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Marcus Smart returns to practice, Avery Bradley tries to focus on being aggressive

11.26.14 at 4:37 pm ET
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Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

The Celtics‘ main focus during their practices on Wednesday and Thursday will be on preparing to battle a tough Bulls team when Chicago arrives in Boston for a Black Friday matinee. However, a share of the spotlight will be on Marcus Smart’€™s return to practice, with the hope that he can suit up after missing seven games with a sprained left ankle.

“It’€™s just a matter of him getting back out here, and it’€™s more about conditioning than it is about anything else right now,” offered Brad Stevens. “€œJust because he hasn’t done anything on the court physically, as far as five-on-five in the last three weeks, or whatever it’€™s been.”

One thing the team certainly will not do is rush Smart,€“ especially after Avery Bradley attempted to return prematurely from an ankle injury just last season.

“I don’€™t know [if Bradley can offer Smart any help on returning],”€ Stevens said. “Again, I trust our medical team and medical staff, and I think that Marcus and Avery, I’€™m sure, will share that discussion and talk about that. We don’€™t want anybody to come back before they’€™re physically able, because, obviously, you don’€™t want to put yourself in a bad spot.”

Bradley knows he put himself in a bad spot last year, so his advice to Smart was simple.

“€œIt’€™s tough. This is his first year. Obviously he wants to help our team out and he’€™s a little disappointed that he hasn’t been able to every single game,” Bradley said. “He’€™s back, but one thing everyone’€™s been telling him is just make sure that your body feels good, listen to your body.”

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Brad Stevens, Marcus Smart,

NBA power and sour rankings: Top 5, bottom 5

11.26.14 at 1:21 pm ET
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In the NBA, the worst place to be is the middle of the pack. If you are not contending for a championship or tanking, in my mind, you are not relevant. Because of this, each week I will rank the top five and bottom five teams in the league. The rankings are based entirely on my own observations and opinions, so please feel free to call me names in the comments section.

THE BEST

1. Warriors (11-2)

You’ve got Draymond Green playing out of his mind, Mo Speights calling Kendrick Perkins terrible, Steph Curry emerging as a legitimate MVP candidate. I have waited for too long, but now I am making it official. I’m locking in the Warriors, they officially are one of my five League Pass teams.

Side note: I enjoy everything Kirk Goldsberry does. His charts always have been fascinating, but now he is doing videos. Game over, Internet Basketball Folk, he wins.

2. Raptors (12-2)

There is a dearth of productive big men, especially in the Eastern Conference. If Jonas Valanciunas can does this night in and night out, the entire league better watch out. The idea of facing the three-headed monster of Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry in the playoffs is absolutely terrifying.

3. Grizzlies (12-2)

This team is incredibly efficient and very, very boring. Talented frontcourt men Marc Gasol and Z-Bo not only play tough defense, but they pass the ball better than any other big man combo I can remember. I don’t know if the Grizz can sustain this success, but they certainly have enough gumption and mental toughness. Last week half the team went down with a stomach virus, yet the Grizzlies didn’t miss a beat.

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D-tales from the D-League: James Young shows off shooting prowess

11.24.14 at 5:48 pm ET
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James Young

James Young

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Red Claws won their first two home games this past weekend, narrowly beating the Canton Charge, 94-90, on Friday night and blowing out the Delaware 87ers, 120-102, on Sunday.

On Friday, the Red Claws struggled early to defend Alex Kirk, the Charge’s 7-footer from New Mexico who finished with a double-double, amassing 22 points and 10 rebounds. After a back-and-forth game that included 17 lead changes in the third quarter, Maine took control in the fourth by increasing its defensive pressure and limiting turnovers. Christian Watford hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to put the Red Claws ahead, as the team finished on a 13-2 run.

On Sunday the Red Claws added Celtics first-round-draft pick James Young to the starting lineup. Young, who was assigned to the Red Claws early Sunday morning, played 33 minutes and scored 22 points in his second D-League game. Young shot 7-of-15 from the field, including 3-for-8 from beyond the arc. While Young has put up impressive scoring numbers in each of his two D-League appearances, he has yet to dominate at the lower level. Before Young can crack the Celtics rotation, expect him to play a handful of more games in Vacationland. (For a more thorough analysis of Young’s performance on Sunday, check out Jay King’s excellent piece here.)

NOTES FROM CRUSTACEAN NATION

Celtics trickle down — Scott Morrison definitely has mastered Brad Stevens‘ system. The Red Claws play at a very high pace, and Morrison often can be heard yelling at his players to push the ball. At any moment, any member of the Red Claws is liable to take a shot, especially if it is a 3-pointer. The Red Claws, following a D-League trend, attempted an astounding 35 treys against the 87ers, knocking down 18. And the Red Claws players shared the wealth, as on Friday five players scored in double figures, while on Sunday four players notched over 10 points while four others had nine.

Familiar faces lead the way – If the Celtics are looking for depth later in the season, expect them to turn to some familiar faces. Tim Frazier and Christian Watford, training camp invitees for the big league club, played big minutes for the Red Claws and at times looked like the best players on the court. Frazier needs to work on his ball control, as he struggled early with turnovers. Watford did a good job defending bigger opponents, but it remains to be seen if this would translate to the NBA. Chris Babb, who played 14 games for the Celtics last year, looked liked the most polished player, displaying controlled intensity, especially on the defensive end.

Minor leagues are fun – Minor league sports are awesome. Catching a game at the Portland Expo Center is just downright fun. There isn’t a bad seat in the house, and concessions are incredibly inexpensive. Like any good minor league sports team, the Red Claws had the perfect amount of in-game distractions. Over the weekend, there was a ferocious basketball musical chairs competition, a 2-year-old girl buckling under the pressure of a mini dunk contest, and a performance of 30 unicycling jugglers.

5 Things We Learned From Celtics’ Loss to Grizzlies

11.21.14 at 10:37 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo had one of the worst games of his career on Friday. (Getty Images)

Rajon Rondo had one of the worst games of his career on Friday. (Getty Images)

Celtics coach Brad Stevens recently suggested that he is responsible for improving his team’s defense. But on Friday, there was little evidence of progress by either Stevens or his team.

A sometimes-lethargic Celtics team was manhandled in Memphis by the Grizzlies. The C’s, who entered the contest having permitted the third most points per game in the NBA (107.5,  behind only the 3-7 Timberwolves and 3-9 Lakers) once again permitted an opponent to score at an alarming rate. The Celtics lost, 117-100, with Memphis shooting 52.7 percent for the night. The defenseless Celtics fell to 4-7 on the season, with the kind of defensive night that screams lottery.

Four other takeaways:

RAJON RONDO HAD ONE OF THE WORST GAMES OF HIS CAREER

Rondo’s far-reaching skills were nowhere to be found. In 28 minutes, he scored four points with five boards and four assists, just the 15th time in his career and the second since 2008-09 that he’s had no more than five of any of those categories in a game where he played at least 24 minutes. The four assists matched his fewest in a game since he had a three-assist night on Nov. 28, 2012. Read the rest of this entry »

5 things we learned in the Celtics’ win over the winless 76ers

11.19.14 at 9:39 pm ET
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The Celtics arrived in Philadelphia on a three-game losing streak, but they had to feel confident knowing they would be facing off against a horrid 0-10 76ers team.

In the end, it wasn’€™t pretty, but the Celtics got the job done with a 101-90 victory for their second road win of the season, improving to 4-6 overall.

Here are five things we learned in the victory:

THE CELTICS PLAYED DOWN TO THE COMPETITION IN THE FIRST HALF

The Celtics came into the game sporting the third-best offense in the NBA, but the scoreboard read just 46-46 at halftime. The C’€™s matched the 76ers with 10 turnovers while getting outrebounded 27-19 by Philly — never good things when facing a winless opponent that ranks last in the league in rebounding.

Had it not been for 12 points from Brandon Bass off the bench, this one could have slipped away early. Bass was really the only player that put forward a noteworthy performance in the first half — he shot 5-for-8 in his 13 minutes.

THE BENCH VETERANS WERE KEY

Brad Stevens would have been in a whole lot of trouble in this one without key contributions from veterans off the bench. Bass’€™ strong first half carried over to the second half, while Marcus Thornton came up big as well.

Bass wound up with a game-high 23 points to go along with six boards, and Thornton finished with 13 points while also coming up with four steals.

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NBA power and sour rankings: Top 5, bottom 5

11.19.14 at 12:01 pm ET
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Follow Sam Packard on Twitter @SPackGuy

In the NBA, the worst place to be is the middle of the pack. If you are not contending for a championship or tanking, in my mind, you are not relevant. Because of this, each week I will rank the top five and bottom five teams in the league. The rankings are based entirely on my own observations and opinions, so please feel free to call me names in the comments section.

THE BEST

1. Grizzlies (10-1)

The Grizzlies have started the season on fire, and the only explanation I can offer is the addition of Vince Carter. On Monday they dropped 119 points on the Rockets, who had been playing exceptional defense. Last Thursday against King Boogie, the Grizz erased a 26-point deficit before Courtney Lee hit this buzzer-beater with three-tenths of a seconds remaining.

2. Warriors (8-2) If the season ended today, Steph Curry would be the MVP. I know Anthony Davis is putting up absurd numbers, but the Warriors are actually winning games. Just watch this video of Curry dismantling the Lakers and tell me you are not impressed.

3. Trail Blazers (8-2) Portland has won its last five games, including absolutely embarrassing the Nuggets on their home floor, putting up 84 points in the first half. THE FIRST HALF! The 76ers only average 88.5 points per game.

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Tyler Zeller rarely misses a shot these days

11.18.14 at 7:50 pm ET
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Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller has always had the trust of coach Brad Stevens, but his minutes have yet to put that trust on display — until Monday night.

Zeller had his coming out party in the Celtics‘ 118-114 home loss to the Suns, playing a total of 27 minutes. Although Boston came up short in the win column, Zeller surely was not at fault, while Stevens was rewarded for trusting his fellow Indiana native.

The UNC product finished Monday’s game with 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists, to go along with a block and a steal. However, it was how Zeller got those numbers that made it so impressive. Besides playing with unmatched hustle — whether is be changing a shot on the defensive end or tipping a rebound to a teammate — Zeller shot an incredibly efficient 8-for-9 from the field.

As crazy as it sounds, that has been an average game in terms of shooting the ball for Zeller this season, just in smaller samples due to playing fewer minutes.

As of Tuesday, Zeller is shooting an eye popping 25-for-29 from the field in nine games this season. That’s good for 86.2 percent — tops among players in the NBA who have attempted more than four shots on the year.

“Some of it’s [knowing what you can and can’t do],” Zeller said following the loss. “Some of it’s my teammates, again, do a great job of getting the ball to me on time where I have time to make plays.”

“Some of it’s just taking easier shots,” he added.

So, will we see any bad shots from the seven-footer this season?

“Give it time, it will happen,” joked Zeller. “But, I mean, you’ve just got to take smart shots and make the plays you can.”

In case you were wondering, Cedric Maxwell shot 60.9 percent from the field in the 1979-80 season, which is the Celtics‘ single-season record for field goal percentage.

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