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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Celtics’ late skid puts them in solid position 04.10.14 at 2:19 pm ET
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I have been saying for about a month now that the bottom three teams in the NBA are etched in stone: Bucks, 76ers and Magic. However, thanks to a nine-game Celtics losing streak, combined with an unlikely two-game Magic winning streak, I was wrong. Both teams enter Thursday with records of 23-55, sharing the third spot in the lottery.

This is exactly what Danny Ainge had in mind at the start of the season, and now his plan is coming to fruition. But with only four games remaining for both Orlando and Boston, losing has become as important as ever this season. The Magic still have the inside track, as they play the Wizards, Nets (looking for revenge for Orlando’€™s win Wednesday), Bulls and Pacers.

The Celtics, on the other hand, have some very winnable games, so this is going to require some dedication to losing. The C’s face the Bobcats, Cavaliers, 76ers and Wizards in their final four outings. Yes, that’€™s right, the Celtics and 76ers will face off in another dreadful battle like the one we saw last Friday night at the Garden. Boston’s other three opponents are either trying to fight their way into the postseason or are jostling for position, so they arguably have something to play for.

This is all speculation at the moment, but if we are going by what the numbers tell us, Orlando will lose out. Meanwhile, the C’s should lose three of those games, leaving us with the 76ers contest. Look, the Celtics roster is clearly better than Philly’s, but Brad Stevens and company are going to have to understand the importance of sacrificing this game. This single game could hold the value of moving up one spot in the lottery — or not falling back a spot, depending on which way you want to look at it.

On top of that, unless the 14-win Bucks finish on a hot streak, the 76ers have nothing to lose by winning games now. They are six wins behind the Magic and Celtics, so even if they win out they still hold the second spot in the lottery. Essentially, I am saying the 76ers can stop tanking and it will not affect their lottery odds. Monday night in Philadelphia is the Celtics’ biggest game of the season.

This is all premature, as we have no clue what will happen in these games. The Magic are hot, maybe they can win another one and the C’€™s finish with sole possession of the third lottery spot. Maybe Orlando’€™s schedule is too much and Boston slips back to the fourth spot. Then there is the event of a tie, which actually is more likely at this point — both teams could easily go winless the rest of the season. If Boston and Orlando share the third-worst record in the NBA, they would split the lottery odds of third and fourth down the middle — a 42.4 percent chance at a top-three pick and an 89.4 percent chance at a top-five pick each.

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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Final Four players to watch 04.05.14 at 10:07 pm ET
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That is my tweet following Friday night’€™s nine-point Celtics loss to the 76ers in a game in which Boston was favored by double digits. And after sleeping on it, I feel even more strongly that this was the C’€™s best loss of the season.

Now sitting alone in the fourth lottery position, Boston is coming off of a crushing blowout at the hands of the Wizards and an embarrassing home loss to Philly. Seriously, everyone who came off the Sixers bench I had to Google to find out who they were. This season is not worth trying to figure out anymore.

The only thing worth understanding? Nothing is more valuable than losing these final games. Boston could realistically finish with anywhere from the fourth-best to seventh-best lottery odds, it’€™s that tight. Look, it sucks to cheer for your team to lose, I get that, but it’€™s almost over. Next year the Celts are going to be on the rise whether Danny Ainge uses his draft picks or trades them. So if you truly bleed green, you can cheer for just a few more losses before we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But is anyone even paying attention? The Red Sox are kicking off their World Series defense, the Bruins are at the same point of the season as the Celtics, only as the top team in the East, and the Patriots are working out some of the top quarterbacks in May’€™s draft.

Honestly, there is nothing on the court worth watching right now when it comes to Celtics basketball. The highlight of the last couple of months came on Monday when Rajon Rondo was in the booth calling the first half of Celtics vs. Bulls. The next big date for the Celtics is May 20 — the draft lottery. So here is something short term and something long term for Celtics fans to pay attention to until the big date.

In the short term, well, fortunately, we have the Final Four. This is our last chance to watch college hoops until next season, at the price of many of the top prospects already being sent home. But Kentucky is an interesting team to watch simply because of Julius Randle. A lot can happen between now and June, but right now Randle is expected to be about the fifth pick in the draft — the Celtics are expected to hold about the fifth pick in the draft. See the connection there?

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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Top prospects exit early from March Madness, but some intriguing talents remain 03.26.14 at 10:46 am ET
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Remember last week when I said that the beginning of March Madness is the greatest four-day stretch on the sports calendar? Well, I rarely get to reap the benefits of being right, so this is the part where I say, “I told you so.”

Kentucky's Julius Randle (left) and Willie Cauley-Stein are two big men worth keeping an eye on as the NCAA tournament continues. (AP)

Kentucky’s Julius Randle (left) and Willie Cauley-Stein are two big men worth keeping an eye on as the NCAA tournament continues. (AP)

Seriously, what a weekend. Some will whine and complain about the low scores, the long shot clock or the quality of the play. Really!? Mercer completely outplaying Duke wasn’t shocking enough for you? Harvard winning a tournament game for the second year in a row, then giving Michigan State a run for its money didn’t entertain you? Dayton battling past Ohio State and Syracuse into the Sweet 16 — setting up a double-digit-seed showdown with Stanford, which took down Kansas — didn’t inspire you? Sorry to ramble, but this tournament is just too much fun.

