Patriots tout mental toughness

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Patriots tout mental toughness

INDIANAPOLIS -- This is not your 2007 Patriots team.

Comparisons abound this week -- resist them. This has not been a season built to the sky on gaudy, easy wins. There has been failure, there have been dogfights, and there have been moments of tense doubt. But one thing these Patriots have that the 2007 team never seemed to need (until it was too late, perhaps) is resilience.

New England guard Brian Waters says they've depended on it.

"It's a key part of what we do," he said Sunday. "The mental toughness, execution, and the way we prepare -- and I think we've got some supremely talented players -- are the reason why we're here."

Waters is a 12-year NFL veteran. In 11 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, he was part of a sub-.500 team six times. He never went beyond the Divisional playoff round.

He knows how easy it is to lose.

"There have been a lot of players that have been hurt over the course of our football season -- and we're no different than any other team -- but I can tell you there's times when you see players go down for four or five weeks that never recover. There's times when there's guys who are at the same position with a player and see that player do really well, and them not do as well sometimes that really affects their game. Here, it hasn't happened. Guys have been happy for one another. We prepare the same week-in and week-out. And guys take that team pride, and doing it for one another, very seriously."

Matthew Slater, special teams captain, didn't hesitate to agree.

"It's just the 'team first' concept," he said. "You think about mental toughness, you think about doing what's best for the team, even though it may not be convenient for you as an individual. We've had 53 guys, and our practice squad guys, and everybody involved with this team to really buy into that concept."

Slater is one of the most thoughtful men in the Patriots locker room; his words are always underscored by introspection. Sunday night Slater hunched over the NFL's media table where he was stationed, shrinking in his seat, seemingly weighted down by graciousness. He reflected on the season's battles. He considered the consecutive losses to the Steelers and Giants and the 10-game streak of victory that followed.

He knows how hard it's been to win.

"At times this year, like when we lost those back-to-back games, we really rallied around one another and believed and stayed mentally tough, and we were able to respond. I'm just really proud to be a part of this bunch. We've showed a lot of character throughout the season and hopefully that pays off for us."

Is resiliency something that separates good teams from great teams? Is it an armor that can not only deliver a team to a Super Bowl, but help that team win one?

"Definitely," Waters nodded. "You definitely have to be a mentally strong football team to have a chance to win here. You have to."

Celtics-Magic preview: Orlando's poor offense gives C's chance to bounce back

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Celtics-Magic preview: Orlando's poor offense gives C's chance to bounce back

Talk about your basketball extremes.

After losing a 107-106 heartbreaker to Houston and their high-powered offense on Monday, the Boston Celtics will be in for a very different -- and less successful -- foe tonight in the Orlando Magic.

The Magic beat Washington 124-116 on Tuesday night despite John Wall’s 52-point effort, but have been one of the NBA’s most offensively challenged teams this season.

Orlando ranks near the bottom in scoring (29th, 94.6 points per game), field goal percentage (28th, .426) and Pace (24th, 96.71) this season.

But Frank Vogel’s crew has been a defensive force thus far in the East even if their record might suggest otherwise.

They rank among the league’s best in several defensive categories such as scoring defense (4th, 98.0 points per game allowed); opponent 3-point percentage (3rd, 33.0 percent), opponent 3-point attempts (4th, 23.6) in addition to allowing a league-low 8.0 made 3's per game.

That will be a stark contrast from the let-it-fly-all-night style Boston had to contend with against the high-scoring Rockets on Monday.

But this set of games is exactly why Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made of point of trying to put together a roster that was heavy on athleticism and versatility both in the frontcourt as well as on the perimeter.

Against Houston, Tyler Zeller recorded his first DNP-CD (Did not play -- coaches decision) of the season which made sense considering Houston basically plays void of a traditional center.

Orlando, that’s a different story.

Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic now coming off the bench form a physical triumvirate of big men that can cause lots of problems for a Celtics team that will look to attack the paint often.

When it comes to scoring in the restricted area, the Magic allow opponents to shoot 57.6 percent which ranks seventh in the league. They rank highly when it comes to defending mid-range shots (5-10th, 38.3 percent), corner 3's (6th, 34.5 percent) and above-the-break 3's (8th, 33.8 percent) as well.

And while they have had their issues offensively this season, their recent run of success has been in part aided by a much-improved offensive showing. In their last five games, they are shooting 48.5 percent from the field which ranks fifth in the NBA in that span. For the season, the Magic rank 28th while connecting on 42.6 percent of their shots.

Orlando’s improved shooting with a defense that’s stingy as ever, will make this a tough game for Boston to come away with a victory.

Just as the Magic seek to continue their successful ways, the Celtics come into this game with something to prove as well.

While the missed lay-ups by Al Horford and Isaiah Thomas in the final minute of Monday’s 107-106 loss certainly were factors in the game’s outcome, there were a series of miscommunications earlier in the quarter that fueled Houston’s late surge.

Following the game, Isaiah Thomas pointed out how he called out a play that Jonas Jerebko interpreted as another play the Celtics called.

The miscommunication led to a turnover and subsequent lay-up which in hindsight looms huge considering the margin of victory was just one point.

“The two play calls sound alike,” Thomas told reporters afterwards. “In the heat of battle, I have to do a better job of making sure everybody knows what play we’re running. He (Jerebko) handed the ball back to me when the play wasn’t to hand the ball back to me. That was one of the turnovers that was the key.

Thomas added, “It’s not his fault. As a group, as a point guard, I have to do a better job of letting my guys know what play we’re running. Those little things, especially on the road, those make you lose games. But that wasn’t the play that made us lose. I’m not putting this on Jonas at all.”

Indeed, this team’s success as well as their struggles are the collective efforts of all their core players, Thomas included.

And for them to get back on track, it won’t be one or two players that will make it happen.

It’ll be a team effort, the kind that will allow Boston to find success against different teams no matter how extremely different their styles of play may be.