Boston Celtics

NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: Celtics dealing with a little drama

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NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: Celtics dealing with a little drama

In our Eastern Conference power rankings this week, we look at a couple of similarities between the Celtics and Sixers. 

1. Raptors (31-12) Last week: 1
After falling in Kawhi Leonard’s return to San Antonio, the Raptors have ripped off three straight wins, including a victory in Milwaukee on Saturday night despite 43 points and 18 rebounds from Giannis Antetokounmpo. It’ll be interesting to see how Patrick McCaw, who the Raptors signed to a one-year, veteran minimum deal, fits into Toronto's rotation.

2. Bucks (29-11) Last week: 2
The Bucks picked up a nice win Thursday night at Houston behind another incredible Antetokounmpo performance (27 points, 21 rebounds). They’ve gone from having the fewest rebounds per game in the league last season to the most this season.

3. Celtics (26-15) Last week: 3
Almost a week after the report that Jimmy Butler reportedly “aggressively challenged” Brett Brown, two Celtics, Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown, had a heated confrontation on the bench during Thursday night's loss to the Heat, which ended Boston's  four-game winning streak. The two had to be separated by Marcus Smart. Philadelphia isn’t the only place where spirited conversations take place in the NBA …

Still, the Celtics are a good, deep team with a significantly easier schedule than the Sixers’ over the next month.

4. Sixers (27-15) Last week: 4 
Wednesday night’s loss in Washington was a bad way to end the Sixers’ four-game winning streak. Yes, it was on the second night of a back-to-back and JJ Redick was out, but it was a sloppy performance. The Sixers turned it over 24 times, seven apiece for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and many of them were highly avoidable. Things are very tight near the top of the East, but the Sixers’ lack of depth continues to hold them back. 

5. Pacers (27-14) Last week: 5
Indiana currently sits third in the standings, but losses this week to the Raptors by 16 points and the Celtics by 27 ensure the Pacers stay at the No. 5 spot in our rankings.

6. Miami (20-20) Last week: 6 
It turns out Justise Winslow can shoot a little bit. The 22-year-old has thrived as a point guard in Goran Dragic’s absence, and he’s shooting 35.8 percent from three-point range on 3.5 attempts per game, by far a career high.

7. Nets (21-22) Last week: 8
That seven-game winning streak in December doesn’t appear to be a fluke. Brooklyn has been beating the teams they’re supposed to beat, and guys like D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris are still having the best seasons of their careers. 

8. Hornets (19-21) Last week: 7
Charlotte could steal a game or two in a first-round series, thanks to Kemba Walker, but it’s difficult to envision the Hornets beating one of the top-five teams in the East four of seven times.

9. Detroit Pistons (17-23) Last week: 9
Remember when the Pistons beat the Warriors on Dec. 1 and were on a five-game winning streak? Since then, Detroit has won four of its last 19 games. The Pistons are shooting 43.5 percent from the floor, second-worst in the league. 

10. Wizards (17-25) Last week: 11
The Wizards are 4-3 since John Wall was ruled out for the season. I’m still amazed by the stat, courtesy of NBC Sports Washington’s Ben Standig, that the Wizards haven’t lost yet since this season when they’ve out-rebounded their opponent. The thing is, they’ve only done that nine times. 

11. Magic (17-24) Last week: 10
There’s not much to be encouraged by for the Magic, who have lost four straight games and have the Celtics and Rockets up next.

12. Hawks (12-29) Last week: 12
There’s a good chance Jeremy Lin and Dewayne Dedmon, both veterans on expiring deals, are on the move to contending teams before the trade deadline. It also wouldn’t too surprising to see Vince Carter, who turns 42 on Jan. 26, head to a team with championship aspirations, either via trade or buyout. 

13. Knicks (10-31) Last week: 13
Kevin Knox’s development continues to be a bright spot for the Knicks, who have lost 15 of their last 17 games and have a 50.2 assist percentage, by far the worst in the NBA.

14. Bulls (10-31) Last week: 15
As with most of these teams at the bottom of the conference, a big part of this season is about figuring out which players should be part of their future. NBC Sports Chicago’s Mark Strotman thinks backup point guard Shaquille Harrison is worth re-signing in the offseason for Chicago. Strotman writes, “Harrison is the best defender the Bulls have had since Jimmy Butler.”

15. Cavs (8-34) Last week: 14
Eleven straight losses for the Cavs. Enough said. 

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NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: It's tight at the top

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NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: It's tight at the top

There's still not much separating the top-five teams in this week's Eastern Conference power rankings: 

1. Raptors (26-10) Last week: 1 
Don’t take the Sixers’ 25-point win over Toronto on Saturday as a sign of anything seriously wrong with the Raptors. When everyone is healthy and on the floor — which hasn’t happened very often recently — Toronto is still the best team in the East.

2. Bucks (24-10) Last week: 2
The Bucks also have a very strong claim for the top spot, with six wins in their last seven games and the best net rating in the NBA. They’ll have a chance on Jan. 5 to beat Toronto for the third time this season.

3 Celtics (20-14) Last week: 3
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Celtics and Sixers swap spots in our power rankings several times over the next couple months. The dramatic overtime battle on Christmas illustrated why the Sixers need some bench help to vault decisively over Boston. Zero bench points for the Sixers until late in the third quarter is perhaps the stat that jumps out most from that loss.

4. Sixers (23-13) Last week: 4
If JJ Redick didn’t miss two free throws, or if he knocked down an open look from the wing at the end of regulation, many people would likely have a very different perspective on the Sixers. That’s not to place all the blame on Redick, but a reminder of how close the Sixers were to earning a big win at TD Garden. A 17-point victory over the Jazz on Thursday night was the perfect way to respond to that loss.

