Branch: We've been underdogs all year

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Branch: We've been underdogs all year

FOXBORO -- Deion Branch believes this Patriots team has forged its own identity. It's not the team that lost in the Divisional Playoffs last year to the Jets. It's not the team that went to three Super Bowls in four years in the early part of last decade. And it's definitely not the 1996 team that will be at center stage Sunday when four of its members are present at the coin toss as honorary captains.

"We don't focus on things that happen in the past," Branch said Friday. "Every year the team is totally different."

That may be so, but the mentality of this year's team appears to be strikingly similar to the Championship-winning ones that preceded it. During those Super Bowl seasons, the Patriots always considered themselves underdogs, no matter what their record, or Las Vegas, said. Remember Rodney Harrison's post-Super Bowl "Nobody believed in us" rants? Both Super Bowl teams he played for went 14-2 in the regular season.

It appears as though that same cocoon of delusion -- the one that may have helped keep the Patriots sharp and gave them a little extra motivation in the early aughts -- is back surrounding the Patriots locker room.

Though the Patriots are hosting in the AFC title game, and favored in Las Vegas by a full touchdown, Branch quickly fired back at a reporter who asked how it felt to be the favorites in Sunday's AFC title game.

"Where? Where?" Branch said. He wanted to know who thought the Patriots would win. He seemed genuinely surprised that anyone had picked them over the Ravens.

The reporter followed up, "You don't think you're the favorites?"

Branch shook his head, locks of brown hair falling gently in front of his face.

"Nah. We've been the underdogs all year," Branch insisted. "Just let us think that way and we're cool. We weren't even supposed to be here according to the media. This team was supposed to be . . . We're cool with that. We're focused on the guys in the locker room. We worry about our game plan and our execution. Don't worry about all the rest of the stuff.

"That's my first time hearing that. I promise you. I haven't been on ESPN in about a month, two months. Any sports channel, not to single out ESPN. Guys in that locker room are focused. We're focused on one task, and that's taking care of our business."

It's true that the Patriots have had their detractors over the course of the season. Their defense is too porous to win a Super Bowl, some said. Their schedule was too easy; they're paper tigers, others implied.

But now, here they are, one win away from a Super Bowl. And favored to get there.

Some players, it appears, don't pay the predictions any mind.

"We've been favored at home in the playoffs the last two years," Wes Welker said Friday. "I don't think it's a big deal at all. We just have to understand that no matter what, we just gotta play well. That's what it comes down to."

For Branch to kick up that us-against-the-world mentality is an old-school Patriots move. It makes sense. He's one of the few that remember what it's like to win a ring in New England. He knows what it takes to get there. Pushing the "we've been disrespected" card worked before, and maybe Branch believes the team will benefit from it again this year.

The Patriots may not focus on the past. But if they can dig it up for a brief moment to dust off a classic motivational tactic before their biggest game of the season, why not?

Avery Bradley elected to NBA All-Defensive First Team

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Avery Bradley elected to NBA All-Defensive First Team

BOSTON -- It seems that while Avery Bradley comes back every season with something new that he’s added to his game offensively, his defense has always been solid.

But this past year, Bradley, 26, was more committed to being not just a great on-the-ball defender, but also to expanding his game at that end of the floor to be a better help defender, too.

Bradley’s efforts didn't go unnoticed. The NBA announced Wednesday that he was among the players named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team.

It was Bradley's first time being named to the first team. His only other all-league recognition defensively came in 2013, when he was named to the league's second unit.

Bradley's play certainly was pivotal in his selection. But it didn't hurt that Portland's C.J. McCollum praised Bradley via social media as the best perimeter defender in the NBA.

"I don't think it's close," tweeted McCollum. 

San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard was the lone unanimous choice on the first team. In addition to Leonard and Bradley, the first team also included Golden State’s Draymond Green, Los Angeles Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan, and Jordan’s teammate Chris Paul.

Of the first-team players, Bradley was third in total points (149), which included 62 first-team votes and 25 second-team votes. The only players with more first-team votes were Leonard (130) and Green (123).

Players were awarded two points for a first-team vote and one point for a second-team vote.

The All-NBA Defensive Second team included Paul Millsap of Atlanta, Paul George of Indiana, Hassan Whiteside of Miami, ex-Celtic and current Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen and Chicago’s Jimmy Butler.

Bradley wasn’t the only Celtic to receive some all-Defensive love from voters. Jae Crowder had a total of 47 points, which included 3 first-team votes. His 47 points were the third-highest among players not named to the first or second team.  Also, Celtics guard Marcus Smart received seven points which included 2 first-team votes.

Red Sox injury updates: Holt, Rodriguez returns still uncertain

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Red Sox injury updates: Holt, Rodriguez returns still uncertain

BOSTON -- The return dates for both Eduardo Rodriguez and Brock Holt remain uncertain.

Holt visited with concussion specialist Micky Collins in Pittsburgh the last two days and is returning to Boston Tuesday night.

The Red Sox placed him on the seven-day DL last week when he began experiencing symptoms associated with a mild concussion, following an incident on the last homestand when he went to dive for a ball at second and felt some whiplash in the neck.

"He went through a battery of tests in Pittsburgh,'' said John Farrell. "After a full workup with Micky there, we feel like there's a very detailed plan in place. He'll begin some general conditioning when he gets back. He's still dealing with some symptoms, minor as they might be, and in the coming days, baseball activity will start. [But] we're going to miss him for a little bit.''

Holt clearly won't be ready to return this week.

"He's going to need some time to get back to game speed for us,'' confirmed Farrell. "But we don't feel like this is a real long-term type of scenario.''

As for Rodriguez, the question of a return date to the major-league rotation remains something of an open question.

"He came out of last night's start in pretty good shape,'' reported Farrell of Rodriguez's seven-inning, one-run performance for Pawtucket on Tuesday. "He's set to throw his bullpen [Thursday] and right now tentatively set (to pitch) for Pawtucket on Sunday, but we obviously have the ability to adjust if needed or if we choose to do so.

"I don't know that we're there to say where it's definitively going to be next. Over the coming few days, we'll certainly map them out with Eduardo first and foremost. If it's (with the big-league club), it obviously won't be until early next week at the [earliest]. We're still working through some things on that.''

2016 NBA Draft Scouting Reports

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2016 NBA Draft Scouting Reports

CSN’s NBA draft scouting reports are your go-to resource leading up to the 2016 NBA Draft on June 23.

Video analysis is provided by Tim Welsh and Dalen Cuff. Welsh spent 13 seasons coaching college basketball and is best known as the former Providence Friars head coach, where he spent 10 seasons and led the team to multiple appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Welsh is joined by CSN anchor Dalen Cuff, who played four seasons in the Ivy League at Columbia.

Text analysis is provided by Kevin O’Connor with full scouting reports of each player’s strengths, weaknesses, and their fit on the Boston Celtics. O’Connor has previously been the lead draft analyst for SB Nation and Sporting News, and publishes his own NBA Draft Guide.

With eight draft picks, the Boston Celtics are in a position to make a splash. They have picks throughout the draft, so this is the year to learn everything you can about the draft.