Celtics-Jazz preview: Squeaking out wins

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Celtics-Jazz preview: Squeaking out wins

BOSTON If Doc Rivers had his way, every game would be a Celtics blowout win.

But there is inherent value in winning games that come down to the wire. It strengthens the belief that the Celtics, for all the struggles they have had to start the season, are still mentally tough enough to win close games.

With a 4-3 record, the Celtics' average margin of victory has been just 4.8 points. Only two teams have a closer margin of victory: Sacramento' (2.0 points per win) and Indiana (4.7).

"We're a veteran ball club," said C's guard Jason Terry. "We thrive in situations where it's a tight ball game. We've all been in that situation plenty of times. We know what we have to do to close games out."

Strong defense in the fourth quarter, limiting turnovers and simply playing with greater effort has been vital to Boston finding a way to pull out close wins this season.

All those dynamics will be challenged when the C's host the Utah Jazz tonight. Here are some other keys for the game as the Celtics look for their fifth win in the last six games.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Every team has a flaw that the opponent wants to exploit. For the Celtics, it is rebounding. I know . . . shocking. Boston ranks dead last on the glass at 46 rebounds per game. They face a Utah team that once again is among the NBA's best on the boards. Utah hauls in 55 rebounds per game which ranks sixth in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Paul Millsap. Tonight's matchup here offers up a rare treat: two power forwards who are actually ... power forwards. Bass is the better face-up scorer, but you have to give Millsap the edge when it comes to rebounding.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Chris Wilcox isn't putting up huge numbers for the Celtics, but he is contributing in ways that should help ease some of the interior pressure defensively that's squarely on the shoulders of Kevin Garnett. It's well documented how significant the drop-off is when Garnett leaves the game to take a rest. Wilcox is rounding into shape so that Garnett taking a break may not necessarily be as big an issue in the future. "I'm getting there; I'm getting there," Wilcox said. "I just have to keep on grinding man, making sure I do my part to help this team win. When I come in for KG, that means defense and rebounding."

STAT TO TRACK: Both teams have had some pretty good halftime spiels from their coaches, evident by the third quarter being so good to them offensively. Boston averages 25.6 points in the third quarter this season which ranks seventh in the NBA. Meanwhile the Jazz aren't too far behind with 25.2 points in the third quarter which ranks ninth in the league.

Morning Skate: Rangers seem to be a strong candidate for Shattenkirk

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Morning Skate: Rangers seem to be a strong candidate for Shattenkirk

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading with Bruins captain’s practice set to kick off this coming week.

*The Rangers sound like they’ll be a strong candidate for Kevin Shattenkirk, and the Dallas Stars seem willing to stand pat at the goalie position.

*PHT writer James O’Brien speculates on who might be the next Artemi Panarin to break into the NHL ranks from overseas, and make a big impact.

*Yahoo fantasy hockey is making some changes this season, and those that liked to draft Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Burns are going to bummed about it.

*An original St. Louis Blues jersey from the old time hockey days has found its way back to its original home in St. Louis.

*Steve Simmons says that Dave Bolland has earned the right to be more than a punch line at this point in his career.

*Looking back on Phil Esposito’s classic speech amid the 1972 Summit Series.

*The All-Snub team for the World Cup of Hockey would be a talented lineup, and would no doubt be captained by P.K. Subban.

*For something completely different: those looking for signs of a rift between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady need to call off the search.

Belichick discusses risk of exposing players to waiver claims

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Belichick discusses risk of exposing players to waiver claims

Bill Belichick knows the data. Knows the risk involved in exposing a player to a waiver claim at this time of the year and long ago came to the uneasy truce that you can’t keep ‘em all and somebody else might snag ‘em.

This summer, the Patriots don’t have a mass of easy releases, especially among their rookies and first-year players.

There are a lot of very intriguing players who’ve looked good either in practices, games or both. Good enough to make the Pats think twice about whether they want to leave them exposed.

Top of mind for me there are corners Jonathan Jones and Cre’Von LeBlanc, linebacker Elandon Roberts, wide receiver DeAndre Carter, defensive lineman Woodrow Hamilton and running back D.J. Foster who appear to be right on the roster bubble but are impressive.

“It’s something you take into consideration, it’s a hard thing to predict,” Belichick said when asked about weighing the risk of a released player the Patriots would like to re-sign to their practice squad getting claimed. “There’s going to be, I don’t know, certainly going to be a lot of players, probably over 1,000 players that will be exposed to waivers in the next eight calendar days or whatever it’ll be. I think the average claim is somewhere in the high 20s there…so that’s what the odds are. We’ve had years where we haven’t had any of our players claimed and we’ve had years where we’ve had multiple players claimed. I think at the end you just have to do what you think is best for your team.”

Belichick has given us terrific insight this week into how he and Nick Caserio strategize their roster decisions. When asked about the team’s releases in advance of the cutdown deadlines, Belichick mentioned the team wanted to have the ability to accommodate new players who may come available.

Enter the Barkevious.

He also got into projecting young players against established performance levels of veterans and weighing current contributions against future ones.

"That’s the $64,000 question," Belichick said on Tuesday. "That’s what it is. It’s been like that since the day I got into this league. From all of the personnel meetings I’ve ever been in it’s a [matter of] a player who’s more experienced [and] more ready to help the team now, versus a player that’s not as ready now but at some point you think the pendulum will swing in his favor. Will you do that? Can you do that? What are the consequences of making that move? What are the consequences of not making that move? How likely, as you said, is it that you could keep both players in some capacity?

"That’s what it’s about, trying to balance now with later. We’re going to field a team in November, we’re going to field a team next year, we’re going to field a team in 2018. Not that we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves, but we’re going to be in business in those years, so we have to sort of have an eye on those moving forward and a lot of the other factors that go into that. Those are all tough decisions. They’re all things that you really have to think about."

As is the risk of having a player scooped.

“It’s pretty hard to predict what’s going to happen when you put players on the wire because in all honesty, you don’t know what the other [31] teams are going to do and who they’re going to put on the wire,” Belichick explained. “Even though you put a player out there that you don’t want to lose, if another team happens to put a player out there that may be a team that needs that position and would be better with your player, your player gets claimed. Sometimes we waive players that we didn’t think would get claimed and they were, so that’s really hard to predict.

“In the end, you’ve got to make the decision that you feel like is best for your football team, and if you really want that player and you just can’t bear to live without them, then you shouldn’t be exposing them to the wire,” he concluded. “That’s the reality of it. We keep an eye on them, but I don’t think it’s an overriding factor. If you’re prepared to waive them, then you’ve got to be prepared to lose them. That’s just the way it is.”

Belichick considering using Jones as the No. 1 punt returner

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Belichick considering using Jones as the No. 1 punt returner

Back in May, when the Patriots drafted Cyrus Jones in the second round, Patriots director of player personel Nick Caserio made it very clear: Jones' ability to return punts is what made him their favorite player available at pick No. 60.

"I think the thing that tipped the scales in Cyrus’ favor a little bit," Caserio said at the time, "was his overall versatility -- punt return -- that’s a huge component of what we do and we thought he had the ability."

Jones broke out with a 60-yard return on Friday against the Panthers, flashing the kind of explosion in the kicking game that the Patriots anticipated when they made him their first selection this year. 

Though Jones has admitted he has had his share of issues securing the football during punt-return periods in practice, he has not dropped a punt in a preseason game. And in a conference call on Saturday, Bill Belichick acknowledged that Jones could be the team's primary punt returner in Week 1 even though the team employs two accomplished players who have performed that well in the past. 

"Yeah, I think that’s a consideration," Belichick said of using Jones as the No. 1 returner. "Obviously, Danny [Amendola] and Julian [Edelman] have a lot of experience returning punts for us as well as kickoffs in the past. We’ll see how it goes, but we have good depth at that position and that’s always a good thing to have.

"We have confidence in all of those guys back there. Last night we even had D.J. [Foster] who got a chance to handle the ball. We’ll see how it goes going forward, but I think we have good competition and good depth at that position."

Saving Edelman and Amendola from further wear-and-tear could help extend the careers of both 30-year-old receivers. Not long after Jones was drafted, we took a look at how many hits Edelman and/or Amendola could be saved on a weekly basis by using Jones in the kicking game.