To sum it all up, just picture this: No. 5-seed VCU is at the free throw line for a pair, up four points, with 10 seconds left against 12th-seed Stephen F. Austin. Now I tell you Stephen F. Austin will win this game by two points in overtime, arriving there on two missed free throws followed by an improbable four-point-play with 3.6 seconds remaining in regulation. Would you even believe me? It makes it 10 times more fun if you had Stephen F. Austin in your bracket, too.

This is why you watch March Madness.

The Celtics are involved in some madness of their own, as they jostle for lottery position in the bottom-heavy NBA. They currently are slotted into the fifth lottery spot, which after giving a glance at the standings and schedules isn’€™t a horrible place to end up. With 12 games remaining, Boston has to face the amazingly horrible 76ers (riding a cool 25-game losing streak) twice before season’€™s end, but the rest of their games could be helpful to their cause.

The Celtics will play the Bulls, Raptors and Wizards twice each, along with games against the Hawks and Bobcats — all teams battling for playoff position in the East. Lets just say those teams will be playing for a lot more than the Celts. And even when Boston faces off against fellow lottery competition on the road in Cleveland and Detroit, those games come on the tail end of back-to-backs ‘€“ meaning no Rajon Rondo. A 3-9 finish is not too much to ask for going into Wednesday night when Boston plays host to Toronto.

As much fun as the NCAA tournament was to watch, things didn’t go quite as well for the top NBA prospects. Jabari Parker and Marcus Smart went down in their first games, Andrew Wiggins dropped his second game (ending his college career with a four-point stinker) and Joel Embiid never even played. Add Dante Exum (the heralded Australian prospect) to the mix, and none of the potential top five picks in the draft will be playing in a Sweet 16 game.

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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: March Madness could reveal sleeper pick for Celtics 03.20.14 at 9:23 am ET
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Finally, it’€™s time to watch some meaningful basketball, Celtics fans! Well, in the NCAA tournament, that is.

Jabari Parker could be slipping right to the Celtics. (AP)

Jabari Parker is a known commodity, but there could be some less-heralded players who emerge in the NCAA tournament. (AP)

The C’€™s had an exciting win against the LeBron James-less Heat on Wednesday night. Sure, it was fun to see Rajon Rondo lead the charge against a quality team, but what does it really mean? This season is already lost, so what it means is a five-game losing streak has been halted, dropping Boston two spots to the sixth lottery spot. The win lowered the C’s current chance at a top-three pick by 16 percent. You never know how the season is going to end, but all signs point to a tight lottery race. Was the thrill of Wednesday worth it if the Celtics finish one win ahead of the Lakers?

Enter the beginning of March Madness, the greatest four-day stretch in sports.

We know that there will be ample buzzer-beaters and upsets, there always are. Brackets will be ripped to shreds (as mine always is), others will turn into lottery tickets (just not the kind Danny Ainge is chasing). No bets are safe come March Madness, but feel free to learn the hard way if you must. Nobody needs any extra incentive to enjoy the most entertaining tournament we have as sports fans. However, this year Celtics fans will have one extra reason to pay attention — draft picks.

Don’€™t forget that outside of Boston’€™s hyped first-rounder, Ainge also will own Brooklyn or Atlanta’€™s pick, which could end up being a player who breaks out in the tournament. We already know the talent players like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and even Marcus Smart posses. A bad tournament will not lower their draft stock, but a breakout tournament could boost their NBA stock even higher. There is no clear cut No. 1 overall pick, but Celtics fans obviously would love to see any top-tier talent arrive in Boston.

The immediate franchise changers will be determined by the ping-pong balls, the hunt for the rest of the stars begins with the later picks. Once the premier talent is off the board, a lot of the next prospects to be taken in the draft are players that raised their stock in March. I didn’€™t even know who Kenneth Faried was until Morehead State upset Louisville in 2011. After watching him play one game, I had no doubt he was a lottery talent in that year’s draft. Kind of an extreme example, but March matters.

Who is 2014′€™s Faried? Can Ainge get his hands on him? And most importantly, can he develop a better nickname than ‘€œThe Manamal’€ in the NBA? Time will tell.

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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Celtics must go fourth with more losing 03.14.14 at 10:32 am ET
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The New England Patriots finally got the message that they needed to do more to win. As you know by now, the Pats agreed to a deal with highly coveted cornerback Darrelle Revis on Wednesday, an uncharacteristic move for the organization.

Chris Babb (52) has earned a second 10-day contract with the Celtics. (AP)

Kelly Olynyk (left), Chris Babb and the rest of the Celtics won two straight before returning to their losing ways Wednesday. (AP)

The Celtics have uncharacteristically been losing all season, but they might have come to grips with another message on the night Revis was brought to New England — they need to do more to lose.

