Hawks still see Celts as team to beat in East

Hawks still see Celts as team to beat in East

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

ATLANTA The Chicago Bulls have the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Miami Heat have had the most hype.

In between them, literally and figuratively, is the Boston Celtics.

While the C's may not be the sexiest pick to come out of the East this season, Atlanta Hawks All-Star Joe Johnson still view the Celtics as the team to beat.

"I know when playoffs come, they're going to be hitting on all cylinders," Johnson told CSNNE.com.

Even with the Celtics struggling of late, Johnson said regular-season struggles don't really impact a team like the Celtics.

"They've been there before," he said. "They understand what it takes to win, take their game up two or three notches. You have to respect that."

Hawks forward Josh Smith certainly does.

"They're the team until somebody proves them wrong," Smith said. "They've been the team for these past couple of years."

And while Smith is quick to recognize the success that Chicago and Miami have had this season, "those teams . . . are hot teams that people are talking about right now. What they have to understand is, this is a veteran ballclub and they've been in these situations. Like everybody says, the regular season doesn't matter. It's what you do in the postseason. They have three Hall of Fame players, and they've already figured out how to get it done with each other. The Miami situation is still up in the air, how they're going ot make it work in the postseason. This team, they already understand. They know."

Celtics center Nenad Krstic was with the team, but didn't play against the Hawks and won't play Sunday against the Pistons after suffering a right knee injury in the second quarter of Boston's 107-97 win at San Antonio on Thursday.

Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, told CSNNE.com that Krstic will have an MRI performed on the knee Saturday afternoon.

Without Krstic, the Celtics once again find themselves short-handed at the center position.

Jermaine O'Neal, who returned to action against the Spurs after being out with a left knee injury since late-January, will continue to come off the bench while the C's move Glen Davis into the starting lineup.
A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Raptors

WATCH: Celtics vs. Raptors

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Celtics-Raptors preview: DeRozan, Lowry a challenge for Bradley, C's

Celtics-Raptors preview: DeRozan, Lowry a challenge for Bradley, C's

BOSTON – Avery Bradley doesn’t mind being a standout, but this is probably not what he had in mind. 

Injuries have ravaged the Boston Celtics’ starting five to the point where only one player, Bradley, has been with the first unit in all 22 games this season. 

Just like Bradley was looked upon to step his game up in the absence of Isaiah Thomas (right groin) at Orlando on Wednesday, he will once again be challenged to lead Boston (13-9) to victory tonight when the Thomas-less Celtics face the Toronto Raptors. 

Bradley’s emergence as a two-way talent this season has overshadowed at times what has been another season of elite play defensively. 

And he’ll need to be on top of his defensive game tonight against a Raptors All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. 

Both Lowry and DeRozan present a different kind of challenge for Bradley who will spend time defending each of them at various points during the game. 

Lowry has good size, strength and deceptive quickness in addition to an under-rated perimeter game that will keep Bradley on his toes for sure. 

This season he's averaging 20.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and a career-high 7.6 assists while shooting 42.9 percent on 3's which is also a career mark. 

And DeRozan is having the kind of season that might get him a few league MVP votes. 

His 28.0 points per game ranks fifth in the NBA, but making his numbers even more impressive is that unlike most guards DeRozan doesn’t generate much offense from three-pointers.

DeRozan averages 1.8 three-point attempts per game which is the fewest attempts among any player ranked among the league’s top-25 scorers.

The 6-foot-7 All-Star is the master of the mid-range game which accounts for 31.5 percent of the points he scores. And when he’s not shooting the mid-range, he’s working a defender in one-on-one iso-situations. 

That helps explain why 76.4 percent of his two-point made field goals are unassisted. 

But here’s the thing about Bradley. 

As much as we give him props for what he does defensively, it’s his offense that has put him on the map as a potential All-Star this season. 

Bradley is averaging a career-high 17.9 points while shooting 47.2 percent from the field. He’s also averaging a career-high 7.8 rebounds per game in addition to shooting a career-high 40.7 percent on 3's.

But for Bradley, individual accolades are only going to come his way by the Celtics winning games; preferably against above-average teams like the Toronto Raptors.

And that would make both Bradley and the Celtics stand out this season.