Celtics-Bulls preview: Running away from the competition

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Celtics-Bulls preview: Running away from the competition

WALTHAM, Mass. The aftermath of a morning shootaround is typically a quiet, intimate affair for the Celtics. Players have routines that often involve scurrying out of the practice facility as quickly as possible once the game plan for that particular night has been laid out.

Tonight against the Bulls, that game plan will account for the brand of basketball that the short-handed Celtics must now play.

Even with a full stable of healthy bodies, the Celtics were not a team that could beat you consistently in the half court game. Their offense in those scenarios -- get it to Kevin Garnett on the block -- was too predictable.

While getting Garnett on the post is still important, the injury-riddled Celtics now find themselves attacking more in transition which has opened things up scoring-wise and, more importantly, gives them a better shot at winning.

The Celtics currently rank 15th in the NBA in fast break points, with 13.4. That number is relatively consistent with the 13.5 fast-break points the Celtics have averaged in their last eight games -- seven of which were victories.

That trait will be especially important tonight against a Bulls team that's once again among the league's best rebounding teams.

The Bulls rank 7th in the NBA with 52.3 rebounds per game this season. Meanwhile, the C's are at the far end of that spectrum with 48.1 per game which ranks 28th (out of 30 teams).

Boston's ability to hold their own on the boards will indeed be one of the keys in tonight's game. Here are a few other factors to pay attention to as the C's try to get back to winning games after their season-best streak of seven straight wins, come to an end at Charlotte on Monday.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: With two of the NBA's top scoring defenses, points will be hard to come by for either team. The Celtics are ranked 10th in the league, giving up 96.3 points per game. The Bulls are even better, with opponents scoring 91.9 points against them which ranks 3rd in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs Nate Robinson. The one upside to Rajon Rondo's injury has been how it has allowed Bradley to show that he's more than just a ball-hawking defender. Robinson, who was named Eastern Conference player of the week earlier this month, has been a major reason why the Bulls have remained among the Eastern Conference's elite despite former league MVP Derrick Rose being out all season.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Brandon Bass is long, long overdue for a breakout game scoring the ball. His season-high scoring is 16 points, which he has done three times. In his first season with the C's last year, Bass eclipsed that mark three times within his first 16 games.

STAT TO TRACK: The Celtics have to do a better job in the hustleeffort categories. In the 3-point loss to the Bobcats on Monday, Charlotte had more points in the paint (34-32), on fast breaks (15-9) and on second-chance opportunities (9-6).

Thomas says NBA 2K wouldn't accept Cousins trade, NBA 2K confirms it wouldn't

Thomas says NBA 2K wouldn't accept Cousins trade, NBA 2K confirms it wouldn't

The Kings have not exactly been celebrated as geniuses since news of Sunday’s DeMarcus Cousins trade broke. 

The deal, which sent Buddy Hield, a top-three-protected 2017 first-round pick, a 2017 second-rounder, Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway to Sacramento for Cousins and Omri Casspi, has been widely mocked for how little the Kings fetched for the All-Star center. In handing out trades for the deal, SI gave the Pelicans an A and the Kings an F.

One team that could have easily beaten New Orleans’ offer was the Celtics, who seemingly did not participate in Sunday’s trade talks. On Monday, Isaiah Thomas tweeted his thoughts on the trade: 

Just as good as Thomas’ tweet was the fact that NBA 2K confirmed that it would not allow the trade to happen. 

Blakely: Celtics made the right choice in not pursuing Cousins

Blakely: Celtics made the right choice in not pursuing Cousins

NEW ORLEANS -- There will be a significant faction of Celtics Nation who will see DeMarcus Cousins’ trade to New Orleans as a lost opportunity for the C's, who could have offered a much more enticing trade package than the one the Sacramento Kings accepted.
 
The Kings received nothing even remotely close to a king’s ransom for Cousins, acquiring him in exchange for rookie Buddy Hield, journeyman Langston Galloway and ex-Pelican Tyreke Evans (who has never been the same since his Rookie of the Year season in 2010), along with a protected first-round pick and a future second-round selection.

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While the knee-jerk reaction is to focus on why Boston decided to not pursue a trade for Cousins, more important is what the non-decision means for the moment and going forward.
 
Think about what the Celtics have done in the last three-plus seasons.
 
They went from being a lottery team to one that has the second-best record in the East. They're holding the potential No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft; at worst, the pick will be in the top four or five. They have three of the most team-friendly contracts (Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder) in the NBA. They have promising prospects overseas as well as in the D-League. And they're led by a coach who has improved his coaching acumen -- and the team’s win total -- every year he's been on the job.
 
And it's all enveloped by a culture with a high level of selflessness, which has created a locker-room environment that has been more about fighting for each other than fighting one another or others off the court.
 
Do you really think Cousins’ talent would have trumped the baggage he'd be bringing to the Celtics if they'd acquired him?
 
For him to have fit in with this team would have required him to make the kind of changes that, frankly, I just don’t see him being capable of making at this point.
 
On more than one occasion, “not fitting in” with the Celtics culture was given to me as the reason why a Cousins-to-Boston trade never gained any traction with the team’s brass. Or coaching staff, for that matter.
 
While there's no denying that he's arguably the best center in the NBA, Cousins is a high-risk, high-reward talent that makes sense to pursue if you're a franchise which has nothing to lose by adding him to the mix. Like, say, New Orleans.
 
The Pelicans are 11th in the Western Conference despite having Anthony Davis, who has been asked to carry the weight of a franchise that has yet to figure out the best combination of talent to surround him with and find success.
 
The addition of Cousins not only provides Davis some major help, but serves as a reminder of just how desperate the Pelicans are.
 
While there are mixed reports on whether the package of assets the Kings agreed to was the best they could have received for Cousins, there was no way they were going to get anything close to comparable talent in exchange for him.
 
And that was solely due to the risk that any team was willing to take on in order to acquire him.
 
At some point, the Celtics need to take advantage of an opportunity to go all-in for a superstar player. But this was not that time, or that player.