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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Tough March schedule should benefit Celtics in lottery

02.28.14 at 10:44 am ET
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Wednesday night provided an interesting perspective for the Celtics on the 2014 NBA draft. Boston returned to the Garden and defeated the Hawks, ending a five-game losing streak — which both hurt and improved their draft picks.

Andrew Wiggins (22) and Joel Embiid (21) are holding firm at the top two spots in NBA draft. (AP)

Kansas stars Andrew Wiggins (22) and Joel Embiid (21) are holding firm at the top two spots in NBA draft. (AP)

The Celts earned their 20th victory of the season, moving past the Lakers in the standings in the process. Boston holds the fifth-highest lottery odds, but don’€™t forget about the Brooklyn/Atlanta pick that Danny Ainge owns as well. Not only are the Hawks coming off a loss, the Nets got slammed by the Blazers by 44 points Wednesday in Portland. Boston gets whichever pick is less favorable between the two teams, and as of Thursday afternoon, those are the two worst records of playoff teams.

If only one of the two picks end up in the lottery, the higher pick would belong to Atlanta, but if both teams miss the postseason, Boston would be in luck. Although it is highly unlikely, Wednesday night reminded us it is too early to rule out the Celtics owning a second lottery pick.

Although there is some silver lining in beating a team like Atlanta, the real value remains in the Celtics‘ own first-rounder. One thing we are learning this season is that each loss makes a difference, and Wednesday would have been a good night to lose. Had the C’€™s lost, they not only would have had the fourth-highest lottery odds, they would have been just one win ahead of the Magic.

Orlando was able to collect a victory Wednesday over the 76ers, opening up an opportunity for a new team to get a taste of the bottom three for the first time in weeks. The Lakers appear to have the inside track, but the Celtics have a tough month of March. Boston plays 10 of 15 games against teams above .500, including the Pacers twice and the Heat. That doesn’t even include two games against the Nets and a game at New Orleans — the Celtics are 0-13 on the road against the Western Conference this season.

Boston has a golden opportunity to land in the top five of this draft, and the brutal March schedule is the key to getting there. Wednesday just proves how important each night in the NBA will be to lottery odds/draft order as we go down the home stretch. But for now, here is what the draft lottery (plus the next two picks) could look like if it were held today.

1. Bucks: Joel Embiid (Kansas, freshman) – Embiid remains the top prospect based on pure potential. In his three games since returning from injury, Embiid has averaged 14.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.3 blocks — all while committing significantly less fouls. He is simply too rare of a prospect for Milwaukee to pass up.

2. 76ers: Andrew Wiggins (Kansas, freshman) – Wiggins still has not posted the overall numbers that he was expected to, but he is starting to back up some of the hype. He has become much more consistent of late, scoring 14 or more points in 10 of his last 11 games. Wiggins also finished off Texas Tech with a game-winner, a good sign after his competitive drive has been questioned. Philly is loaded with young talent; even though Wiggins may be a project, he will have time to develop there.

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Rajon Rondo’s birthday bash: ‘My business, not yours’

02.27.14 at 12:58 am ET
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In typical Rajon Rondo fashion, the Celtics point guard addressed the media in Boston for the first time since the Boston Herald report claiming he skipped the team’s trip to Sacramento without permission.

What does he make of the media firestorm unleashed after his alleged decision to remain in Los Angeles to celebrate his 28th birthday with friends and family? “I haven’t really read much about it,” he said. “I heard a lot of comments. Nobody knows the story, so you guys keep making up every story you guys possibly can.”

What, exactly, is the story? “It’s my business,” he followed. “It’s not yours.”

Likewise, Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters prior to his team’s 115-104 victory against the Hawks that the organization would handle the matter internally. According to the Herald, C’s president Danny Ainge will meet with Rondo next week upon returning from a college scouting trip and has not ruled out a fine.

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Fast Break: Jerryd Bayless, Celtics ground Hawks

02.26.14 at 9:55 pm ET
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If the entire Eastern Conference weren’t so dreadful, the Celtics might have a shot at two lottery picks this June.

The C’s handed the undermanned Hawks their 10th loss in 12 games with a 115-104 win at the Garden on Wednesday night. It was a welcome respite for the Celtics, whose own rough streak included falling to 0-13 on the road against Western Conference on their recent road trip. The C’s own the lesser first-round pick between Atlana and Brooklyn, which may come into Boston next week with a sub-.500 record.

As for Wednesday’s game, Jerryd Bayless led all scorers with a season-high 29 points. Rajon Rondo (22 points, 11 assists) and Gerald Wallace (12 points, 10 rebounds) added double-doubles. Jeff Green (17 points), Brandon Bass (14 points) and Kris Humphries (10 points) also reached double figures, as the Celtics improved to 20-34.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Rondo ready: While others may rant and rave about the birthday bash drama, Rondo hasn’t been effected. He scored 11 of the C’s 25 first-quarter points, attempting six shots in the opening frame and making four of them. He then began directing an offense that shot 53.7 percent and scored 58 points by the break. Rondo logged his fourth double-double in as many appearances, and he’s beginning to prove that the double-digit assist streak awhile back wasn’t solely dependent on his superstar teammates.

Expect more. Bayless: Starting in the absence of Avery Bradley, Bayless netted 20 points for the first time this season since scoring 22 against the Celtics as a member of the Grizzlies on Nov. 27. He connected on eight of his first 12 shots, including a trio of third-quarter 3-pointers that gave the Celtics a five-point cushion midway through the third quarter.

Board to death: In the absence of three of their six frontcourt rotation players, the Celtics wings banged the boards against a Hawks squad without the services of stars Al Horford (torn pectoral) and Paul Millsap (knee). Green, Wallace and Chris Johnson combined for 25 rebounds as the C’s outworked Atlanta 46-29 on the glass.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Injury bug: A rash of injuries left the Celtics with just nine available players for Wednesday’s game against the Hawks. The absences of Jared Sullinger (concussion), Kelly Olynyk (toe) and Vitor Faverani (knee) left the Celtics particularly shorthanded in the frontcourt, which meant more minutes for Joel Anthony. While Sullinger and Olynyk could return as soon as Saturday, Bradley’s absence from the backcourt remains uncertain, as the soon-to-be restricted free agent missed his eight straight game with an ankle injury.

3′s a crowd: As has been the case for years, Kyle Korver continued to be a thorn in the C’s side. The league’s second-leading 3-point shooter connected on his first four triples, leading a 9-for-19 Hawks effort from beyond the arc.

Going Carroll-ing: Perhaps motivated by the rumors that had him potentially headed to the Celtics in exchange for Green, Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll had his way in the paint opposite the undermanned C’s frontcourt, collecting 24 points on just 11 shots and adding seven boards.

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‘You learn every day’: Brad Stevens experiment nears end of first year with Celtics

02.26.14 at 11:34 am ET
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HANDS ON HIS KNEES, gasping for air, there stood a teenaged Danny Ainge. Covered in sweat, surrounded by members of the Portland Trail Blazers, Ainge looked up to see the greatest Blazer of all. With his shaggy beard and full head of red hair, there was a smiling Bill Walton.

Brad Stevens is in his first season coaching the Celtics. (AP)

Brad Stevens is in his first season coaching the Celtics. (AP)

“I’ve known Danny since I moved to Oregon 40 years ago,” said Walton. “He was just in high school in Eugene when we got there. Danny would come up and play with us when he was in high school, and he would do just fine. In fact, he was incredibly fun to play with.”

The young Ainge, still sharpening his teeth as a three-sport All-American at North Eugene High School, would impress his NBA teammates with a strong handle and perfect jumper. The piece of his game that most impressed these professional basketball players was one that still cannot be found on a stat sheet. Ainge’s intelligence put him on another level as a basketball player.

“Danny Ainge is brilliant,” said Walton. “Even at a young age, he was very motivated, dedicated and committed. He’€™s always been a visionary.”

Ainge has always embraced different ideas. Conventional wisdom is not a phrase you hear the 54-year-old utter to defend his thought process. Just as Ainge was dedicated to the idea of playing professional basketball, he’s now applied his drive to his role as a president of basketball operations for the Celtics. And, depending on who is speaking, his latest big idea may be his greatest.

THE BOSTON CELTICS are spitting in the face of history. Luring Brad Stevens away from Butler and flying him first-class to Boston is a daring move even for a team with a deep history of bold moves. The Celtics, after all, hired the first African-American head coach in the NBA. Amidst all sorts of race issues in the United States, this franchise started the first entirely black starting five. The team, led by the undaunted Red Auerbach, was never hesitant. The Celtics thought differently, courageously, unafraid — in 1950, one year before Oliver Brown and friends began their battle against the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas — the Celtics used a second-round pick on Chuck Cooper, the first black player to be drafted by an NBA team and the second to appear in a game (one day after Washington Capitols forward Earl Lloyd). Trendsetting rarely has surfaced as an issue at 151 Merrimac Street. Yet with Ainge’s hiring of Stevens, the fabled Celtics franchise is following a trend with an extremely high failure rate. College coaches from the past two decades have not succeeded in the NBA. But here are the Celtics, hiring a 37-year-old coach who never played a second of pro basketball, reintroducing the league to a rather old concept. Not that Stevens will fail, but that the Celtics — led by Ainge — will reset the trend. The rest of the league, pawns outplayed by a dominating queen, will see the Celtics succeed with Stevens.

“Brad is smart, he has great integrity, his teams execute and play hard, and he’s a great communicator,” said Ainge. “Experience as a player can help as a coach, but it’s not mandatory. Experience as a coach in college can make a big difference as well. Coach Stevens has proven he’s a great coach. Coaching in the NBA is different, I understand, but in terms of coaching experience, there have been a lot of guys who have become really good coaches that weren’t NBA players.”

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Poll: Was Rajon Rondo in the wrong when he skipped Celtics’ trip to Sacramento?

02.25.14 at 2:49 pm ET
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Was Rajon Rondo in the wrong when he skipped the team's trip to Sacramento?

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Rajon Rondo to talk with Danny Ainge about failing to accompany team to Sacramento

02.25.14 at 2:34 pm ET
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Celtics guard Rajon Rondo was not scheduled to play in Saturday’s game against the Kings in Sacramento — the second night of a back-to-back that started with a game against the Lakers — but he apparently did not have the team’s permission to stay in Los Angeles rather than accompany the team on its flight north.

The Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett reported that Rondo stayed in Los Angeles to celebrate his 28th birthday with family, and that he might have assumed he didn’t need to fly with the team as he had been left home rather than make a trip to Milwaukee for a Feb. 10 game that was the second of a back-to-back.

Rondo implied that the matter was settled, telling the Herald: “We already talked about it. There’s nothing to talk about.”

However, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge did not sound as convinced.

“I plan on talking to Rondo when he gets back into town,” Ainge told the Herald. “I’ll find out more about what went into it, and then we’ll handle it internally. We handle all of those kind of issues internally.”

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Road woes continue for Celtics in loss to Jazz

02.24.14 at 11:30 pm ET
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This was the Celtics‘€™ chance.

After losing 17 straight games on the road against Western Conference teams, including all 12 this season, the C’s respite from their cross-conference road suffrage was set up perfectly for them: a matchup with a hapless Jazz team that entered Monday night’€™s game just half a game ahead of the last-place Lakers.

Instead, the streak moved to 18 as the Celtics fell, 110-98, at Utah.

Now, it’€™s exceedingly possible that the Celtics (19-39) will go the entire 2013-14 season without beating a West team on the road. They still have two games remaining out West, but Boston squandered an opportunity on its four-game road trip that just concluded. Boston lost all four games, despite  three of the games coming vs. the worst three teams in the West record-wise.

Alec Burks led the Jazz (20-36) in scoring off the bench with 21 points. Derrick Favors and Marvin Williams combined for 39 points on just 19 shots.

Jeff Green produced his second-straight high-volume game, as he tossed in 21 points on 16 shots. Kelly Olynyk came off the bench to spark Boston with 21 points, Rajon Rondo recorded 18 points and Jerryd Bayless chipped in 13 points off the bench.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE CELTICS

Shooting: The difference in this game can very simply be chalked up to the Celtics failure to shoot the ball compared to the Jazz’€™s ability to knock down shots. Boston dug itself a hole in the first three quarters by shooting 40 percent from the field and finishing 1-for-9 beyond the arc, while allowing Utah to bury 59 percent of its shots, and convert on 5-of-12 3-pointers. The Celtics fought back in the fourth quarter and made the final shooting figures more even, but the 15-point third quarter deficit was too much to overcome.

Turnovers: When you’€™re not shooting the ball well, and the Celtics weren’t, it’€™s imperative to avoid turnovers and maximize the number of possessions. Boston did not do this, as it gave the ball away 14 times (leading to 15 Jazz points), with the starters accounting for 11 of those. Rondo committed a team-high five turnovers, and all three of the bench turnovers were credited to  Bayless.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE CELTICS

Rondo: You can argue that the Celtics are being overly cautious in holding out Rondo in the second game of back-to-backs, but the evidence that the extra day off benefits Rondo is indisputable. Entering Monday, Rondo had sat out the second game of three back-to-backs thus far. In the game following his rest, he’€™s averaged 13.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists while shooting 68 percent from the field and 60 percent from 3-point land. He continued that trend of success against Utah as Rondo finished with 18 points, 10 assists and three rebounds, after sitting out Boston’€™s loss to the Kings on Saturday.

Olynyk: The Celtics’€™ top pick in the 2013 draft has fumbled through an uneven rookie season, but was one of Boston’€™s lone bright spots in the loss. Olynyk, who’€™s averaging 6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, was the only Celtic off the bench with double-digits, as the 7-footer tossed in 21 points, and added eight rebounds, four assists and a steal.

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