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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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Read More: Andrew Wiggins, Danny Ainge, Dante Exum, Jabari Parker
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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Read More: Aaron Gordon, Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum, Jabari Parker
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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Read More: Andrew Wiggins, Danny Ainge, Jabari Parker, LeBron James
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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Read More: Aaron Gordon, Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum, Doug McDermott
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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Read More: Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid
Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Danny Ainge’s inactivity at trade deadline might be costly 02.22.14 at 10:58 am ET
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In somewhat of a surprise, Danny Ainge watched Thursday’€™s trade deadline come and go without shipping any of the current Celtics out of town. Although there were no deals that will take over the headlines, there certainly were moves made that will affect the NBA draft.

Danny Ainge (AP)

Danny Ainge was quiet at the trade deadline. (AP)

Typically, the focus of this post is college basketball‘€™s top stars and their draft stock — with the possibility that they may end up in Boston.  But with a quiet week for the prospects, this week’€™s focus will be on why Ainge’€™s lack of a move can only hurt Boston’€™s lottery odds.

While the Pacers are getting attention for adding Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen, it should not go unnoticed that the 76ers are subtracting those players from a 15-win team. In addition, Philly sent its starting center, Spencer Hawes, to the Cavaliers. These moves leave the 76ers roster without two of its top four scorers this season.

Although Philly landed a multitude of second-round-picks (crazy stat: the 76ers now have nine second-rounders in this year’s draft — 30 percent of the picks in the round), they have essentially guaranteed themselves to finish in the bottom three of the league. Although the Sixers became the biggest ‘€œtankers’€ of the deadline, other teams made splashes, too.

The 10-win Bucks dumped Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour on the playoff-hopeful Bobcats. The Lakers shipped Steve Blake away to give the Warriors backcourt depth, despite Kobe Bryant tweeting that he’€™s ‘€œnot cool’€ with the move. And the Magic, who couldn’€™t find a trade to make, decided to simply buy out the contract of Glen ‘€œBig Baby’€ Davis.

So what’€™s the significance of all these seemingly insignificant moves? All of those teams that rid themselves of contributors sit below the Celtics in the standings.

Although Ainge was active earlier in the season, it appears he now has limited Boston’€™s odds at an elite draft pick simply by doing nothing. The idea of tanking rests solely on the GM’€™s ability to take key pieces away from the team; coaches and players are going to give it their all every night.

On the positive side of the spectrum, all the teams above the Celtics in the standings, aside from the Jazz, feel they have what it takes to make a playoff push. This still means in all likelihood that Boston can finish with the seventh-highest lottery odds at worst. But at the same time it makes it very difficult to see the Celtics landing inside the top five picks without a little help from the ping pong balls.

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Read More: Anrew Wigging, Danny Ainge, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid
Weekly NBA draft prospect watch: Marcus Smart’s stock likely dropping 02.13.14 at 4:12 pm ET
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The Celtics head into the All-Star break with a record of 19-35. With this season’€™s diluted NBA product, that gives them the sixth-worst record in the league.

Marcus Smart returned to school for his sophomore season to work on his outside shooting and maturity, but he still struggles with both. (AP)

Marcus Smart returned to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season to work on his outside shooting and maturity, but he still struggles with both. (AP)

Even the smallest of streaks makes a difference when it comes to the number of ping pong balls owned come lottery time. Boston got hot and won 4-of-5 games starting on Super Bowl Sunday, a streak that took them from the third-highest odds of winning the lottery to the eighth. The C’€™s fell to the Spurs on Wednesday night, though, which, combined with unlikely recent wins by the Jazz and Cavaliers, has them sitting in the sixth spot.

The Celtics are on pace for about 28 wins by season’€™s end, but with the trade deadline around the corner, and the tanking only expected to become more obvious, no predictions are safe. The C’s could find themselves selecting anywhere in the lottery, which makes for excitement but also causes uncertainty.

Here’€™s a look at what some of the top draft prospects have done in the past week, plus a brief look at some players on the rise.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, sophomore ‘€“ As everyone knows by now, Smart only hurt his draft status in the past week. On Saturday night at Texas Tech Smart had a decent game, but his name was in the headlines for another reason.

With 6.2 seconds left, and the Cowboys on their way to a fourth consecutive loss, Smart’€™s frustration boiled over in the worst way. Falling into the crowd going for a block, Smart was helped up, but he did not head to the court as expected. Instead he went deeper into the crowd and argued with a fan who had been heckling him. Smart then shoved the fan, which isn’€™t tolerated in any sports forum.

Both the fan and Smart have since apologized for their actions, but that was not enough to save Smart from a suspension. Smart missed his team’s blowout loss to Texas on Tuesday, and will miss the next two games to round out a three-game ban. His return, oddly enough, will come against Texas Tech, but this time on Oklahoma State’€™s home floor.

“Marcus made a big mistake [Saturday] night, he knows that,” Cowboys coach Travis Ford said Sunday. “We talked about it extensively. He knows we don’t condone things of that matter. He has owned up to it.’€

Added Ford: ‘€œMarcus is a young man that has been in the public eye for quite a bit. And I think we’d all agree for the highest percentage of the time, he’s conducted himself as a tremendous young man. But he made a mistake that he’s going to pay for.”

Smart probably will end up paying a steeper price than his three-game suspension once the draft rolls around.

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Read More: Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Marcus Smart
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