Jalen Rose reveals why he predicts Celtics will win Eastern Conference

Jalen Rose reveals why he predicts Celtics will win Eastern Conference

The hype is starting to build around the Boston Celtics.

Less than 24 hours after the NBA announced a 22-team season return plan that will take place in Florida beginning in July, a prominent NBA analyst has predicted the C’s will get back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.

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ESPN’s Jalen Rose was on Thursday’s edition of “NBA Countdown” and had some positive comments on the Celtics and why he thinks they’ll win the Eastern Conference.

“In a neutral situation, the way the season is about to be shotgun started again, I’m taking the Celtics in the East,” Rose said. “I’m taking the Celtics in the East, because one of the great things about the Bucks – of course, their game does travel – but their home court was a huge advantage for them, a major advantage. If we’re playing pickup ball, and the Celtics and Bucks players are in the gym, I’m going to pick Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the next four or five picks are going to be Celtics. That’s my choice to come out of the East.

The Bucks have played well pretty much everywhere this season and lead the East with a 53-12 record, but Rose is right, they are definitely better at home. Milwaukee owns the second-best home record in the East at 28-3. The Celtics own the third-best road record in the conference at 20-12.

But Rose doesn’t just like the Celtics because they can win on a neutral court. He also pointed to Boston’s roster construction and style of play as reasons why it could surprise people in this unusual playoff setting.

“I’m loving teams like the Celtics and the Rockets,” Rose said. “Small ball, spread it out and take advantage of the big guys that can’t score against little guys. That’s really what it’s gonna be. It’s gonna be like AAU out there. These dudes have been off for months, so if dudes like Russell Westbrook and James Harden can get hot – he’s averaging 40 and then Russ? Boston’s winning the East. The more I think about this — God, strike me down. I hadn’t said this out of my mouth or even thought about it one time until we had this conversation, until right now. Boston’s winning the East, and don’t sleep on Houston in the West, but they’re not better than the Lakers or the Clippers.”

The Celtics are well-equipped to win the Eastern Conference. They are the only team in the conference with three players averaging 20-plus points per game. Jayson Tatum leads the team with 23.6 points per night, and before the shutdown he was taking his game to a superstar level. Kemba Walker is another go-to scorer, and the long layoff has given his knee ample time to build strength. Jaylen Brown also was having a breakout season, and Gordon Hayward was playing at an All-Star level for long stretches. Boston’s bench also is quite deep, with head coach Brad Stevens often giving minutes to nine or 10 guys each game.

Boston also has shown an ability to win against elite teams. The C’s have beaten the Bucks, Lakers, Clippers, 76ers, Raptors, Nuggets and several other top teams at least once in 2019-20.

One of the most exciting things about this NBA season has been its unpredictability. We have five or six teams, and maybe more, with a legit chance of getting to the NBA Finals, and we rarely see that in today’s era. It’s going to make for a wild playoffs, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all if one or two teams make a surprisingly deep run and pull off a few upsets.

Celtics officially locked into No. 3 seed for Eastern Conference playoffs

Celtics officially locked into No. 3 seed for Eastern Conference playoffs

It's official: The Boston Celtics are locked into the No. 3 seed for the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The C's clinched the No. 3 seed following the 2-seeded Toronto Raptors' win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday. That means the focus now is on who their first-round opponent (No. 6 seed) will be.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Grizzlies, which begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

As of Sunday, the Philadelphia 76ers (42-27) hold the No. 6 spot with games against the Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors, and Houston Rockets left on their schedule.

The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers currently both have 43-27 records and the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds respectively, so any of those three teams are in the running to be Boston's first-round matchup.

The C's will look to improve to 47-23 on the season (4-2 in the Orlando bubble) when they take on the No. 8 Orlando Magic on Sunday evening. Then, they'll wrap up their regular season with matchups against the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday and the Washington Wizards on Thursday.

You can catch all of the action right here on NBC Sports Boston.

It's getting hard to defend lack of Celtics' Marcus Smart in DPoY conversation

It's getting hard to defend lack of Celtics' Marcus Smart in DPoY conversation

Finalists for the NBA’s six performance awards were unveiled Saturday and there were no Celtics on the list.

That’s not all that surprising, but the one category that will stick in the craw of Celtics fans — and Celtics players, too, evidently — is Marcus Smart not being among the finalists for Defensive Player of the Year.

Hammering home the notion that it’s become a big man-only award, the trio that did make the DPoY cut were the Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo, Lakers’ Anthony Davis, and Jazz’s Rudy Gobert. Make no mistake, all three deserve their spots and it’s much easier to quantify their defensive impact with publicly available data. Alas, the eyeball test tends to suggest that few players make the sort of impact that Smart does on the defensive end.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Sunday at 4 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

And the quarter century wait for a guard to win the award will continue, even if Smart keeps making a heck of a case for himself. It’s time the rest of the NBA take note of the way Smart impacts Boston’s defense on a nightly basis.

A global panel of sportswriters and broadcasters voted for the league awards before teams started play inside the bubble but all you need to do is rewind to Friday night for an example of what makes Smart so special on the defensive end.

It's easy to focus on the end of this sequence — with Smart lunging on the floor for a loose ball and still having the presence of mind to push the ball forward to get teammate Brad Wanamaker a transition layup. But rewind the tape to the start of the possession and watch Smart spin his way through a Serge Ibaka screen to stymie a Fred VanVleet drive. In fact, Smart ends up shuffling another 30 feet to prevent any shot attempts then, once VanVleet has given up the ball, Smart is still in position to pounce when the rock popped free.

In Friday’s game, Smart split most of his night on VanVleet, Norman Powell, and Kyle Lowry. But he also took turns on all of Toronto’s bigs, logging nearly a handful of partial possessions against Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol. None of them registered a shot attempt against Smart, telling in a situation where you might think a size mismatch would leave an opponent forcing a shot.

This is not unique for Smart. He spent nearly as much time on Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk as he did on Goran Dragic, Kendrick Nunn, and Duncan Robinson earlier in the week against Miami. Smart logged his most possession time against Antetokounmpo in Boston’s seeding game opener (and Khris Middleton was second most).

This, in a nutshell, is Smart’s case for why he deserves more consideration for Defensive Player of the Year. He’s dubbed himself a stretch-6 and often notes that he offers more defensive flexibility than the bigs who simply clog up the path to the basket. Smart wonders how those bigs would fare if they routinely picked up quicker point guards, the way he often takes on the challenge of defending 5s that have as much as a foot size advantage on him.

The Celtics have the fourth best defense in the NBA, in part, because of Smart. Even without the sort of backline defensive anchor that dominates the DPOY conversation, Boston has thrived because of the defensive tone that Smart sets.

This didn’t always feel like Smart’s best defensive season overall but it was one that really hammered home his versatility, particularly with how often he defended big men this year. He should be rewarded for that, and maybe he will be if he lands another spot on the All-Defense first team.

Until then, Smart will simply keep using these sort of snubs as motivation to show he’s among the most impactful defenders in the league. All while guarding the big men that keep taking home this trophy.