5. Pacers (23-12) Last week: 5
Indiana has won three straight games and 10 of their last 12. They’ve held opponents below 100 points in eight of those 12 games, an impressive feat in the modern NBA. 

6. Hornets (16-17) Last week: 6
Wednesday night, the Hornets lost yet another heartbreaker, a bizarre double-overtime game in Brooklyn. They’re getting a lot of practice in close games. You’d expect they’ll eventually figure out how to win them, right? 

7. Detroit Pistons (16-16) Last week: 7
You get the sense the Pistons would need Blake Griffin to score at least 30 points per game to have a chance of winning a playoff series. Detroit is 6-9 when Griffin posts 25 points or fewer, 10-7 when he scores 26 or more.

8. Brooklyn Nets (17-19) Last week: 9
The Nets just keep rising in our power rankings. Spencer Dinwiddie had 37 points and 11 assists in that double overtime win over Charlotte. He’s scored in double figures in all but two games this season.

9. Miami Heat (16-17) Last week: 10
A tight loss to the Raptors on Wednesday ended a five-game winning streak for Miami. Justise Winslow has done a nice job filling in at the point for the injured Goran Dragic.

10. Magic (14-19) Last week: 8
The four-game losing run Orlando is on has been an especially bad one. They’ve lost by 39 to the Spurs, 24 to the Heat, and also fell to the Bulls and Suns.

11. Wizards (13-22) Last week: 11
The Wizards are still not a team that inspires a ton of confidence, having lost eight of their past 10 games. On the bright side, Thomas Bryant made history with a 14-for-14 performance in a triple-overtime win over the Suns on Saturday, and the Wizards are encouraged by his development.

12. Hawks (9-24) Last week: 13
Atlanta’s first three-game winning streak of the season was snapped with a loss vs. the Pacers on Wednesday. Rookie Kevin Huerter is shooting 42.9 percent from three-point range since joining the starting lineup on Nov. 25.

13. Cavs (8-27) Last week: 12
Out of their 27 losses, Sunday’s 20-point defeat to the Bulls might have been Cleveland’s worst. The Cavs are dealing with a bunch of injuries and have lost four straight. 

14. Bulls (9-26) Last week: 15
The Bulls are actually 4-7 since Jim Boylen took over as interim head coach, though it feels worse. Lauri Markkanen has gone for 30-plus points in two of his last three games.

15. Knicks (9-27) Last week: 13
You can always count on drama from the Knicks. Enes Kanter wasn’t happy about being replaced by Luke Kornet in the starting lineup Thursday night, then got ejected in the Knicks’ loss to the Bucks. Kevin Knox is learning how to score in the NBA, with 19.4 points per game since Dec. 9.

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Brett Brown deserves some blame, but players lost game to Celtics

Brett Brown deserves some blame, but players lost game to Celtics

The #FireBrett crowd was alive and well after the Sixers fell in overtime to the Celtics on Christmas day.

Then again, it was a loss and that’s really the only time the pitchforks come out for Brett Brown. When the Sixers win a game, it’s generally attributed to the dominance of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons or Jimmy Butler.

Of all the things Brown is criticized for — Embiid’s usage, turnovers, rotations, etc. — there was only one thing yesterday you can truly question.

With the game on the line and the ball in the Sixers’ possession, Butler should have the ball in his hands.

But let’s go back to the unfair criticism for a moment. 

So many Sixers fans bemoan the usage of Embiid and even Embiid himself again voiced his displeasure with his touches in the fourth quarter and OT (see story). Brad Stevens is a smart coach. He recognized that Embiid was virtually unguardable yesterday so he aggressively double teamed the All-Star center. That’s not on Brown. That’s on Embiid’s teammates for not stepping up and forcing Boston to fear double teaming off them.

It’s true that turnovers are going to be a part of Brown’s offense because he wants his team to play with pace. There are two things to consider here. 

One is that a high turnover rate is not indicative of a bad team. The Warriors turned the ball over the fifth-most times per game last season on their way to a championship. Meanwhile, the Mavericks, who won 24 games last season, took care of the ball better than anybody in 2017-18.

The other is if you watched yesterday’s game closely, there’s no way you could pin the turnovers on scheme or game planning. The Sixers’ turnovers were from just careless, self-inflicted mistakes. That’s not coaching. That’s execution.

My favorite complaint about Brown is his “rotations.” He simply doesn’t have the players. T.J. McConnell deserves a role on this basketball team, but not one where he’s playing 25-plus minutes a night. It’s like asking a fisherman to fish without bait. Maybe they’ll catch something by accident, but if you give them a worm or two, their chances go way up.

While the idea of getting Butler the last shot over JJ Redick is more than reasonable, Brown has also been criticized for not calling a timeout prior to that possession. There is some merit to this argument. Perhaps you give your team a moment to collect itself and give yourself a moment to draw up the proper play. His explanation was fair in that he didn’t want to give Boston the opportunity to put out their best defensive lineup. Let's call this a push.

If you want to crush Brown for not dialing up a play for Butler, the four-time All-Star who’s already nailed two game-winning buckets in the closing seconds of games, I can’t fault you. Butler was acquired because the Sixers desperately needed a star player that can go get his own shot. He can’t do that if you don’t even get him the ball.

So blame Brown if you must, but in reality, much of the blame for Tuesday’s loss should fall on the players themselves.

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