Boston Bruins

Blakely's Celtics-Hawks preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Hawks preview

ATLANTA When you think of the Atlanta Hawks, visions of Josh Smith dunking on somebody, or Joe Johnson splashing a 3-pointer usually come to mind. But when you start to seriously look at this Hawks team, you come to find that they can defend really well.

In fact, Atlanta's scoring defense is ranked fifth in the NBA at 92.1 points given up per game.

That's just two spots behind the Celtics, who are giving up 90.9 points per game.

"They've been good; they've been good (defensively) for several years," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "We do always think about them, the high-flying act and all that stuff. They're just a solid basketball team."

Rivers points to Atlanta center Zaza Pachulia as being an important part of the Hawks success defensively this season.

"Zaza has really helped them with the physicality," Rivers said. "You think about it, they've done this without (Al) Horford which I think is even more impressive. They're a solid basketball team."

Horford had pectoral surgery in January that was expected to keep him out 3-4 months.

Regardless of the opponent, scoring for the Celtics (23-21) -- much like their record -- has been an up and down affair all season.

Despite ranking just 26th in the NBA in scoring (91.4 points per game), Boston has actually been among the NBA's best at generating points in the third quarter.

The C's 24.4 points scored in the third quarter ranks ninth in the league.

Scoring at a comparable clip won't be easy against an Atlanta Hawks team that defensively, has been at their best in the second half of games. The Hawks are giving up the second-fewest points (21.8 points) in the third quarter, and are giving up a league-low 22.1 points in the fourth.

Here's a rundown of a few other keys to watch as the Celtics try and snap a two-game losing streak against the Atlanta Hawks in the first of three meetings this season.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- The Celtics are the more rested team with the Hawks having played at Cleveland on Sunday night, so look for the C's to try and get out and run early. If they do, that means they're doing a decent job on the defensive boards which is essential to their ability to score in transition. The C's would like to improve on their 12.4 fast break points per game average, which ranks 20th in the NBA. What the C's do in terms of fast break points is literally an average night for Atlanta's transition defense. The Hawks rank sixth in fewest fast break points allowed, at 12.4 per game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Rajon Rondo vs. Jeff Teague: You would think this matchup would be heavily in favor of the Celtics. As good as Rondo has been against most teams, he has historically had his problems against the Hawks. Since the 2008-2009 season, Rondo has averaged 7.4 assists in nine games against the Hawks. Only his 6.3 assists per game average against the New Orleans Hornets is lower in that span. As for Teague, he falls in line with many of today's point guards who are more about scoring than distributing the ball. "They're trying to score points," C's coach Doc Rivers said of Atlanta's point guards. "I think hat's what they think, 'point' guard means. But they're good."

PLAYER TO WATCH -- Because of his unpredictable but impressive above-the-rim game, Atlanta's Josh Smith is a hard player to not watch when the Hawks play. The Celtics will try and keep him from having a big game offensively, which has indeed been the case throughout his career. Smith averages 12.1 points against Boston. There are three teams (Cleveland, New Orleans and San Antonio) in which he has a lower scoring average.

STAT TO TRACK -- Second-chance opportunities will be huge in tonight's game, because neither team is very good at getting them. The Celtics are hands-down the worst rebounding team in the NBA, struggles that extend on the offensive boards where they average 8.3 per game which, not surprisingly, is dead-last in the NBA. Meanwhile, Atlanta has had its share of struggles on the offensive glass as well. They average 10.3 offensive rebounds per game which ranks 26th in the NBA.

Morning Skate: Sorry, Shaughnessy but young B's are on the rise

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Morning Skate: Sorry, Shaughnessy but young B's are on the rise

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while appreciating that Brad Marchand is willing to say something is “an absolute joke.” There are not enough candid players in the NHL like good, ol' No. 63.

*So FOH (Friend of Haggs) Dan Shaughnessy writes that the Bruins are “a lowly number four nowadays” in the power rankings of the big four Boston sports teams. Certainly, Danny is technically correct in saying that the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics are ahead of the Bruins in terms of the Boston pro sports zeitgeist and that they dominate the sports conversation.

But Shaughnessy points to the Bruins doing nothing to improve themselves last summer as some kind of reason behind their low position among the other Boston sports franchises, and that’s not really a factor. The problem right now is that the Bruins are extremely young and still a couple of years away from returning to true Stanley Cup contention as a result. 
Once Charlie McAvoy is a few years into his career, some of the other Bruins prospects are in the NHL for good and Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask are still at the back end of their prime, the Bruins will once again be a Cup contender that’s pushing their way back into the championship conversation that commands the attention of the Boston fan.

Would Shaughnessy have been more satisfied with the Bruins if they spent bad money on a big free-agent contract as they did with Matt Beleskey and David Backes in back-to-back years, or if they traded premium prospect Brandon Carlo for hired gun Matt Duchene? That would be the kind of “big splash” move that a bad management group would make to appease the casual fans that don’t truly understand what the B’s are going with their draft-and-development plan.

