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NBA Notebook: Jaylen Brown stepping up for Celtics after Gordon Hayward injury

NBA Notebook: Jaylen Brown stepping up for Celtics after Gordon Hayward injury

When the Brooklyn Nets decided to shut down Kyrie Irving due to a shoulder injury that will keep him out for what will be an eighth straight game today when they face Boston (his former team), the void left by his absence was obvious. 

Since being sidelined, the Nets have leaned on Spencer Dinwiddie — who, prior to Irving’s injury, was already having a breakout season. 

Playing with a Kyrie-less Nets team, Dinwiddie has been even better, not only in terms of his individual numbers (23.4 points per game without Irving, 19.6 on the season; 7.3 assists without Irving, 5.7 with him) but also his impact on winning with the Nets boasting an impressive 5-2 record without Irving compared to Brooklyn’s 4-7 record with Irving in the lineup. 

The Celtics have experienced a similar bump in Jaylen Brown’s play since Gordon Hayward suffered his broken hand injury on Nov. 8 against San Antonio. 

Like Dinwiddie, Brown was in the midst of a breakout season prior to his teammate’s injury. 

And like Dinwiddie, Brown has taken his game to another level since Hayward’s injury, averaging 19.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game — all higher than his averages in those respective categories before Hayward’s setback. 

“We have a next-man-up mentality around here,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston recently. “When someone goes down, it’s an opportunity for someone else to step up. Some nights, it’s gonna be me. Other nights, it might be someone else. The thing is, you just have to make sure you stay ready and when your time comes, make the most of it. That’s basically what I’m trying to do when I’m out there; do whatever I can to help the team win.”

ZION WILLIAMSON UPDATE

The wait appears to be nearly over for basketball fans eager to see Zion Williamson on the floor in an NBA regular season game. 

Based on recent comments by New Orleans Pelicans General Manager David Griffin, Zion Williamson is getting better “literally every day” and remains on schedule during his rehab from a torn meniscus surgery on October 20. 

The timetable back then was six to eight weeks, with Griffin pointing out that Williamson’s return would likely be closer towards the end of that initial timetable. 

"He's progressing exactly as we had hoped he would," Griffin told ESPN New Orleans 100.3 FM. “Right now, I think we're on target for eight weeks. Probably not to the day, but in and around that."

That would put his return to the floor sometime in the middle of December for a Pelicans team that has struggled mightily in his absence. 

The Pelicans (6-12) have lost three in a row and are currently 12th in the Western Conference standings. 

JAMES WISEMAN AND THE NCAA

Memphis freshman and likely top pick in next June’s NBA draft James Wiseman will have to serve a 12-game suspension after the appeal put forth by Memphis was denied. 

In a nutshell, the NCAA handed down the violation based on a couple different violations.

First, there was Wiseman’s family accepting $11,500 from Penny Hardaway, who now coaches the Memphis Tigers, to assist in moving the family from Nashville to Memphis where he played high school basketball for Hardaway, who was then coaching high school. And while Memphis’ appeal was being considered, Wiseman played in three games for which he was ineligible to play.

This latest kerfuffle involving Wiseman and the NCAA is not expected to have much — if any — impact on where he falls in next June’s NBA draft. 

“He’s still the top guy, maybe drops to two or three depending on who winds up with those picks,” an Eastern Conference league executive told NBC Sports Boston. “All of this will blow over, he’ll be in the draft next year and you (media) folks will move on to something else to talk about.”

SUNS' THANKSGIVING DAY PRACTICE

The knee-jerk reaction when seeing the Phoenix Suns practice on Thanksgiving — the day after the team lost by double digits to a Golden State team that has been the worst of the worst in the NBA this season — was that the two were connected. 

But Suns head coach Monty Williams made the decision prior to the game, and admittedly grappled with whether to do it or not. 

“The NBA season is unforgiving. I talked to the coaches and I tortured myself thinking about it the last few days because we want to be about the right things. We know families are in town, and yet, our jobs are different than most peoples’ jobs,” Williams told reporters.

He’s right. 

As a reporter who has covered a Thanksgiving day practice, the best way to describe it succinctly is to say that it sucks. 

But in both playing and covering the NBA, working on holidays that the rest of the world takes off is just part of the package that comes with being involved with such an awesome game that so many of us love to death — even if it means working more on holidays like Thanksgiving.

And because holidays like Thanksgiving are often spent surrounded by family and friends, practices on Thanksgiving have the potential to be a bonding activity as well. 

“I actually felt it was a good thing. The gym was great. When I walked in here, guys had already been working out, sweating and getting up shots,” Williams said. “We get paid a lot of money to do irregular stuff and I think it’s OK to bring guys in for an hour and talk and get together, and we know we care about them.”

BULLS ON THE MOVE?

One team I’m told to keep an eye on as we get closer to the trade deadline is the Chicago Bulls. They seem all-in for now on keeping Jim Boylen, even if one of their former players, Jalen Rose, feels differently.

League sources indicate that the Bulls are not open to discussing — for now at least — Lauri Markkanen, who is the most coveted player on their roster. Zach LaVine becomes a more viable trade chip with Coby White playing the way he has in a limited capacity. 

The bottom line when it comes to this Bulls team is they should be a lot better than their record, which already has more than twice as many losses (13) as wins (6). 

While the Bulls not winning a bunch of games this season comes as a surprise to no one, they were expected to get off to a better start due to a relatively soft schedule that thus far has included two games apiece against the Knicks, Hornets and Pistons as well as matchups against the Cavaliers, Warriors, and Grizzlies.

GIVING IT THE OL’ COLLEGE TRY

Special shout-out to Juwan Howard who is getting it done in a big way at his alma mater, the University of Michigan. 

In his first season as head coach, Howard has the Wolverines (6-0) off to a great start which includes a win over sixth-ranked North Carolina 73-64 in the Battle 4 Atlantis Holiday tournament in the Bahamas. 

For those of us who spent time around Howard during his 19 seasons (1994-2013) as a player or assistant coach in Miami (2013-2019), his success is no surprise. 

He has played with some of the best to ever play the game. Howard has learned from one of the more underrated coaches in Erik Spoelstra and a mastermind at building teams in Heat president Pat Riley. 

But there’s a soft-spoken toughness about Howard that has always been there, an ability to use that as a means to not only get the best out of himself but also those around him. 

And more than anything, Howard has always shown an elite level of respect for the game and his role in it. 

“This is all new to me,” he told reporters after Michigan’s upset over the Tar Heels. “I’m learning from the best coaches in the game. (UNC head coach) Roy Williams is a coach I respect a ton. I watched all the success he’s had. He loves his players. He runs a beautiful program. He’s one of the perfect guys to learn from, but it’s just one game.”

Recognizing the moment, but not getting too caught up in it, is one of the more endearing qualities about Howard, whose future leading his alma mater is extremely bright. 

FAST BREAKS

Golden State’s Eric Paschall has been the one bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for the Warriors. Drafted with the 41st overall pick in the second round of last June’s NBA draft, the 6-foot-6 burly forward is averaging 17.0 points per game, second only to Memphis’ Ja Morant (19.1) among rookies. He is also the only rookie averaging more than 30 minutes played per game (31.4) while shooting better than 50 percent (50.4) from the field. …

The Atlanta Hawks were 2-3 with John Collins in the lineup prior to his 25-game suspension for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. Since then, they’re 2-11. He becomes eligible to return Dec. 23 versus Cleveland. …

Nikola Jokic isn’t putting up the kind of numbers a league MVP should, but the case for him being the league’s best true center only grows. He’s averaging 16.1 points, 10.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game. But what stands out is his durability. Through his first four seasons, he has averaged five games missed. There are some elite bigs who miss more games than that by Halloween. …

Coaches that have challenged calls this year have a 41.4 percent success rate.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Knicks, which tips off Sunday at 3 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 3:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

A. Sherrod Blakely's Takeaways from Celtics' bounce-back win over Suns

A. Sherrod Blakely's Takeaways from Celtics' bounce-back win over Suns

Well, the losing didn’t last very long. 

The Celtics shook off their second loss of the season from 24 hours earlier and came away with a solid 99-85 win in Phoenix led by Jayson Tatum’s 26-point, 11-rebound performance for his second double-double of the season. 

It was relatively close until the Celtics closed out the second quarter with a 20-4 run to lead 57-42 at the half. 

Boston (11-2) continued to pull away in the second half in what was a surprisingly cushy win over a Suns team that had won five of its past seven and was playing some of the best basketball in the NBA. 

