Celtics grab a win, dodge a bullet

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Celtics grab a win, dodge a bullet

The Garden will be rocking when the Bruins take the ice tonight, and I'll have something on the B's a little later this afternoon. But first, I want to quickly touch on Wednesday night's Garden fiesta.

First of all, the Celtics are on another planet.

Last night, they were up against a young, athletic, well-rested and massively-motivated Hawks team, whose star, Josh Smith, was hotter than Minka Kelly. On top of that, the C's were less than 24 hours removed from their biggest regular season win in years, had traveled through the night and didn't make it back to Boston until 3 a.m. To make matters worse, they were forced to play without their new sixth man and still-crunch time shooting guard Ray Allen. And it didn't help that all three refs had money on the Hawks.

Still, through it all, the Celtics came out on top. They've now won four straight, eight of their last 10, and 11 of their last 14 games. For the first time all season, they now own home court advantage in the playoffs and are only two games behind the Pacers for the third seed in the East. As a result, the vibe around this team is better than it's been at any point since the Kendrick Perkins trade. Whether or not anyone really believes the C's have what it takes to win four four-game series and hoist another trophy, I'm not sure. But everyone's having fun. And after all this team has been through since that aforementioned trade, peace and happiness alone almost feels like a victory.

But for all the goodness that came out of last night's win, the memory that will stick with me most is much more somber. A reminder that even though the C's are currently on another planet, they're at the same time so perpetually close to plummeting back to Earth.

"Noooo!"

"It's like we've just been waiting for that."

"Bass = done"

Those were three texts that simultaneously popped up on my phone during last night's overtime, in the seconds after Brandon Bass collapsed to the parquet, clutching his knee, after suffering an injury that looked like every ACL tear that we've ever seen.

In that moment, the Celtics were done. All they'd achieved, all the strides they'd made since the All-Star Break, since the trade deadline, since they embarked on this ridiculous April schedule, were crumpled up in a ball and shoved down our throats. And it hurt.

Of course, Bass got up. Somehow, by some ridiculous stroke of luck, not only was his season saved, but he was able to finish the game. He helped carry the Celtics to victory. But in that brief moment, we were all reminded of just how fine a line the C's are walking on this unbelievable, inexplicable run back to the top of the Eastern Conference.

On that note, I'd just like to give a quick shut out to the Basketball Gods:

"Guys, we get it! No need for anymore reminders!"

Next up for the Celtics, three road games in three days.

Next up for Boston, the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

I'll have more on that coming up next.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Five things to look for from the NFL annual meetings this week

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Five things to look for from the NFL annual meetings this week

PHOENIX -- Bill Belichick may not be speaking with the media here this week, but there will be plenty for us to examine at the annual league meetings. 

Reporters were informed via a team spokesperson that the Patriots coach would not be in attendance at the AFC coaches breakfast Tuesday morning -- where in the past orange juice has been sipped and tape recorders have been bulldozed -- due to a scouting conflict. 

The breakfast is not mandatory for coaches so for Belichick to use his time at a college pro day (Florida, Texas and Iowa State all have theirs scheduled for Tuesday) or a private workout comes as little surprise. He's been busy on the Trail of Due Diligence in recent weeks, making visits to Vanderbilt, Ohio State and Michigan in order to get a closer look at prospects.

Five weeks behind, remember? No days off. 

Patriots owner Robert Kraft is planning to meet with reporters on Monday so we'll have an opportunity to hear from him on a variety of topics when that comes to pass. 

Here are some of the other Patriots-related stories we'll be doing some digging on this week as we keep you updated with blog posts, occasional television hits, tweets (@PhilAPerry), Instagram shots (@PhilAPerry), and maybe even a podcast or two.

* What does the rest of the league think when it sees the way the Patriots have attacked this offseason? How will the new pieces fit? Do other coaches and executives see it as Belichick going all in on 2017? Or is this just a case of a team adhering to its motto of doing "what's best for the football team" -- both in the short and long-term?

* What's next for the Patriots? They're not done building the roster so where might they turn next? Will they add other lower-level free agents? Will they be looking to trade back into the first and second rounds? Which positions seem to be of interest to them in the draft, and how might that signal the direction this roster is headed?

* What is the feeling on the future at the quarterback position in New England? We know the Patriots aren't looking to give away Jimmy Garoppolo, but do people around the league really feel as though a haul of draft picks really won't get the Patriots to think twice about trading him? Is it possible that in this rare scenario -- where the franchise quarterback is playing at an MVP-level but headed into his 40-year-old season -- people could see the Patriots paying two passers a starter's salary?

* Will anything happen with Malcolm Butler before the meetings are out? Some have speculated that if his status as a restricted free agent (with an unsigned first-round tender) is to change anytime soon, it could happen here, where presumably his agent will be able to hear offers from one or more clubs in person. Will Butler find a team willing to give him an offer sheet and relinquish its first-round pick to the Patriots? Or will he sign his tender -- whether it's with the intent to play for the Patriots in 2017, or to be traded?

* Rules changes are coming. We just don't know which ones. Will the linebacker leap (executed by Jamie Collins and Shea McClellin under Belichick) be eliminated? Will Stephen Gostkowski soon be looking to blast kickoffs through the uprights due to the passing of a rule that would place the ball at the 20 as opposed to the 25 for such a feat? Will real-time replay decisions suddenly shift from the officials on the field to the NFL offices at 345 Park Avenue? We'll let you know which proposals are held up, which fall flat, and how the Patriots might be impacted. Belichick and his staff did not submit any proposals for the second consecutive year.

Morning Skate: Old friend Warsofsky called up by Penguins

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Morning Skate: Old friend Warsofsky called up by Penguins

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while waiting for the next wave of announcements that the Bruins have signed college players out of the NCAA tournament.
 
-- Former Wild goaltender Josh Harding is finding his way after his MS diagnosis forced him out of the NHL prematurely.

-- Young D-man Seth Jones is becoming the “hoss” defenseman that the Blue Jackets will need come playoff time.

-- PHT writer Cam Tucker has Wild coach Bruce Boudreau calling a loss to the Canucks “embarrassing” as the hard times continue for Minnesota.  

-- Backup goalie Curtis McElhinney is ready to step up for the Leafs after they lost Frederik Andersen to injury.
 
-- Old friend David Warsofsky has been recalled from the AHL and will be with the Penguins as crunch time hits ahead of the playoffs.

-- USA Hockey is now reportedly reaching out to rec league and former Division III women’s hockey players to find a replacement roster for the world championships as the USA women continues their boycott.
 
-- For something completely different: We have an honest-to-goodness think piece about pulling the “Irish Exit.” Well, okay then.