This Bruins outfit is still a playoff team while they’re building back to that Cup-worthy level. They were playing a much more exciting, entertaining brand of hockey once Bruce Cassidy replaced Claude Julien last winter. This isn’t a lowly team unworthy of the fans’ attention, or more importantly their sports dollar. This is much more about the all-time greatness of the New England Patriots, the deserved excitement for a Celtics team that is truly going for it after being in the Bruins current “building it back up” phase for the past few years and a playoff-level Red Sox team that really has no competition in the summertime.

This isn’t about what the Bruins aren’t doing right now. This is about what the Patriots and Celtics, and to a lesser degree the Red Sox, are doing right now. It's as simple as that in a local sports landscape that’s cyclical and constantly in motion.  

*What a great Facetime hit here from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Ray Ferraro with Jay and Dan now that they’re thankfully back to their rightful home in Canada. The technical difficulties really make the whole thing come together.  

*Congrats to Jonathan Drouin for making a commitment to the city of Montreal that goes well beyond being a player for the Canadiens.

*Lots of prayers and well-wishes to Hingham, Mass., native and New Jersey Devils forward Brian Boyle after his stunning cancer diagnosis. Anybody that knows the Boyle family knows how courageous they are, and how much love and support that Brian will have at a time when he’s going to need every bit of it. I also included a link to a New York Post Q&A with Boyle where he talks a bit about his father’s miraculous battle with cancer as well.   

 *John Chayka is trying to bring with him a new chapter to the history of the Arizona Coyotes, but it’s seemingly always an uphill battle there.

*Nobody should have any problems with the contract extension handed out to Mikko Koivu by the Minnesota Wild.

*For something completely different: Are we seriously living in a world where the Juggalos are marching for their rights?

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30 teams in 30 days: Grit-and-Grind days are over in Memphis

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30 teams in 30 days: Grit-and-Grind days are over in Memphis

We’ll take a look at all 30 teams in the next 30 days as they prepare for the 2017-2018 regular season, which is when the real fireworks begin! Today's team: The Memphis Grizzlies. 

Memphis is no different than any other NBA team when it comes to making changes.
 
It’s an inevitable part of the NBA.

 
There are changes, and then there’s losing Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to free agency.
 
They didn’t lose the face of their franchise.
 
They lost its backbone.
 
And when you throw in the departure of Vince Carter, the Grizzlies are getting younger and more athletic and maybe just as significant, further removed from the physical, rough-and-tough brand of basketball they played for years.

You’ll have to go to YouTube to see Grit-and-Grind anymore.
 
Still, this isn’t all that surprising when you consider they brought in a new coach last year, David Fizdale, who came from Miami but also spent time on the bench as an assistant in Atlanta and Golden State.

Those teams played a more position-less, free-flowing brand of basketball compared to the Grizzlies.
 
So what we’re starting to see now is a Memphis team that will eventually look and hopefully play, more akin to what their coach envisions.
 
While the DNA of this team has changed dramatically, the Grizzlies will still be among the teams battling for one of the last playoff spots in the West this season.
 
They return Marc Gasol who still ranks among the best centers in the NBA. They also have point guard Mike Conley Jr., who unfortunately still holds the title for the best veteran player to not be named to an NBA All-Star team.
 
He’s coming off his best season as a pro when he averaged career highs in scoring (20.5 points per game) and shooting (45.9 percent from the field, 40.7 percent on 3’s) along with 3.5 rebounds, also a career benchmark.
 
In addition, Conley’s 6.3 assists per game were just 0.2 assists away from tying his career best in that category.
 
But for Memphis to surprise many and extend its playoff run to eight years in a row, the Grizzlies’ inside-outside tandem of Gasol and Conley, will need help.
 
A healthy Chandler Parsons would be a huge boost.
 
One of the more versatile wing players in the league, injuries have left Parsons a shell of the player that he once was.
 
He has had each of his past three seasons end prematurely due to injuries, so it’s hard to imagine Memphis will be banking on him to be healthy enough to make a major impact on the team this season.
 
They added Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans, both from Sacramento, to the roster this season.
 
Both come into training camp competing for a starting job.
 
The Grizzlies also have high hopes for 6-9 forward Rade Zagorac, a second-round pick in 2016 acquired from Boston who spent an additional year overseas before coming over to the NBA.
 
The new faces will be critical to the success of Memphis in those post Grit-and-Grind era.
 
Key free agent/draft/trade additions: Ben McLemore (Sacramento); Tyreke Evans (Sacramento).
 
Key losses: Zach Randolph (Sacramento); Tony Allen (New Orleans); Vince Carter (Sacramento).
 
Rookies of note: Rade Zagorac; Ivan Rabb; Dillon Brooks.
 
Expectations: 33-49 (fourth in the Southwest Division, 11th in the West).
 

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