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.

Belichick convinces UDFA to sign, tells him to be in shape

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Belichick convinces UDFA to sign, tells him to be in shape

The moments following the final round of the NFL draft are always a whirlwind because the work done by those in their respective war rooms isn't finished. Every year, coaches and personnel staffers work their phones calling undrafted free-agents in order to round out their rosters with passed-over talent.

Arizona State receiver and running back D.J. Foster was one of those fielding calls on Saturday, giving his cell battery a workout. The Cardinals, Texans and Patriots all came calling, and he was leaning toward what he considered his hometown team in Arizona.

Then the Patriots deployed their top recruiting weapon: coach Bill Belichick.

You can watch Foster's draft day ordeal here with this video put together by 12News.com in Phoenix.

When he's made his decision he gets a call from one team employee telling him how "fired up" they are to have him on board. Then Belichick calls again, his mission accomplished, to first congratulate Foster and then order him to be in shape for rookie minicamp.

Foster was barely in elementary school when Belichick and Tom Brady helped the Patriots win their  first Super Bowl. Ever since, they've been one of the most consistently successful teams in football.

That track record couldn't have hurt Foster in his decision-making process, but it seems as though he was proposed the best financial deal by the Patriots. They're also a team that won't be afraid to try players at multiple positions. The fact that Foster considers himself both a running back and a receiver could be seen as beneficial in regards to him making the team. Being labeled a "'tweener" isn't always a detriment.

In the Patriots offense, there is room for a player with Foster's skill set. Perhaps he will work alongside Dion Lewis and James White as a "sub back," who specializes in the passing game and poses a threat either lined up in the backfield or out wide like a receiver. The other option would be for Foster to serve as a full-time receiver -- something he focused on last season -- who might be best suited for the slot. As an undrafted rookie, he'll also likely be expected to contribute in the kicking game in some way shape or form.

Patriots named Super Bowl LI favorites despite Brady suspension

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Patriots named Super Bowl LI favorites despite Brady suspension

Is the Patriots roster so loaded that Tom Brady can be suspended for four games, and they're still the favorites to win it all? 

Apparently so, according to odds released by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

Not long after the completion of this year's draft, the Patriots were favored at 6-1 to win their fifth Lombardi Trophy even though their quarterback is scheduled to miss the first month of the season after his Deflategate punishment was recently reinstated by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Brady plans to appeal that ruling. 

Next on the list of favorites are the Seahawks, Steelers and Packers, all of whom are tied at 8-1. The Panthers, who fell in Super Bowl 50 to the Broncos, have 9-1 odds to redeem themselves after last season's defeat and walk away winners. 

The Patriots are, of course, favored to win the AFC (3-1) and the AFC East (4-9), and their season win total projection has been set at 10.5.

Felger: Is the praise for Jacoby Brissett too good to be true?

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Felger: Is the praise for Jacoby Brissett too good to be true?

Three mid-week thoughts for your perusal . . . 

-- I was 100 percent behind the drafting of quarterback Jacoby Brissett. And then I read comments about the kid from Charlie Weis and Bill Parcells in Karen Guregian's excellent story in the Boston Herald on Tuesday.

Now I'm down to about 80 percent.

"He's a Curtis Martin-, Willie McGinest-, Troy Brown-type of player,'' said Parcells. "That's the kind of guy he is. That's what New England is getting. Those kind, those Tedy Bruschi types, those players who've been successful -- he's very similar in his personal life to those kinds of guys.''

"Let me tell you,'' added Weis, "this kid, from the time he was in high school, is the Pied Piper . . . He was definitely the leader of the pack. In the quarterback position, I think that's a critical factor. And that's what he was.''

Added Parcells: "He has zero personal issues.''

So why would glowing reports cause me to like the pick less? File under: Too good to be true.

I read those quotes and get the feeling I'm being sold something, which shakes my confidence a bit. Plus, it's a little too much on the intangible element. Character is certainly important at the position. In fact, it's crucial. But if intangibles were the only thing that mattered, Tim Tebow would have been an NFL QB. And we all know how that turned out.

Bottom line: I still like the pick. I still want the Pats drafting and developing quarterbacks. I just smell a bit of bull crap.

-- Chris Mannix nailed it regarding what it would take for the Celtics to lure Kevin Durant to Boston.

"Boston's ability to lure him is going to come down to who else they can get. You can't walk into a meeting with Kevin Durant and say, 'We've got Isiah Thomas and 97 draft picks; we're going to be good in a few years','' he told Toucher and Rich Tuesday morning. "Kevin doesn't want to hear that . . . What he wants to hear is that we're ready to win now . . . They have to come to the table with a Jimmy Butler, with a Bradley Beal, with an Al Horford. They can't just come with Brad Stevens, Danny Ainge and a bunch of draft picks.''

In other words, the pieces on the current roster aren't nearly as good as they looked in the regular season. And, no, Thomas is not a franchise player. And, finally, don't get too attached to those picks, no matter where the ping pong balls land.

-- I wonder if the Bruins look at the current landscape in net across the NHL playoffs and consider how wise it is to pay their goalie, Tuukka Rask, $7 million a year.

Still alive are guys like the Islanders' Thomas Greiss ($1.5 million cap hit), the Blues' Brian Ellliott ($2.5 million), the Sharks' Martin Jones ($3 million) and Penguins rookie Matt Murray ($620,000). Out are 8 of the top 10 highest-paid goalies in the league, a list including Henri Lundqvist, Carey Price, Cory Schneider, Ryan Miller and, of course, Rask.

Please note: No one is saying you can get away with shoddy goaltending in the playoffs. It's an unassailable fact that you need elite play in net to contend for Stanley Cups. The question is what you have to pay for it. 

And in that regard, this year is no aberration. Sometimes you have to pay through the nose for it, and sometimes it just falls in your lap.

Can the Bruins get away with trying to survive in that second camp? Good question. This much I know: Paying Rask $7 million a year to miss the playoffs two straight years isn't doing anyone any good.

Email Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast runs daily on CSN.