard remains out with a quadriceps tendon injury. The Spurs will also be without point guard Tony Parker who is on the mend from a torn quadriceps tendon injury. San Antonio is finishing up a four-game road trip tonight. While they have been on the road, Parker was assigned to the Spurs’ Gatorade affiliate the Austin Toros who are having their training camp in San Antonio.

Of course, the Celtics have had their own injury woes, the biggest being Gordon Hayward whose left ankle injury is expected to keep him sidelined for the rest of this season. The Celtics are also short-handed to some degree with Marcus Morris (left knee soreness) out. He was hoping to play tonight, but head coach Brad Stevens didn’t sound too optimistic about Morris playing tonight.

“He needs to have at least a day of hard practice with our guys before he would play in a game,” Stevens said. “That’s probably a little bit optimistic for (tonight). Hopefully at some point in the very near future (this) week.”

Usually, when the Spurs come to town, the talk centers around their players who have for years showed a timeless talent that made them effective despite their advanced ages.

Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol who are 40 and 37 years of age, respectively, are mainstays in the Spurs’ rotation which has become more youthful this season.

But the Celtics are the story of this game; specifically, the play of their young players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Tatum is averaging 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists while shooting 50.9 percent from the field. In his first six games, he has had a pair of 20-point performances. Among the five greatest scorers in Celtics history, only one of them (Larry Bird in five games) had multiple 20-point games quicker than the 19-year-old Tatum.

And while Brown has struggled of late shooting the ball, he has an offensive rating of 105.1, which is tops among all Celtics who play 30 or more minutes per game. And his defense has been strong as well, evident by a defensive rating of 95.2.

Boston is also being led by Kyrie Irving who has had 24 points in each of the Celtics’ last two games. And in their 96-90 win at Miami on Saturday, Irving scored nine of Boston’s last 10 points for the win.

“More often than not when he gets the ball, something good is going to happen offensively,” said Tommy Heinsohn, a two-time Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer and NBC Sports Boston basketball analyst.

The Celtics are certainly hoping for that tonight against the one team that on the TD Garden floor at least, has had their number for years.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Watch: Gordon Hayward dunks over defender

Watch: Gordon Hayward dunks over defender

Gordon Hayward's return from his ankle injury seems to be as close to complete as it could before training camp. 

In a video posted by his trainer Jason Smeathers, Hayward can be found blowing by a defender off the dribble and dunking on him with two hands. 

Soon, the defender will hopefully be someone like Ben Simmons or Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Hayward's recovery has been well documented, giving Celtics fans a constant progress report of where their star forward was in his path back to the TD Garden floor. 

There have been questions surrounding Hayward's return to a team that made it to Game 7 of the conference finals without him, but there was never gaps in information regarding his recovery.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Mannix: LeBron, Lakers will fall short of postseason

Mannix: LeBron, Lakers will fall short of postseason

After reaching the NBA Finals in eight straight seasons while shouldering an unprecedented workload, the idea of LeBron James missing the playoffs entirely sounds blasphemous.

Chris Mannix, however, thinks, with their current roster, the new-look Lakers will fall short of the postseason for the sixth straight season.

“It’s the island of misfit toys out there...and LeBron James,” said Mannix.

The Lakers finished the 2017-18 NBA season 35-47, 12 games behind the eighth-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves.

“You have to assume it’s 48 wins to get into the playoffs in the Western Conference,” Mannix added. “I don’t see that team making up that difference.”

James wasn’t the only addition Los Angeles made, however, bringing in veterans Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, Javale McGee, and resigning Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

If the Lakers do miss the playoffs, it will be James’ first missed postseason since the 2004-05 season, when his Cleveland Cavaliers fell short despite the 20-year-old James averaging over 27 points per game.