Celtics-Nets preview: Christmas in Brooklyn


Celtics-Nets preview: Christmas in Brooklyn

NEW YORK The addition of Jarvis Varnado was designed to bolster the Celtics' frontcourt, which took another hit with Chris Wilcox's thumb injury that'll keep him out for almost a month.

The C's will need all the help they can muster on the boards on Christmas Day when they face the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center.

A few more rebounds - OK, a lot more rebounds - would be the perfect gift for the Celtics on Christmas Day especially when you consider that it is easily their biggest weakness.

Each of the two previous matchups between these two, both Brooklyn wins, included the Nets outscoring the C's 23-11 in the second-chance points.

Brooklyn won the rebounding battle in both games as well, by an average of six rebounds per game which is slightly above the rebounding deficit the C's face most games.

By no means is the addition of Varnado viewed as a savior of sorts for the Celtics rebounding woes - it's not a given that he will even play - but having another body can only help in the one area that the C's desperately need to make strides towards improving to have any shot at having the kind of deep playoff run they envision.

Here are some other keys to the game as the Celtics (13-13) look to draw even with the Nets (14-12) for the second-best record in the Atlantic Division behind New York.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Both Boston and Brooklyn have had their issues at times this season in limiting opponents to shooting a low percentage. Teams are shooting 45 percent against the C's this season, which ranks 18th in field goal percentage defense. Nets' foes have connected on 45.9 percent of their shots which comes in at No. 24.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jason Collins vs. Brook Lopez: This is the kind of matchup that should validate why Collins is in the starting lineup. He's not going to outscore Lopez unless Lopez gets tossed in the game's first minute. But if Collins is doing his job, he'll be making it a lot tougher for Lopez, who has averaged 16.5 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots while shooting 62.5 percent from the field against the C's this season.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jason Terry will surely have something to prove. He is coming off a 1-for-15 shooting performance, the kind of game that he has bounced back from quickly. He has had four such games this season in which he made one field goal or less. In the four games that followed, Terry has shot 50 percent from the field (17-for-34) while averaging 11.5 points per game.

STAT TO TRACK: The three-point shot has not been a weapon of choice by the Celtics, who come in averaging 5.4 threes per game, which ranks 28th in the league. They have been even worse in their two games against the Nets this season, shooting 8-for-20 on threes. Boston's ability to hit the long ball will go far in their quest to defeat Brooklyn.

Putting Stephen Gostkowski's struggles in context


Putting Stephen Gostkowski's struggles in context

Stephen Gostkowski doesn’t miss field goals often and he never misses extra points. His performance this season might not be the end of the world, but there’s no denying his departure from the norm: He’s missing field goals more often and, as was the case in the AFC Championship last season, he hasn’t been automatic on PATs. 

The stats are well-known by now: He’s 9-for-12 on field goals and 16-of-17 on extra points. His three missed field goals are tied for the most he’s had in a season dating back to 2013, and the current season is only six games young. 

For those who have followed the Patriots in recent years, it’s only natural to feel the sky is falling with Gostkowski. After all, the former All-Pro has been nearly peerless in recent seasons, leading the league in field goals made in 2013 and 2014 and tying for second last season. He was arguably the best in the league, and now, six games into the 2016 season, he’s been mediocre. 

The question is whether the Patriots can live with mediocre, and the answer is “definitely.” 

Of the 10 playoff teams last season, four had kickers who missed at least five field goals, including the two Super Bowl participants. Denver’s Brandon McManus had five missed field goals last season; Carolina’s Graham Gano had six. 

The list of good teams with OK kicking performances goes on, and it undoubtedly includes past Patriots teams. Remember, Adam Vinatieri missed nine field goals during the Patriots Super Bowl-winning 2003 season. 

Then there are Gostkowski’s past seasons. He’s obviously had a tremendous career, but he’s had less glamorous seasons sprinkled in with the All-Pro performances. Everyone has lived to tell about it. 

Take 2012. Gostkowski missed six field goals, tying a career-worst set in his rookie year of 2006. He still finished tied for eighth in field goals made, one behind Justin Tucker and ahead of, among others, Vinatieri. The Patriots went 12-4 and reached the AFC Championship, a game the Pats might have won against Baltimore if they didn’t rely on Gostkowski for more than half (seven) of their points (13). 

Gostkowski is currently tied for 15th with nine field goals made. He’s yet to have a particularly costly miss like he did with the PAT against the Broncos last postseason, although his lone field goal attempt in the Pats’ Week 4 loss to the Bills -- a 48-yard miss -- would have made it a 10-point game early in the second half. 

At his current rate, he’ll miss a career-high eight field goals. That is not good, and while it wouldn’t quite put him in end-of-the-line-David-Akers territory (Akers missed 13 field goals in 2012, his second to last season), it would put him in uncharted territory for a great career. 

If there's any silver lining with Gostkowski's numbers down, it's that he doesn't seem to have lost his leg. His 53-yarder in the season-opener was four yards shy of his longest kick from last season. 

Having a capable kicker is important. Having an elite one is a luxury the Patriots have had for the majority of the last 20 seasons. A miss in a key spot can doom a season, but Gostkowski still has time to correct what’s been a down year. 

Celtics roster at 17 after waiving Georges-Hunt, Lee and Jones


Celtics roster at 17 after waiving Georges-Hunt, Lee and Jones

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics made their first player cuts of training camp by waiving Marcus Georges-Hunt, Damion Lee and Jalen Jones on Thursday.

The Celtics roster now stands at 17, two more than the league-maximum which Boston has to get down to by Monday at 5 p.m. EST

Ben Bentil, who was selected by Boston with the No. 51 pick in last June’s NBA draft out of Providence College, is expected to be the next player waived by Boston.

That would still leave the Celtics needing to waive at least one more player.

The final spot is expected to come down to R.J. Hunter and James Young, both of whom have been solid in the preseason which has made this one of the tougher roster decisions the Celtics have had to make under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens.