Celtics-Wizards review: What we saw . . .

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Celtics-Wizards review: What we saw . . .

BOSTON The Boston Celtics have proven to be one of the NBA's top teams in limiting opponents scoring in the first quarter. There's good defense, and there's shut 'em down defense that was on full display in Boston's 88-76 win over Washington. The C's shot an impressive 63.2 percent in the first quarter, but even more impressive was their ability to limit the Wizards to just 13.6 percent shooting from the field in the first which generated a paltry 12 points - the fewest an opponent has scored against the C's in the first quarter of a game this season.

Such out-the-gate dominance was indeed a major factor in the Celtics extending their season-best home winning streak to six in a row.

But there were other factors that played a role in the game's outcome. We highlighted a few keys to the game before tip-off. Now we'll review how those actually played in Boston's victory which gave them a four-game regular season sweep of the Wizards - the first time that has happened since 1982.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Boston has been surprisingly efficient offensively of late to start games. In their last two games, Boston has averaged 33.5 points per game in the first quarter, a significant bump over their 22.7 points per game average, 26th in the NBA, that they have scored in the first this season. In Washington, Boston faces a Wizards team that has had its struggles defensively in every quarter. But their first quarter scoring defense (25.3 points per game, No. 24 in the NBA) is actually their best in terms of where it ranks compared to the rest of the NBA.

WHAT WE SAW - After scoring 21 points after about eight minutes of play, the C's could muster just six for the remainder of the first quarter. While they failed to reach the 30-point plateau, their dominance was still significant as Washington could only score 12 points in the quarter - that's about half of their season average (23.4 points per game).

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett vs. Nene: This is where Garnett's ability to stretch a defense with his perimeter shooting skills comes in handy. Nene is a strong, bullish big man who seems to have adjusted to a Wizards system that's built more for what he does best - score with his back to the basket. In his three games with Washington since being traded from Denver, Nene has averaged 16.3 points and 8.7 rebounds.

WHAT WE SAW - Nene (back spasms) was a late scratch, so fans had to settle for a Garnett-Kevin Seraphin matchup. I know, not quite the same. Garnett didn't have the hot hand, but in typical Garnett fashion, he found other ways to make an impact besides scoring. He had 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting, but he also had six assists, five rebounds and two steals.

PLAYER TO WATCH - Although his numbers might suggest different, Marquis Daniels is gradually getting back to being a contributor to the Celtics' second unit. With Mickael Pietrus (concussion) expected to not play in the next couple games, along with Ray Allen (left ankle) questionable, Daniels may in fact see his role expand soon. After having played a total of 19 minutes this month, Daniels has played 20 minutes in each of the Celtics' last two games. In those two games, he has averaged seven points and 2.5 rebounds while shooting 55.6 percent from the field.
WHAT WE SAW - Daniels saw playing time and is clearly back in the rotation ahead of Sasha Pavlovic. He played nearly 17 minutes, finishing with two points, two rebounds and two assists.

STAT TO TRACK - With the Celtics thin on bodies, keep an eye on team fouls for both teams. This season, Boston is committing 20.2 fouls per game which ranks in the league's bottom-10, at No. 21. Fortunately for Boston, they face a Washington team that's used to being in foul trouble as well. They too are ranked among the NBA's bottom-10, averaging 21.5 fouls per game which ranks No. 26 in the league.
WHAT WE SAW - Because of the lopsided nature of the game, foul trouble was never really an issue for either team. Avery Bradley, who had arguably the toughest defensive assignment in dealing with Jordan Crawford, had four fouls. As a team, the C's committed just 18. Meanwhile, Washington had three players (Chris Singleton, Kevin Seraphin and Jan Vesely) who each had four personal fouls. And like the C's, they too were whistled for 18 team fouls.

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

When it comes to Pablo Sandoval and his weight, a picture is worth a thousand words.

During spring training it wasn’t a good thing. Sandoval made headlines when a number of photos revealed significant weight gain for the Red Sox third baseman.

But the last two images have been more positive for Sandoval.

In October, a noticeably thinner Sandoval was photographed at an FC Barcelona game.

On Monday, Dan Roche of WBZ tweeted a more recent picture of the new-look Sandoval.

Sandoval, 30, is entering the third season of a five-year, $95 million contract. In his lone full season in Boston, 2015, Sandoval hit .245/.292/.366 with 10 homers and 47 RBI.

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The newly agreed upon Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement features higher taxes and additional penalties for exceeding the competitive balance threshold -- and don't think the Red Sox haven't noticed.

The Red Sox went over the threshold in both 2015 and 2016, and should they do so again in 2017, they would face their highest tax rate yet at 50 percent. Additionally, there are provisions that could cost a team in such a situation to forfeit draft picks as well as a reduced pool of money to sign its picks.

None of which means that the Red Sox won't definitively stay under the $195 million threshold for the upcoming season. At the same time, however, it remains a consideration, acknowledged Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

"You would always like to be under the CBT (competitive balance tax) if you could,'' offered Dombrowski. "And the reason why is that are penalties attached for going over, so nobody likes to (pay) penalties.

"However, the Red Sox, if you follow history, have been up-and-down, right around that number. We were over it last year and the year before that. So I would prefer (to be under in 2017). However, a little bit more driving force in that regard is that there are stricter penalties now attached to going over. And some of them involve, for the first time, differences in draft choices and sacrificing money to sign players and that type of thing. So there's a little bit more drive (to stay under).

"But I can't tell you where we're going to end up. Eventually, does it factor (in)? Yeah. But until we really get into the winter time and see where we are, will I make an unequivocal (statement about staying under the CBT)? Maybe we won't. But there are penalties that I would rather not be in position to incur.''

Dombrowski stressed that he's not under a "mandate'' from ownership to stay under the CBT.

"But I am under an awareness of the penalties,'' he said. "Last year, I would have preferred to be under, too, but it just worked for us to be above it, because we thought that would be the best way to win a championship at the time.''

He added: "I think we're going to have a good club either way.''

But it's clear that the CBT is part of the reason the Red Sox aren't being more aggressive toward some premium free agents such as first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion, who is said to be looking for at least a four-year deal at an annual average value of more than $20 million.

Currently, the Red Sox have nearly $150 million in guaranteed contracts for 2017, plus a handful of arbitration-eligible players, some of whom (Drew Pomeranz, Jackie Bradley Jr.) will see significant raises.

Together, with insurance premiums and others costs tallied, the Sox stand at nearly $180 million, just $15 million under the 2017 tax.

"I've said all along I've wanted to stay away from long-term contracts for hitters at this point,'' Dombrowski said of the current free agent class, "(especially) with some of the guys we have in our organization coming. I just haven't felt that that's a wise thing to do.''

The Sox saw two potential DHs come off the board over the weekend, with Carlos Beltran signing a one-year $16 million deal with Houston and Matt Holliday getting $13 million from the Yankees. Either could have filled the vacancy left by David Ortiz's retirement, but Dombrowski would also be taking on another another eight-figure salary, pushing the Sox well past the CBT.

"I figured we would wait to see what ends up taking place later on,'' said Dombrowski, "and see who's out there.''