However, the victory could be bittersweet if Marcus Smart is lost for an extended period with an ankle sprain suffered in the fourth quarter, although postgame comments from Smart and coach Brad Stevens make it sound as if the injury was not as severe as it looked. Smart left after scoring 17 points to go with four assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

Boston’s success on Monday was similar to what they had done in their 10-game winning streak but wasn't apparent in their 100-99 loss in Sacramento on Sunday, a game in which Smart’s potential game-winning shot hung on the rim for what seemed like an eternity before rolling out as time expired. 

On Monday, the Celtics’ defense forced turnovers early on, which took the Suns out of running their offense as efficiently as they are accustomed to. And that kept Devin Booker, who came in having averaged more than 42 points against the Celtics, from ever getting into any kind of rhythm. 

It was a quality win over a quality opponent on the road, a victory that came about by Boston getting back to doing the things that had allowed them to run off their impressive winning streak. 

Here are a few more takeaways: 

MARCUS SMART

We often talk about Marcus Smart as being the heart and soul of this team. It’s hard to imagine anyone being more locked into Monday night than Smart, who knew he had to lead the defensive focus on limiting the high-scoring Booker. Still, as we’ve seen with Smart this season more than any other, he’s intent on showing he can impact the game at both ends of the floor. In addition to leading the defensive efforts, Smart also had a strong game scoring with 17 points. However, the ankle injury makes him questionable for Wednesday against the Clippers in Los Angeles.

DEFENDING BOOKER

Considering how Booker has torched the Celtics for an average of 42.5 points in the previous four games against them, the Celtics had to feel really good about limiting him to just 20 points. And they did so with a multitude of defenders coming at Booker from a multitude of angles via double-teams, triple-teams, tilting in his direction … if it involved defense, chances are high that the Celtics tried it at some point in limiting Booker. Whether Smart is available Wednesday or not, the Celtics will have to employ a similar all-hands-on-deck approach defensively if they are to somehow limit the Clippers’ two best players, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. 

CELTICS BENCH 

This group doesn’t score a ton of points, but they are starting to make the most of their chances to impact what matters most to the Celtics - winning. Brad Wanamaker continues to be their most consistent guard off the bench, scoring 10 points to go with six assists and three steals. Grant Williams, who picked up his first DNP-CD (Did not play- coach's decision) in the loss in Sacramento, maxed out his opportunity to play with four points, two blocks and a slew of hustle plays that Boston absolutely needed from him tonight. The C's also got solid contributions from Robert Williams and Carsen Edwards. 

FIRST-HALF KEMBA

It has been well documented how Kemba Walker has struggled offensively in the first half of most games this season. 

Not Monday.

The Celtics got late-game Kemba, in the first half for a change. He wound up with 19 points, 13 of which came in the first half on 6-for-11 shooting with all five of his misses coming from 3-point range.  

The Celtics really needed Walker to put his imprint on the game early so they could get off to a good start, establish control of the game and pull away in the end. 

“I try to come out and make the right plays,” Walker told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin after the win.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Clippers, which tips off Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

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NBA Highlights: Celtics bounce back with win 99-85 over Suns

NBA Highlights: Celtics bounce back with win 99-85 over Suns

FINAL SCORE: Celtics 99, Suns 85

IN BRIEF: Jayson Tatum scores 26 points and has 11 rebounds and Kemba Walker scores 19 points as the Celtics bounce back from a loss in Sacramento a night earlier and beat the Suns in Phoenix, 99-85. BOX SCORE

CELTICS RECORD: 11-2

HIGHLIGHTS

ARON BAYNES RE-INTRODUCING HIMSELF TO HIS OLD FRIENDS:

SMART FINDS BROWN FOR THE ALLEY-OOP:

HELLO AGAIN, MR. BAYNES:

NO 3 IS SAFE WITH ROBERT WILLIAMS AROUND:

MARCUS SMART, SHARPSHOOTER:

KEMBA HITS, TAKES A SEAT:

KEMBA CLOSES OUT THE HALF STRONG:

A SCARY-LOOKING MARCUS SMART INJURY:

A BIG NIGHT FOR TATUM:

UP NEXT:

@ L.A. Clippers, Wednesday, 10 p.m., NBC Sports Boston
@ Denver Nuggets, Friday, 9 p.m., NBC Sports Boston 
 

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Clippers, which tips off Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.