Blakely's Celtics-Sixers preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Sixers preview

BOSTON Win or lose tonight, the Celtics (31-24) will leave the TD Garden still in first place in the Atlantic Division.

Finishing on top of the division for a fifth straight season has great value for the Celtics, especially when you consider how far they have come this season and all the setbacks they have had to endure.

However, finishing these final 11 regular season games playing well and staying healthy remain Boston's top two priorities now.

At times, those two things may seem to be at odds with one another.

Sitting players occasionally to keep them healthy might detract from the team's chances of winning. On the other hand, by playing most of their regulars down the stretch may increase the likelihood of victory, but it may impact how healthy and fresh players are during the postseason.

For Paul Pierce, the two go hand-in-hand.

"Finishing strong is getting ready for the postseason," he said. "When you're playing well, you're prepping for the long run, for what playoff basketball is all about. It comes down to the execution; it comes down to discipline on defense; all those little things help you play well in preparation for that."

The C's won't have much time to prepare for the Sixers.

But having lost the first two meetings to Philadelphia this season, the Celtics have a pretty good idea of what they need to improve upon in order to avoid getting swept by the Sixers this season. Here are a few keys to consider as the Celtics try to increase their lead over Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division, to three games.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR Bench play is always important, but you have to wonder how will Boston's second unit respond to facing a Sixers team whose backups have collectively been one of the most productive groups in the NBA this season. Ray Allen has come off the C's bench the last two games, and isn't likely to return to the starting lineup. That gives the C's a prolific scoring threat off the bench, coupled with the steadily improving play of Greg Stiemsma. Celtics veteran Sasha Pavlovic was the C's eighth man on Saturday and responded with an eight-point game in just over 14 minutes of action. Philadelphia is getting 40.3 points per game off its bench, the third-highest scoring bench in the NBA. Keeping them at or below their average will be critical for Boston to win.

MATCHUP TO WATCH Ray Allen vs. Lou Williams: It's not often that you have as much star power as tonight's game has, and the key matchup involves a pair of non-starters. But Allen and Williams are not your typical backups. Allen is the NBA's all-time leader in 3-pointers made and is the C's third-leading scorer. Williams is the Sixers' top scorer, and is on track to become the first player since Dell Curry in 1993-1994 with Charlotte, to lead his team in scoring without making a single start.

PLAYER TO WATCH Brandon Bass is coming off arguably his worst shooting performance for the Celtics. A double-digit scorer most nights, Bass missed all six of his shots from the field against the Pacers and finished with two points. It was the first time since being traded to the C's, that Bass played a game and missed every shot from the field.

STAT TO TRACK Both Boston and Philadelphia will look to get out and run when the opportunity presents itself. Good luck with that. Tonight's game features two of the league's best at limiting fast-break points, a credit to both teams placing a strong emphasis on getting back in transition defensively after as many made and missed shots, as possible. Boston has been strong in this area, giving up just 12 points per game which ranks sixth in the NBA. The Sixers? Even better. Teams are getting a league-low 9.9 fast-break points against Philadelphia this season.

Thomas to represent Celtics at NBA draft lottery

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Thomas to represent Celtics at NBA draft lottery

WALTHAM, Mass. – Isaiah Thomas has been beating the odds for about as long as he has been playing basketball.

The Boston Celtics are hoping he can do the same for them during next month’s draft lottery when the Celtics learn exactly where their first round pick from Brooklyn will land in the lottery (top-14).
 
Because of the Nets' regular season record (21-61), the pick which came to Boston via the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade in 2013, has the third-best chances of becoming the No. 1 overall pick which would presumably be used to select LSU’s Ben Simmons.

Thomas was asked about representing the Celtics at the draft lottery during his exit interview on Friday.

“I’m going to do it,” Thomas said. “I’m definitely going to be that guy, hopefully bring some luck.”

When asked if he had any particular good luck charms he will bring with him, Thomas responded, “Nah. But I’m going to do my research and find something.”

Thomas was selected with the 60th – and final – pick of the 2011 NBA draft, and has exceeded all expectations of player drafted so late.

Most players selected at that point are fighting just to make an NBA roster.

But the 5-foot-9 Thomas has been among the top scorers from his draft class, and this past season was named to his first all-star team.

This past season he averaged a career-high 22.2 points per game along with 6.2 assists. While the playoffs ended on a sour note for Thomas, he still wound up averaging a team-best 24.2 points, 5.0 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game.

While some might think being asked to be at the lottery isn’t that big a deal, Thomas sees it as yet another moment that speaks to how far he has come in beating the odds that for most of his basketball career were stacked heavily against him.

“Coming from where I’m from and the story I have, you would never think I would be asked to represent an NBA franchise at the lottery,” Thomas said. “It’s a blessing for him (Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations) to even ask me that. I’m excited to do it. Hopefully I can bring some luck.”

Goodell: 'Of course' he'd pick up the phone for Brady settlement talks

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Goodell: 'Of course' he'd pick up the phone for Brady settlement talks

While a settlement between the NFL and Tom Brady seems unlikely -- OK, highly unlikely -- commissioner Roger Goodell told ESPN Radio on Friday that he would "of course" pick up the phone if the Patriots or their quarterback called to discuss an agreement. 

Still, Goodell didn't say whether or not he would be open to knocking down Brady's four-game suspension that was reinstated by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from earlier this week. 

"We had a lot of discussions last summer," Goodell said. "There were a lot of offers back and forth about what to do to settle the issue. They chose to pursue the issue and we chose to move forward and we are where we are."

There continue to be voices speaking out on how Goodell may wield too much power when it comes to player discipline, the latest of which being that of Saints quarterback Drew Brees. But Goodell defended his role, as he has most of this week, citing the importance of the "integrity of the game."

"I am not going to hand off the integrity of the NFL to somebody who does not understand our business," Goodell said. "That is what we're going to maintain when it comes to the integrity of the game. Maybe something as it relates to the drug program and whether proper protocol is followed? I get it. Go ahead. Somebody else can make that decision. But when it comes to integrity of the game, that is the commissioner's responsibilities and has been since the day the NFL was formed."

Thomas: 'If you don't want to play for Celtics, you don't know basketball'

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Thomas: 'If you don't want to play for Celtics, you don't know basketball'

The Celtics season came to an end Thursday night as the Hawks took the first-round series in six games.

That stung everybody on the Celtics pretty hard in the moments after the final buzzer. But nobody appeared more upset than Isaiah Thomas, who made it clear that he poured his heart and soul into this season.

The goal now? To get better from within . . . and from the outside. That means bringing in some star talent.

Thomas spoke with reporters Friday after his end-of-season meeting with Celtics President Danny Ainge. He told them that everybody, especially Ainge, can see that the team needs a little more talent.

Acquiring it isn't easy, but having spent a season-and-a-half in Boston, Thomas doesn't see why someone wouldn't want to play for the Celtics.

There's no beating around the bush: Kevin Durant is the prized target this offseason. The Celtics appear to at least be somewhat in the picture. You can bet Thomas will do what he can to help.

The Celtics have an energetic fan base, a young team, and a load of assets. One of those assets will be determined at the lottery. And guess who will be there?