Celtics-Sixers preview: C's getting to the line

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Celtics-Sixers preview: C's getting to the line

BOSTON The Boston Celtics are already reaping one of the benefits that comes about with smaller lineups - more free throw attempts.

With so many attacking ball-handlers on the floor, the C's more diversified offense puts more pressure on defenses which has in turn led to a much-needed improvement in free throw attempts.

After ranking among the bottom 10 in free throw attempts the last two seasons (27th last season and 25th in 2011), the Celtics are now averaging 24 attempts per game which ranks ninth in the NBA.

The increased free throw attempts could not come at a better time for the Celtics.

While much attention has been paid to the new faces and their familiarity with the team's defensive schemes and principles, the challenge of improved continuity is a factor in the team's offensive struggles as well.

Despite what most would agree is a vastly improved team offensively, Boston ranks 20th in the league in scoring (96 points) per game.

Having the ability to generate easy points from the free throw line, takes some of the pressure off the C's as they continue to build towards what they believe will be another title contender.

"This is a process," said C's guard Jason Terry. "For us, it's about playing 48 minutes of Celtics basketball."

And part of that involves continue to maximize every chance to score which for a change, includes from the free throw line.

Keeping a steady stream of bodies going to the free throw line will be on tap tonight for the Celtics as they host the Philadelphia 76ers. Here are a few other keys to keep tabs on as the C's go for a third straight win.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Generating points in the paint needs to be a priority for the Celtics tonight. Philadelphia, playing without centers Andrew Bynum (knee) and Kwame Brown (calf), are indeed ripe in the middle. The numbers bear this out, with Philadelphia ranking 20th in points-in-the-paint differential (-3.3).

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Celtics starting power forward vs. Thaddeus Young: This is where Boston's lineup  versatility should help. Young is too quick for Jared Sullinger, so don't be shocked to see Brandon Bass or possibly Jeff Green in the starting lineup tonight.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo has been on a subtle, but impressive nonetheless start to this season. In addition to increasing his scoring average (career-high 16 points per game) while shooting a career-best 57.4 percent from the field, he continues to rack up a consistently high number of assists. By reaching double figures tonight in assists, it will be his 29th straight regular season game which would tie him for third all-time with John Stockton for the most consecutive regular season games with 10 or more assists.

STAT TO TRACK: Doc Rivers might want to bottle up whatever he says at halftime, and make it part of his pre-game spiel to his players when it comes to scoring the ball. The Celtics have proven thus far to be a much better team generating offense in the second half of games, compared to the game's first 24 minutes.  The C's rank No. 22 and No. 29 in the league in first and second quarter scoring, respectively. It becomes a completely different Celtics squad in the second half with the C's ranking ninth and 10th in third and fourth quarter scoring, respectively.

OFFSEASON

Turner: Ainge 'seemed confident' about Celtics chances of signing Horford

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Turner: Ainge 'seemed confident' about Celtics chances of signing Horford

After signing with the Blazers, Evan Turner has been making the rounds showering praise on the Celtics organization and fans. He also left a farewell gift for those fans excited about free agency. Turner told the Boston Globe that Danny Ainge “seemed confident” at the Celtics’ chances of signing free agent center Al Horford.

Previous reports indicated that the Celtics plan to make a max-contract offer to Horford when they meet him Friday night in Atlanta. The Rockets are the only other team that has reportedly met with the former Hawks All-Star, and Houston's situation isn’t nearly as attractive as Boston’s.

Turner told the Globe that Ainge expressed he would like him back, but only after they attempted to lure Horford and Kevin Durant to Boston. That decision might not happen until July 8, and Turner understood even if he did return he’d have to take a “pay cut and a cut in role.”

If the Celtics do manage to land Horford tonight, they’d obviously be adding a former All-Star who’d immediately help the team on both ends of the floor.

Immediately, though, Horford would give them another recruiter heading into Saturday’s meeting with Durant. Horford and Durant reportedly would like to play with each other, so having him enter the room might help their chances at signing the future Hall of Famer.

"I liked Boston a lot, bro. The organization, and it’s just a sports city and the city is super nice," Turner told the Globe. "If you put money and everything aside, I would play in Boston every single day of the week. Seeing all those Hall of Famers come back and everything, that’s a real franchise."

The Celtics will likely be saying singing a similar tune to both Horford and Durant this weekend.

After ‘tough month,’ Farrell understands speculation on his job status

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After ‘tough month,’ Farrell understands speculation on his job status

BOSTON - With the Red Sox reeling coming off a month in which they went 10-16 and dropped a handful of games in the standings, speculation has recently focused on John Farrell's job security.

Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox' president of baseball operations, told reporters Thursday that Farrell's job status was not a focus and that the entire organization had to perform better. Dombrowski added that it's seldom that one person is responsible for a downturn in play.

"We've come off a tough month and finished a disappointing trip through Texas and Tampa,'' acknowledged Farrell when asked about the chatter regarding his job status. "I can understand the question and the potential speculation that's out there. But our expectation is to win and that doesn't change. The focus daily is that, is to go out and put together an effort to win.      

"My communication with Dave is very consistent. I think he's confident in my focus  and that's to win each and every day. That's where we stand. We're looking forward to  the opportunity to start this final homestand before the [All Star] break, so that gets underway tonight.''

Farrell was also asked about the dichotmy that existed between his own evaluation of David Price's outing Wednesday and Price's own estimation. 

Farrell said post-game that he believed Price "probably had his best stuff of the season, in terms of velocity and in terms of the shape of his secondary pitches.''

Price, who was in full self-flagellation mode, offered a slightly contradictory assessment.

"Changeup, that's probably the worst changeup I've had in a month,'' he said. "Curveball was awful. Can't get my cutter or my slider where I want to. I'm just bad right now.''

Farrell was questioned Friday about the seemingly contradictory analysis.

"The commentary was, here was a guy coming off an outing where he had best velocity he's shown all year -- up to 97 mph,'' said Farrell, "strikes out 10 over six-plus innings. He made some mistakes in the middle of the middle of the plate. But in terms of just raw stuff, I thought he showed a curveball that had much more consistent depth to it than in more recent starts.

So in terms of raw stuff, I thought it was one of his better outings of the year. The execution?

No, that wasn't as good as the game against San Francisco or the game against Seattle.

"Whether that's a differing opinion from someone else? That was just my view of the raw stuff.''

Sean McAdam can be followed on Twitter: @Sean_McAdam

O’Sullivan will return to make start for Red Sox on Sunday

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O’Sullivan will return to make start for Red Sox on Sunday

BOSTON - Sean O'Sullivan -- and not Aaron Wilkerson -- is the Red Sox choice for Sunday's plug-in starter as the Sox search for a temporary replacement for Eduardo Rodriguez's spot in their starting rotation.
      
"That was the recommendation,'' said John Farrell of the choice to go with  O'Sullivan. "Granted, Wilkerson's been throwing the ball well there. But the recommendation was for Sean to come back here and pitch on Sunday.''
      
O'Sullivan made two starts earlier this season, allowing four runs in six innings to the New York Yankees on May 10 before being battered for six runs (five earned) in 4 1/3 innings against Houston five days later.
      
Overall, O'Sullivan is 6-2 with a 2.79 ERA in 11 starts for the Pawsox this season.
      
Wilkerson, who was pitching in independent ball just two years ago, is 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA in eight appearances -- seven starts -- at Pawtucket.
      
O'Sullivan's stay with the Red Sox is expcted to be brief, since the Red Sox can through next week and first 10 days of the second half without a fifth starter.
      
"It's likely that spot will come up just once,'' confirmed Farrell. "With next Thursday's off-day, we've got a chance to make sure that [Rick] Porcello and [David] Price get on the mound before the break and that's the direction we're leaining in right now.''