Philadelphia 76ers

Celtics vs. Suns odds: Best NBA picks as C's look to end slide

Celtics vs. Suns odds: Best NBA picks as C's look to end slide

The Celtics will try to begin to reverse a slide that has seen them lose two in a row and five of their past seven when they welcome the Phoenix Suns to TD Garden on Saturday night.

The C's are just 4-5 in 2020 after back-to-back losses on consecutive nights at home to the Detroit Pistons and on the road in Milwaukee. Phoenix, meanwhile, figures to be a Western Conference also-ran at 17-24 but comes in having won three of their past four, including demolishing the Knicks 121-98 on Thursday night.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App. 

The Celtics are 20-5 against below .500 teams, but three of those losses have come in the new year (to the Wizards, Spurs and Pistons). So, despite a 16-4 home record and taking on one of the lesser lights in the West, the C's are no sure thing. 

Here are our betting predictions for Celtics-Suns, as well as two NBA locks against the spread.

(All odds provided by WestGate Superbook.)

Phoenix Suns at Boston Celtics, 7 p.m., ET

Moneyline: Is this the night the C's put it all together again? They'll be without Jaylen Brown (thumb), as they were in Milwaukee, and will be facing a guard in the Suns' Devin Booker, who two years ago went off for 70 points at the Garden against them. Still, with a three-game losing streak staring them in the face, look for the Celtics (-260) to come away victorious.

Celtics Mailbag: Readers have no shortage of ideas to get C's back on track

Point Spread: As for covering, a lot points to the Suns being able to make this a close one. Phoenix has four of its past five against Eastern Conference foes, is respectable 8-10 on the road, has a motivated Aron Baynes returning to Boston for the first time he was traded on draft night and there's the Booker factor. Also, DeAndre Ayton, coming off a 26-point, career-high 21 rebound performance in the win over the Knicks, missed this season's first matchup in Phoenix. Still, look for the Celtics (-6) to regroup for a double-digit win.

Point Total: It's the defense that has let the Celtics down recently. They've allowed 115 points per game in their past three (1-2) and a 51.6 opponents' field goal percentage. The Suns have the NBA's 18th-ranked defense and allow 114.3 points per game on the road. Go with the OVER.

Pat's record, pinch-hitting for Darren Hartwell, picking the Celtics' moneyline, point spread and point total: 7-8

NBA Locks of the Night

Philadelphia 76ers (-4) at New York Knicks: The Sixers are still without Joel Embiid, are on the second night of a back-to-back on the road, where they're only 7-14 and are playing their third game in four nights. Still, it's the Knicks. 

Milwaukee Bucks (-10) at Brooklyn Nets: Let's see what Kyrie has to say about his teammates after dealing with Giannis & Co. 

Pat's record, pinch-hitting for Darren Hartwell, picking NBA locks against the spread: 5-5

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Suns-Celtics, which begins Saturday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Healthy Celtics searching for answers to what ails their team

Healthy Celtics searching for answers to what ails their team

PHILADELPHIA — While many of his team’s fans dusted off the panic buttons that have been in storage since May, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, president of the “never too high, never too low” society, struck a notably optimistic tone after his team dropped its third straight game in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

“The league is hard. You can feel pretty good about yourself and, one week later, and not so hot,” said Stevens. “[The Sixers] just went through it over here last week.

“Inevitably, there’s another game and, if we play like we did tonight, clean some things up and play with a little bit more pop, I like what we’re becoming.”

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

There is an obvious danger in overreacting to small samples. And, yet, if we’re going to sit around debating whether the Celtics deserve three All-Stars when they are overachieving darlings at the start of the 2019-20 season, it’s only fair to point out the rather large bump in the road they’ve now hit.

Here are the sobering facts: The Celtics have lost three games in a row for the first time this season. They’re 0-3 against a Sixers team that they might have to go through in the playoffs. After feasting on inferior competition early in the year, the Celtics dropped two games against sub-.500 teams earlier this week — looking lackluster in each —  and, after Thursday’s loss, they are an uninspiring 7-7 against teams above. 500.

Yes, there’s plenty to be optimistic about considering the Celtics own both a top-10 offense (7th, 110.9 offensive rating) and defense (4th, 104.7). They’ve slipped slightly to the fourth-best net rating in the NBA (plus-6.2) but remain on a 55-win pace.

There are worse spots to be in.

What’s maybe most baffling, though, is that the Celtics entered Thursday’s showdown with the Sixers about as healthy as they’ve been all season. Kemba Walker sprained his left thumb but it hardly hindered him while scoring a team-high 26 points. Philadelphia should have been ripe to pounce on after learning that All-NBA big man Joel Embiid is sidelined indefinitely with his thumb injury.

But on this night it was Boston’s trio of wings that struggled. And struggled mightily. Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown could only muster up 10-of-36 shooting  (27.8 percent) and 29 total points. Tatum missed nine of his 13 shots and committed four turnovers; Brown missed 10 of his 12 shots and coughed the ball up three times. Hayward was 4-of-11 for 8 points and was minus-19 in 36 minutes of floor time.

The Celtics have been solid but not spectacular with their trio of wings playing together. In 273 minutes of floor time over 16 games, that group has a net rating of plus-4.8, but that includes an underwhelming defensive rating of 108.9. Boston is 9-7 in those games.

This is not to suggest that Boston’s wing depth is conspiring against itself. But it’s something to keep an eye on. It’s fair to wonder if Stevens is still searching for the right combinations, which maybe should be expected considering the injuries that have prevented this team from getting a look at steady rotations.

Celtics-Sixers Overreactions: How much do C's miss Horford?

Some of the Celtics’ best basketball has come with that trio of wings on the court, particularly on the offensive end. And yet that trio also has a first-half net rating of minus-5.4 in 133 minutes, indicative of Boston’s slow starts, though they’ve balanced that with a net rating of plus-14.4 in the second halves.

That wasn’t the case on Thursday. In eight second-half minutes together, the trio of wings were a minus-15 in their floor time together. Boston mustered just 18 fourth-quarter points and, after leading by as much as 15, watched the Sixers race away for an 11-point win.

It left most in Boston’s locker room scratching their heads.

“We finally got guys back healthy. Guys have been out. Guys are trying to catch their rhythm,” said Marcus Smart, who scored a season-high 24 points Thursday. "It’s tough, because you got guys who are already in their rhythm and you got guys trying to come back and get in to the rhythm. It’s going to take a while for us. But it’s nothing to hold our heads down about.

"For us, we got to let the distractions be distractions. We can’t really pay attention to it. We got everybody talking, saying this and that, we have to focus on ourselves. That’s the only way that we’re going to turn this thing around. If you start focusing on the things you can’t control, they just start spiraling out of control for us. So, like I said, hopefully we can get it figured out sooner than later.”

Even as Stevens took an optimistic tone, players seemed searching for answers to this little losing streak.

"I think we played with more intensity than we have played. I think we still need to take it up another notch,” said Brown. "I think we missed some open shots for whatever reason. They just didn’t find the basket. But I think we played some good basketball. I think shots just didn’t go in. You can credit it to Philly. You can credit it to whoever. I think we played some good basketball. I think that we’ve just got to continue to work. We don’t need to hang our heads for any reason, and respond for the next game.”

Brown admitted he’s gotta break out of his own funk while noting, "I’ve got to get back to doing what I do best.” Every player on Boston’s roster has had encouraging stretches this year — enough that Brown and Tatum muscled their way into All-Star consideration — and yet the wings haven’t been able to harness it together consistently enough. Especially not against the Sixers, who played with a sense of urgency even with a built-in excuse for a letdown while playing without Embiid.

Old friend Al Horford suggested Thursday might simply have meant more to the 76ers.

“You look at their team, they’re having a great year. They’re second in the East, they’re playing well,” said Horford. "I look at tonight just as more of, for us, it was a big game, it almost felt like a must-win. We’ve laid some eggs recently the past few weeks here, so we needed to get this win here and it feels good to beat a good team.”

Alas, the Celtics had laid a couple eggs entering Thursday’s tilt. They needed a win pretty badly, too, and even with the asterisk of no Embiid, this would have helped steady this plane as it navigates its first real turbulence of the season.

Brown was adamant this team will figure out what ails it.

"We still have the ability to respond next game. We will the next game, right?” proclaimed Brown. "We’ve got 82 games to play. We lost three. It’s fine. It happens. It’s a part of the year. We keep working, we continue to get better, we watch film and we move on from it. I think we came out and played some really good basketball. Philly, for whatever reason, still won the game. But I think that’s OK. We come out and play better for the next game.”

Echoed Smart: "It was tough. Nobody wants to lose. And everybody is trying to figure it out, but we finally got off to a great start and gave ourselves a chance from the start. That was big for us so, yeah, we're down but we're still positive because, one, there's a lot of basketball to be played and, two, like I said, guys are trying to find a rhythm back. It happens.

"We've just got to be ready to turn it around and keep playing. That's the only way. You've got to get our rhythm and play it out and keep going.”

Blakely: How concerning is this loss (and week)?

Celtics-76ers Takeaways: A woeful shooting night for C's key players

Celtics-76ers Takeaways: A woeful shooting night for C's key players

Play Harder. 

Bring more effort. 

The Boston Celtics’ focus coming into Thursday’s game against Philadelphia short and simple. 

But executing it, even with Philly’s Joel Embiid (finger surgery) out, was not going to be easy.

Even with a strong start to the game, the Celtics couldn’t put the Sixers away in the fourth as they suffered a 109-98 loss. 

The fact that it was Boston’s third loss in a row, a first for them this season, is a tough pill to swallow. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

But what hurts Boston (25-11) even more is the fact that they have now lost all three games against the Sixers this season, giving Philly the head-to-head series for the first time since the 2013-2014 season, which could come into play if these two finish with an identical record. 

“It’s important for us,” Al Horford told NBA TV’s Kristen Ledlow when asked about the importance of winning the season series. “It’s good to get a quality win.”

AL HORFORD

No Joel Embiid, no problem. There were a number of players who stepped up for the Sixers in Embiid’s absence. But no one impacted the game more than ex-Celtic Al Horford. 

As was the case when he was in Boston, there are so many little things that Horford does consistently that add value to any team he plays for. 

We saw that on full display Thursday, more than usual in large part because of Embiid’s absence. 

There was nothing that Horford did that the Celtics hadn’t seen this season or for that matter, the previous three years when he played in Boston. 

Horford, who had 17 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots, stepped up when the Sixers needed leadership. 

And as he often did when he was a Celtic, Horford delivered while the Celtics (25-11) now find themselves trying to regroup after yet another tough loss. 

KEMBA WALKER

Walker delivered in a big way to start the game, scoring 13 points in the first quarter. But the Sixers adjusted defensively in limiting him to 13 points over the next three quarters before he finished with a team-high 26 points. 

Walker’s final numbers for the night were good, for sure. 

But the way the team’s other key players were struggling, this was a game in which good-playing Kemba was not good enough. 

They needed Walker to be great and he wasn’t. 

Most nights, good-playing Kemba is going to be enough to win but the Sixers are a different team (especially at home) and in many ways, cause more problems for Boston without Joel Embiid than when he’s available to play. 

MARCUS SMART

I guess Marcus Smart Day came a day later than planned. Because other than Kemba Walker, no other Celtic got into an offensive groove more than Smart. He would finish with a season-high 24 points which included five made 3-pointers. 

The second of those 3’s gave him 500 made 3’s for his career which put him in some pretty exclusive company - only five other Celtics have made as many 3’s in Boston. 

But historical relevance was the farthest thing from Smart’s mind on Thursday. 

Like the rest of his teammates, he was focused on doing whatever he could to help Boston get back on a winning track after losing their last two games coming into Thursday’s matchup with Philly. 

Now that the losing skid has been extended to three in a row, Boston’s ability to bounce back will be put to the ultimate test this season when they return to action on and kick off a three-game homestand with New Orleans on Saturday. 

ROUGH SHOOTING NIGHT FOR KEY PLAYERS

Jaylen Brown.

Jayson Tatum.

Gordon Hayward.

We have seen them all deliver at different times for Boston this season. 

But on Thursday, they were collectively as bad scoring the ball as we’ve seen all season. 

You certainly have to credit the Sixers defense which ranks among the better units, with or without Joel Embiid. 

But a big part of Boston’s shooting struggles had to do with them collectively missing open shots, or shots that they normally knock down. 

For the game, the Brown-Tatum-Hayward triumvirate shot a combined 10-for-36 from the field, or 27.8 percent. 

Regardless of the opponent, when three of the top four or five scorers collectively shoot so poorly it’s difficult to compete, let alone win a game. 

The good news for the Celtics is what we saw on Thursday has not been something we have seen with any kind of consistency in the past, so it’s easy to brush it off as just one of those bad shooting nights. 

The lesson isn’t in the loss, but how they respond to it this weekend against New Orleans.

Highlights: C's lose 3rd straight to Embiid-less SIxers

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Pelicans-Celtics, which tips off Saturday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike and Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.