Blakely: Celtics seeking respect against the Heat

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Blakely: Celtics seeking respect against the Heat

BOSTON The Celtics have been on quite a roll lately, winning four straight and six of their last seven.

But beating the likes of Minnesota and Utah, that's one thing.

The Miami Heat? Totally different animal, on all levels.

For starters, it's an Eastern Conference rival, which means there's a chance that these two may cross paths in the postseason.

And then there's the whole old Big Three (Boston), new Big Three (Miami) thing. It doesn't have the kind of hype it did last year, but it's still present.

More than anything, today's game will serve as a measuring stick for both teams.

Miami is seeking to get back to the NBA Finals for the second year in a row, and they understand that Boston will likely be one of the teams standing in their way.

Meanwhile, the Celtics believe they are a different, much-improved team from the last time they saw the Heat on Dec. 27. And while the C's current run has been impressive, a win today would indeed throw the Celtics back into the conversation centered around potential teams to come out of the East.

Players for both sides aren't putting too much stock into today's game other than it being one that they both want to win.

But to ignore the ramifications for today's winner, is to ignore the obvious.

The C's feel as though their recent success isn't getting a lot of credit, which they publicly say is cool with them. Privately, they would love to be talked about as one of the NBA's elite teams. Beating Miami today would go a long way in resurrecting those talks.

And the timing of the Heat coming to the Garden could not be any better.

Rajon Rondo is playing some of the best basketball of his career, with his pulse on the team as strong as we've ever seen it.

Paul Pierce is in a nice groove offensively with his jumper, and 3-point shot. To top it off, he's attacking more and being rewarded with free throw attempts.

Kevin Garnett has been the Celtics' most consistent player and has made the shift to the center position a seamless one.

Avery Bradley. Keyon Dooling. Greg Stiemsma. You go down the line, and chances are you'll find a Celtic player coming through with their best play of the year right now.

And when you're playing that well, you ideally want to see how you measure up against the best teams.

Miami qualifies, easily.

Playing well is exactly what the Celtics seek every game. But they're on the kind of roll where great play isn't necessarily required to win -- even against the Heat.

"We're just hanging in there," Rivers said. "We said it early on. I think since all-star break, we haven't played well every night but we're winning some of the games that we don't play well in. We're grinding games out. With all the injuries and everything, the players are giving you all they have. As a coach, I don't know what more I can ask for."

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

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Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

LeGarrette Blount knows where he wants to be for 2017. Ever since he re-joined the Patriots in 2014 following a short stay in Pittsburgh, the 250-pound back has been very open about how he wants to play out the rest of his career in New England. 

Those feelings haven't changed, even as he faces free-agency after having recorded the best season of his seven-year career.

"I just want to make sure that I go to this free agency with an open mind, knowing that I definitely want to go back to New England," he told NFL Total Access on Monday. "I love it there. I love the culture. I love the players. I've become close with a lot of the guys. Obviously you know how my running back group is.

"We'll cross that bridge whenever we cross it. On that point, I feel great. I'm in amazing shape. I feel like I could play 100 more years if I have to."

Blount finished 2016 with career-highs in attempts (299) yards (1,161) and touchowns (18). His ability to help the Patriots close games in the fourth quarter was notable throughout the course of the season, and he was among the most effective goal-line backs in the league. His 18 rushing scores are a franchise record.

Toward the end of the season, as Dion Lewis worked his way back into the Patriots offense, Blount had his workload cut into, and his fumble in the Super Bowl was a near-catastrophic moment -- his devastated reaction to which was caught expertly by NFL Films. But a big-picture view of Blount's year would reveal that he  posted the most prodictive "big back" season the Patriots have had in more than a decade.

Blount signed a one-year deal with the Patriots last offseason after seeing his 2015 prematurely ended by way of a hip injury. He turned 30 in December.

Magic Johnson named Lakers president of basketball ops, Kupchak fired

Magic Johnson named Lakers president of basketball ops, Kupchak fired

Magic Johnson was named the Los Angeles Lakers' president of basketball operations after longtime Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and vice president of basketball ops Jim Buss were fired, the team announced.

"Today I took a series of actions I believe will return the Lakers to the heights [late owner] Dr. Jerry Buss demanded and our fans rightly expect,” Jeanie Buss, Jerry Buss' daughter, Jim Buss' brother and Lakers president and co-owner, said in a statement. “Effective immediately, Earvin Johnson will be in charge of all basketball operations and will report directly to me. Our search for a new General Manager to work with Earvin and Coach Luke Walton is well underway and we hope to announce a new General Manager in short order. Together, Earvin, Luke and our new General Manager will establish the foundation for the next generation of Los Angeles Lakers greatness.”

Johnson, the Hall of Famer guard who led L.A. to five NBA titles, said in the same statement: “It’s a dream come true to return to the Lakers as President of Basketball Operations working closely with Jeanie Buss and the Buss family. Since 1979, I’ve been a part of the Laker Nation and I’m passionate about this organization. I will do everything I can to build a winning culture on and off the court. We have a great coach in Luke Walton and good young players. We will work tirelessly to return our Los Angeles Lakers to NBA champions.”

Johnson, part of a group that owns MLB's Los Angeles Dodgers, returned to the organization as an adviser earlier this month. Johnson coached the Lakers briefly in the 1993-94 season, going 5-11. 

Johnson's new job with the Lakers won't change his role with the Dodgers, according to the L.A. Times.

The current Lakers have the third-worst record in the NBA at 19-39 after finishing with the second-worst mark in the league (17-65) last season. Kupchak was named an assistant GM under Jerry West in 1986 and in 2000 took over for West as GM.