Patriots ready to deal with the heat in Miami

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Patriots ready to deal with the heat in Miami

FOXBORO -- Baggy sweatpants were in style at Patriots practice on Thursday. So were hooded sweatshirts stuffed underneath light shoulder pads. Some players wore shorts but had leg-warming tights on underneath.

It was hovering around 40 degrees outside of Gillette Stadium and Patriots players -- save for the one or two who were impervious to the cold and wore shorts and no sleeves -- did what they could to stay warm.

They won't have any such problem on Sunday in Miami. The forecast in South Florida calls for temperatures to reach as high as the upper 70s with a chance of showers.

It will be quite the climate change for the Patriots, but they seem prepared.

Vince Wilfork played his college ball at the University of Miami so he knows how to play in the heat.  

"Hydrate a lot," he said. "A lot of conditioning. Just making sure that you're ready to go. The biggest thing is you can't go down there thinking about the weather. Everybody knows in South Florida you can have thunder storms, you can have sunny, you can have whatever it may be except for snow . . . Just some things on that day you'll have to deal with.

"Hydration plays a big, big factor. Going down there and playing, especially if you get a nice hot day, one o'clock ballgame, you just have to be able to hydrate well and do everything you can during the week to get your body prepared to play in a place like that."

From what they've shared with the media this week, the Patriots haven't done much to simulate the temperatures they'll feel in Miami. They practiced outside on both Wednesday and Thursday, not opting for the warmer confines of their practice bubble. Coach Bill Belichick explained that it was more important to practice on grass -- the same surface they'll see against the Dolphins -- than it was to practice in a warmer environment.

Wes Welker -- who is from Oklahoma, played in college at Texas Tech, and spent time with the Dolphins earlier in his career -- knows what it's like to play in the heat as well. 

"Make sure you're in shape," he suggested. "Drink plenty of water. Eat right. Make sure you're ready for a little bit of heat that we haven't had up here lately."

Welker didn't think the weather would be too big of an issue, though from his experience, it will be more difficult for the Dolphins to come up to Foxboro in Week 17.

"Personally," Welker said. "Warm to cold is definitely the toughest."

For Aqib Talib, acquired in a trade-deadline deal from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the heat will be a welcome change from the weather conditions at his new home.

"It'll be nice," he said. "It definitely will be nice, playing in about 70 degree weather."

Unlike his teammates, Talib didn't feel the need to preach the importance of drinking fluids in order to guard against cramping or dehydration.

"We're all grown me out here," he said. "We all know how to do that."

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

FOXBORO – Griff Whalen was at the epicenter of one of the stupidest, funniest, most “did that just happen?!” plays in NFL history.

So indescribable it never even really earned a name, it was the fourth-down gadget play the Colts tried to run against the Patriots on Sunday Night Football in the first meeting between the teams after Indy ran to the principal’s office to start Deflategate. 

Whalen was the center on that play (I tried to call it “Fourth-and-Wrong” but it didn’t take) and the millisecond between him snapping the ball and the three players processing that the ball had indeed been snapped is perhaps my favorite moment of the past several seasons. 

Whalen is a Patriot now, brought in this week in the wake of Danny Amendola’s knee injury presumably to fill Amendola’s role as a punt returner and wideout. The Colts released him last January, the Dolphins picked him up and cut him at the end of training camp and the Chargers had him on their roster from mid-September until releasing him last month after eight games, two catches and 22 yards. He returned kickoffs for San Diego but no punts since 2015.

The primary area of need for the Patriots is on punt returns. Rookie Cyrus Jones’ transition to appearing comfortable remains glacially slow. It was Jones’ muff last week that brought on Amendola in relief. When Amendola hurt his ankle on a late-game return, the Patriots were forced to decide between Jones, wideout Julian Edelman (who doesn’t need extra work) and making a move.

Whalen is a move they made.

The slight and baby-faced Whalen indicated he had fielded some punts in practice, saying it went, “Fine.” Punt returns are something he’s done “since I was a kid.”

His first impression of the team was, "A lot of what I expected to see. A lot of detail. A lot of effort in practice. Good coaching all-around. I am excited to be here. I was excited to come into a good team that I’d gone against a few times. Hopefully come in and help out the team with whatever I can.”

I asked Whalen if he saw much of the commentary or creativity last year’s failed play spawned.

“I wasn’t paying too much attention,” he said. “When it’s during the season guys are pretty locked in on what they’re doing inside the building. But I heard more about it later on afterwards.”

Asked if he’d heard anything about the play since being here, Whalen replied, “I haven’t. Kinda was [expecting it].”

The Patriots will be hoping Whalen remains as productive for them on fourth down this year as he was in 2015.

 

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”