I thought Boston might have been on that path last week after a blowout loss to the Warriors, but the C’s ended up winning their next two games. Maybe this time around it will be different. Wednesday’s 24-point thumping at home at the hands of the depleted Knicks — with Rajon Rondo sitting on the Celtics bench — was nothing short of inspiring for Boston’€™s lottery odds.

Since last week’s draft piece the Celtics have gone from the fourth-worst record in the NBA to a tie for seventh worst to back into a three-way tie for fourth worst. Some, including myself, think the NBA plays too many games, the thought process being that fewer games will put more emphasis on winning in the regular season. However, this season it’s arguable that the last month of the regular season will carry significance, only much more crucial to the clear-cut lottery teams than anyone else.

The three highest lottery spots are essentially locked up at this point by the Bucks, 76ers and Magic, but the next four spots (where the Celtics figure to land) remain wide open. What’s the emphasis on winning the rest of the season? Well, the only answer seems to be “to instill a winning mentality,” as some would say. If you think the difference between winning 30 games and 25 games is going to make Jared Sullinger arrive next season feeling more confident, then you do not know the NBA.

A season like this happened right in front of our eyes in 2006-07, and look how that turned out the next year. So what’s the emphasis on losing? Well, there actually is hard evidence that this is the right move. The team that finishes with the fourth-highest lottery odds will have a 37.8 percent chance at a top-three pick and an 82.8 percent chance at selecting in the top five. The seventh-highest lottery odds only yield a 15 percent chance at a top-three pick; otherwise you pick seventh or later.

Yes, there are no guarantees in the lottery, but I ask pro-winning Celtics fans this: Would you rather miss the playoffs and own the fourth spot in the lottery, or miss the playoffs and own the seventh spot in the lottery?

With the ever-changing landscape at the bottom of the NBA, a mock draft seems almost useless. Instead, this week I will post my current big board as it stands prior to the NCAA tournament.

1. Jabari Parker, freshman, Duke – I wrote about the possibility of the Celtics stealing Parker in the draft last week, and I maintain that he is the best player in the draft (assuming he declares). Parker has been a beast all season, and he finished the regular season with perhaps his best performance. With Duke hosting rival North Carolina, Parker dropped a season-high 30 points and collected 11 boards in a 93-81 victory. He is a can’t-miss star at the next level.

2. Joel Embiid, freshman, Kansas – The big man is battling a stress fracture in his back, and it is worse than anticipated. Embiid will not play until the Sweet 16 at the earliest, and that obviously is only if Kansas is fortunate enough to make it there. This injury doesn’t change his draft stock, though. He still is very smooth on his feet for a 7-footer and possesses a growing skill set reminiscent of Hakeem Olajuwon.

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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Could Jabari Parker fall into Celtics’ lap? 03.07.14 at 11:21 am ET
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Wednesday night represented the lowest point of the Celtics‘€™ frustrating season. A 20-point home loss to the Warriors ‘€“and it wasn’€™t even as close as it sounds.

Jabari Parker could be slipping right to the Celtics. (AP)

Jabari Parker could be slipping right to the Celtics. (AP)

When lottery day arrives, this could be the loss Celtics fans look back on as the straw that broke the camel’€™s back. Losses aside, when you think of this struggling Celtics squad, you still think of a team that plays hard. Wednesday night that thought disappeared.

‘€œI didn’€™t think our energy was an A-plus,’€ coach Brad Stevens stated postgame, ‘€œlet’€™s just put it that way.’€

We have seen all season long that no matter what, Stevens’€™ team plays hard ‘€“ but not anymore. Lack of effort will make for horrible basketball to watch over the final 21 games, but it will yield a fantastic draft pick at the end of the not-so pretty rainbow.

Boston still holds the fourth-highest lottery odds, sandwiched between the Magic (third) and Lakers (fifth). The Lakers saw the Celtics lay an egg and came out Thursday night determined to one-up them — by suffering the most lopsided loss in franchise history. The Lakers fell to the Clippers, 142-94, and it seemed like Blake Griffin and company finished off every possession with a dunk. I turned it off at 104-56 with three minutes remaining in the third quarter — it got that bad. Orlando, on the other hand, has only one less win than Boston, so the third spot in the lottery is not out of the question.

What would finishing as the third-worst team in the NBA mean? It would give Boston a 96 percent chance at a top-five pick and a 47 percent chance at selecting in the top three. The worst result would be the sixth pick, and that would only have a 4 percent chance of happening.

We have been under the impression that owning a top-three pick is an absolute must in order to obtain one of the top-tier prospects expected to enter the draft. There are very intriguing players to be had throughout the entire lottery, but Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker seem to have separated themselves from the pack. However, Chad Ford‘€™s most recent mock draft for ESPN insider had a new view of the draft. Embiid and Wiggins hold down the two top picks, but Parker is not in the third spot. Ford has the Magic using their pick on Dante Exum, who is said to be climbing draft boards (by working out in a gym in Australia). This leaves the C’€™s selecting Parker in the No. 4 spot, and making out like bandits.

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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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