Celtics

Five reasons why C's, Rockets may meet in NBA Finals

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AP Photo

Five reasons why C's, Rockets may meet in NBA Finals

HOUSTON -- Take a look at the NBA standings and you’ll see that Boston and Houston have been at or near the top most of this season.
 
Based on their play, no one should be shocked if Saturday night’s game between the Celtics and Rockets serves as a prelude to a potential NBA Finals showdown.
 
The Celts have won with their defense, which, despite a string of sub-par performances, still ranks among the best in the NBA. Houston has been an offensive power all season with its use of the 3-point shot.
 
But what gives both teams hope that they can be one of the last two teams standing is how each has performed on the side of the floor where they have been less dominant.
 
Boston’s offense has stared to show signs that it can be really special. The Celtics come into Saturday’s game having scored a season-high 134 points in a 28-point win against Charlotte.
 
And the Rockets’ defense is just outside of being top-10 worthy, which, when combined with a lethal offense, shows why Houston's rise toward the top of the NBA standings record-wise, is not all that complicated.
 
And that’s just the beginning.
 
Here are five more reasons why Saturday’s game between Boston and Houston may be a prelude to the NBA Finals this year.

 

FAMILIAR FINALS FOES

When it comes to something like a new-look NBA Finals, you can rest assured if there’s any historical connection between the two teams we’ll hear about it . . . a lot. That holds true between Boston and Houston, two teams that aren’t necessarily bitter rivals but do have some history.
 
Boston met the Rockets in the 1986 Finals and finished them off in six games. The two met five years earlier in the Finals with an identical result: Boston wins in six.

MORE HARDEN-SMART, PLEASE

It really is a shame that we only get to see James Harden and Marcus Smart go at each other twice a year. To see them go at each other at least four times in the Finals . . . that alone makes this something we should all want to see.
 
Harden is having another MVP-like season statistically and his team is winning an incredible rate, which -- for a change -- makes him the odds-on leader to win it this season.
 
And Smart’s defense, always good, has been exceptional against the best and in the biggest of moments.
 
The two offensive foul calls Smart got against Harden when these two met Dec. 28, is the kind of stuff that a player like Harden won’t forget about anytime soon.
 
And Smart will be looking to do his part to show what he did just a few days after Christmas, was not a fluke.

HOUSTON BETTER THAN GOLDEN STATE?

While most of us -- media and fans alike -- have anointed Golden State as the team coming out of the West this season, the Rockets have done enough so far to be considered more than just the next-best thing to Golden State. Houston has reeled off 14 straight wins and currently has a slim, half-game lead over the Warriors for the best record in the West. More telling is how the Rockets have already won the head-to-head series 2-1, which means if they finish in a tie for the best record, Houston will be the top seed.
 

BRAD STEVENS

We have seen Stevens’ coaching acumen on display in the regular season and in the playoffs, and he has been good. So the next logical step in his growth as a leader is to see how he handles himself when the stakes are as high as they can possibly be. And they don’t get any higher than the NBA Finals. He’s regarded as one of the NBA’s best basketball minds, but until he wins an NBA title there’s going to be a little bit of doubt in the minds of some as to just how good he really is as a coach.  

KYRIE IRVING

Question him for his flat-Earth comments, or any other head-scratching narrative Kyrie Irving has spoken about lately. But the man’s decision to get out of Cleveland when he did, is making him look like a freakin’ genius.
 
The Cavs weren't very good with the pieces they acquired as part of the trading away of Irving. And now, just weeks after hitting the reset button on their season by jettisoning out some players (Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder) who weren’t helping them win much, they’re back to where they were before making all the changes -- not winning much.

Meanwhile, Irving had another All-Star season and his new team has been among the best in the league all season. For Irving to go back to the Finals and Cleveland continue to falter  . . . maybe the earth is flatter than you think?

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

 

Hayward (ankle) expected to return to Celtics lineup tonight vs Bulls

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File Photo

Hayward (ankle) expected to return to Celtics lineup tonight vs Bulls

Gordon Hayward will be available tonight for the Boston Celtics as they try to get back on track with a road date tonight against the Chicago Bulls. 

