Blakely's Celtics-Thunder preview


Blakely's Celtics-Thunder preview

OKLAHOMA CITY If you look at the Boston Celtics history on the road against the Thunder, you have to feel pretty good about their chances of winning tonight. Boston has won all three games in Oklahoma City since the team relocated from Seattle.

But history, while nice to reflect upon, won't do the C's a bit of good tonight. Not only do they face arguably the best team in the NBA, but they do with a depleted roster that's even more under-manned than usual.

How bad?

The Celtics' big man rotation consists of Kevin Garnett, Greg Stiemsma, JaJuan Johnson and . . . that's it!

Both Jermaine O'Neal (wrist) and Chris Wilcox (groin) were sent home to see doctors, putting their return to the team following the all-star break, in doubt. The C's are also without Brandon Bass (left knee), who said he'll return to the lineup sometime after the all-star break.

With so few big bodies available, the Celtics will be hard-pressed to avoid foul trouble.

Rivers said things are trending towards the C's needing to go out and add another big man soon.

But Rivers is quick to caution that free agent centers at this stage of the season, can not be seen as a savior or anything like that.

"Listen, if there's a big out there, there's a reason he's out there," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I hate to say that, but that's the truth."

Not surprisingly, Rivers will play some zone defense tonight, probably more than usual.

"We're going to zone, we're going to go small, we're going to go big, "


"Oh, we can't go big," Rivers quickly reminded himself and the media. "We're going to do whatever we think is required to win the game. It's not going to be traditional at times, and it can't be. It's not like we have a choice."

Junkin' up the game, as coaches like to call it, will certainly be one of the Celtics' goals as they try to salvage what's left of their pre-all star break road trip against the Thunder.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Kevin Durant in full-blown attack mode. Although he's proven to be an excellent perimeter shooter, don't be surprised to see him look to drive the ball more to the basket in an attempt to not just score, but get the Thunder in the bonus early. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has no grand visions of stopping Durant. "If you try and make a special defense for Durant, he's still probably going to score 30," Rivers said. "At the end of the day with Durant, you do your defense. If he makes shots, he makes shots. If he doesn't, he doesn't." Durant comes into tonight's game as the NBA's No. 2 scorer, averaging 27.7 points per game

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Avery Bradley vs Russell Westbrook: With Rajon Rondo (suspension) out, Avery Bradley will once again get the starting nod. With teams doubling Paul Pierce and Ray Allen every time they touch the ball, Bradley will likely have a ton of good-looking shot opportunities. "I gotta help my team out any way I can," Bradley said. "If that's me being aggressive one night, or if that's me getting us in sets one night, I'll try and do whatever." Westbrook will be a handful, for sure. Not only has he improved his jump-shot, but his speed and power gets him to the free throw line a lot. Westbrook has been to the free throw line 188 times this season which ranks 10th in the NBA. "Westbrook is a foul magnet," Rivers said. "He gets into your body. I wouldn't be surprised if Avery was in foul trouble most of the game."

PLAYER TO WATCH -- Kevin Garnett returns after missing two games to attend to a personal family matter. With the Celtics so short-handed in the frontcourt, whatever success they enjoy around the basket will likely be generated by Garnett the scorer, or Garnett the passer. And while his minutes will still be monitored closely, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he plans to let him play a little longer than usual tonight. "We'll up his minutes by five minutes," Rivers said. "He's usually at 30. Today he'll play 35."

STAT TO TRACK -- One of the best shots the Celtics have of pulling off the upset, will be to generate points from the miscues made by Oklahoma City. For all that the Thunder do well, turnovers remain a major weakness. They commit 17.1 turnovers per game, more than any other team in the NBA. A lot of that has to do with point guard Russell Westbrook, who is committing an NBA-high 4.3 turnovers per game. Teammate Kevin Durant isn't too far behind, with 3.7 turnovers per game that ranks 7th in the NBA. They are the only team with two players ranked in the top 10 in that category.

NBA Notes: League seems to be on upward surge in interest and ratings


NBA Notes: League seems to be on upward surge in interest and ratings

For so many years the NFL has had an almost impenetrable veneer in the way it has successfully pivoted away from a myriad of scandals that would have at the very least delivered a significant, noticeable blow to most professional leagues.

But that Teflon-tough image has taken a whacking of late with the league dealing with what has been for the most part an across-the-board ratings dip in its programming.

The NFL’s slide comes at a time when the NBA seems to be on a upward surge in terms of interest and ratings.

Kevin Durant’s decision to leave Oklahoma City and play for Golden State is a needle-mover across the NBA landscape. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are looking to defend their NBA title – a phrase no one thought they would ever hear even when James signed on for a second tour of duty – will certainly generate tons of interest.