Hayward, whom Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said would not have any restrictions, did not play in Boston’s 98-97 loss at Milwaukee after suffering a right ankle sprain near the end of the All-Star break. 

In what has been an up-and-down season for Hayward, lately he has been riding high for Boston. 

Hayward has averaged 21.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists in his last three games while shooting 63.3 percent from the field and 69.2 percent from 3-point range. 

Here are five factors to keep an eye on heading into tonight’s game against the Chicago Bulls:

PERFECT OPPONENT TO GET BACK ON TRACK

Thursday night’s 98-97 loss at Milwaukee certainly left a bitter taste in the mouth of the Boston Celtics. 

Up next are the Chicago Bulls who look as though they are the perfect elixir to get Boston back to enjoying the sweet taste of victory. 

Although the Bulls (15-44) have won two in a row and have played better lately, they still rank among the worst teams in the NBA. 

And while on the surface being at home would appear to be a good thing for the Bulls, reality says otherwise. They come into tonight’s game with a 6-23 record at home which is the 29th-worst home mark in the NBA. 

CAN ONLY SHOOT BETTER RIGHT?

The Celtics will look to shake off a season-worst 38.2 percent shooting performance against the Bucks, in addition to finding a way to get to the free throw line more often. 

Boston went to the line six times with five makes, season lows for Boston in both categories. 

In addition, lately Boston has made the most of teams that struggle whether it be home or on the road with the Celtics coming into tonight’s game having won four of their last five road games - all of those victories coming against teams with a losing record. 

OTTO PORTER JR.

After acquiring Otto Porter Jr. on Feb. 6 from Washington, he has appeared in five games while averaging 21.4 points and 5.6 rebounds while shooting 57.5 percent from the field and 56.1 percent on 3’s. 

Even before the trade, Porter Jr. is a player that the Celtics are indeed concerned with based upon how he has performed against them in the past. 

Playing with the Wizards last season, Porter Jr. averaged 19.3 points and 8.3 rebounds against the Celtics while connecting on 54.2 percent of his shots from the field and 61.1 percent from 3-point range. 

PLAY BOTH ENDS OF THE FLOOR

The Celtics take pride in being a team viewed by many that can play well at both ends of the floor. This is seen in their play as well as the data which shows that they are one of the select few that plays well on offense and defense.

In fact, the Celtics are just one of three teams in the NBA which rank among the league’s top 10 in both offensive rating (10th) and defensive rating (3rd). 

PICK UP THE PACE

Most NBA teams are looking to play faster these days and the Celtics are no different. In fact, Boston’s pace has often been a good indicator of how they are going to perform. This season, Boston is 24-8 when the team’s pace is 100 or better, and just 13-14 when it’s less than 100. 

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Checking in on Celtics' projected win total (with a sobering result)

Checking in on Celtics' projected win total (with a sobering result)

The Boston Celtics still have time to meet their lofty expectations for the 2018-19 regular season.

All they need to do? Win their final 23 games.

As the Action Network's John Ewing pointed out Friday, the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas set Boston's over/under win total for this season at 59. At 37-22 entering Saturday night's game against the Chicago Bulls, the C's are 23 wins off that pace with 23 games to go.

Hey, the longest win streak in NBA history is 33 games ... Just saying ...

It's been the perception all season that the Celtics haven't lived up to expectations, and this stat quantifies that. Projected to win the East with a 59-23 record thanks to the returns of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to a squad that reached the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals, an inconsistent Boston squad ranks fifth in the East with just a quarter of the season remaining.

Here's another sobering stat: If the C's want to match last season's win total of 55, they'll need to go 18-5 through the NBA's sixth-hardest remaining schedule that includes 13 more road games.

Of course, regular season wins aren't a precursor to playoff success. Just ask last season's Cleveland Cavaliers squad, which coasted to 50 regular season wins before LeBron James carried it to the NBA Finals.

Boston doesn't have a talent like James, but it still has time to find a winning formula for the postseason.

If you took the over on the C's this season, though, we regret to inform you it's (probably) not happening.

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