The Boston Celtics added Al Horford to a team that many believe will be among Cleveland’s stiffest challengers, in addition to being a team that has played Golden State as well as anyone the last couple of years.

There are many hands responsible for the NBA having such a strong position on the professional sports landscape, chief among them being former commissioner David Stern.

He was in town last week as part of the Shamrock Foundation’s annual Gala.

Stern gave a rundown of what he’s been up to since passing the commissioner’s torch to Adam Silver.

He said he has been a senior advisor to a venture capital firm, counsels several start-up companies and of course a senior advisor to the NBA.

But it’s what he’s not doing – negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the player’s union – that seemed to bring him the most joy.

“That’s when I got the least amount of sleep,” quipped Stern.

But those sleep-deprived marathon sessions with owners and union leaders, have helped bring the league to where it is today – thriving with its players and the profits both seem to be reaping.

That’s why the reports of the NBA and the player’s union being close to coming to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, make a lot of sense. The NBA or the player’s union can opt-out of the current CBA prior to Dec. 15, although that’s looking less likely to happen because of what should be a new deal that better reflects the economic changes that currently exist in the NBA.

This past summer saw the salary cap in the NBA balloon to $94.14 million after having been $70 million for the 2015-2016 season.

With both NBA players and owners profiting significantly from the new TV deal, most of the changes to come about (paying players on the rookie scale more money; increasing the dollar amounts for veteran’s minimum and team exception contracts) are just common sense rule changes that have both sides closer to getting something done sooner rather than later.

And while he’s not directly involved in any of the current dealings, what he accomplished prior to retiring as commissioner certainly laid the groundwork for what appears to be a relatively smooth negotiation period.

“I didn’t project anything other than I was leaving it in the most spectacular of hands with an All-Star executive cast and they would just do what’s right for the league and they have,” Stern said.

And as far as the current talks that have reportedly been ongoing for months, Stern understands all too well that the last CBA talks which led to a shortened, 66-game season led to changes that has both players and owners feeling better about current negotiations.

“I’m proud to say the league has gotten to a very good place in terms of the player’s share, the owner’s share and where they can all see this is something that pays to keep going,” Stern said. “It’s fun to watch from a distance and not be involved.”



So much for that logjam in the frontcourt for the Philadelphia 76ers. The latest big man to go down with an injury is Nerlens Noel who recently had “minor” surgery on his left knee that will sideline him for reportedly three-to-five weeks. Keep in mind that the Everett, Mass. native missed his entire rookie season following left knee surgery, although the Sixers indicate this was an arthroscopic procedure and is considered minor. He joins No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons who suffered a foot injury that’s expected to keep him out until at least January. That means a lot of the trade rumors involving Noel (and Jahlil Okafor to a certain extent too) should cool off for a little bit.



Signing with Toronto during the offseason was supposed to be Jared Sullinger's chance at a fresh start. Unfortunately for him, things are looking a lot like they did in his early days in Boston. Concerns about his back dropped his draft-day stock from a likely lottery (top-14) pick, to falling in the Celtics' lap at No. 21. During his rookie season, he played well but had to have season-ending back surgery. With the Raptors, it appears he will miss some time early on due to a foot injury that occurred in the team's first preseason game which has kept him out of action ever since.  

“May be a little while before he comes back,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey told reporters recently. “He may get checked out just to see what else is going on.”

Sullinger’s weight was an issue during his time with the Celtics. It’s unclear what impact if any, it had on his current injury or whether it’s a factor in the injury keeping him out indefinitely. 



We have seen Metta World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest) in lots of different basketball roles from hitting big shots to just hitting people.

But as a coach? That is reportedly being discussed by the Los Angeles Lakers brass as they try to trim their training camp roster down to 15 players.

MWP is likely on the outside of the 15-man roster now, but the Lakers still want him to be part of the organization. While it may seem a bit of a stretch at first, he does bring a wealth of basketball experience to the table, a player how has seen the highs and lows of the game in a way few players can fully understand or speak about with a great amount of credibility.



The LaMarcus Aldridge trade talk will be one of the storylines this NBA season. The Boston Celtics will continue to be discussed as a possibility, but the team to watch is the Phoenix Suns. They came close to convincing him when he left Portland for San Antonio. Phoenix provides him a team that can be built around him (which he wants), lots of shots (which he wants) and a team with no pressure on his back to lead them to major success (yup, he wants that too). … Michael Carter Williams’ stock seems to continue to tumble after winning the league’s rookie of the Year award. He’s going into his fourth season and he’s already on to his third team. … Multiple league executives believe Devin Booker is the best 20-and-under player in the NBA right now. He's good, but I'd probably take Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns.