Preview: Celtics vs. Grizzlies

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Preview: Celtics vs. Grizzlies

BOSTON The Boston Celtics (12-10) are finally an above-.500 basketball team.Next goal?Joining the upper echelon of teams in the East.The C's have a ways to go before getting there, but a win today over a solid Memphis (12-11) team couldn't hurt.And like most of the NBA, the Grizzlies have had to play games without key players.All-Star forward Zach Randolph suffered a torn MCL early in the season which has kept him out for all but four games this season. He's not expected back until early March.The C's have their own injuries to worry about, although their core guys seem to all be improving, health-wise.Injuries happen, regardless of whether you have a typical NBA season or this condensed one courtesy of the NBA lockout.For the C's, the focus now is pretty clear - keep finding ways to win."We've gone through a lot; so has everyone else in this league," said coach Doc Rivers. "It's not just us. To start out slow like we did and get over (.500) - it's good for us. We've just got to keep doing it. We've got to just keep working on it."And that work continues today against the Grizzlies, a team that the C's will have to play well against in order to defeat. Here are some of the key points the Celtics will have to contend with if they are to win their fourth straight game.WHAT TO LOOK FOR:Although you don't hear his name - his first name, at least - too often, Memphis center Marc Gasol is a player the Celtics have to be concerned about. Gasol, the younger brother of Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol, is one of 12 NBA players averaging a double-double of points and rebounds this season. As much as his scoring helps Memphis, he does a nice job of clogging up the lane as well. His presence is a big reason why the Grizzlies are only giving up 37.7 points per game in the paint which ranks 5th in the NBA.MATCHUP TO WATCH:Ray Allen vs. Tony Allen. Having spent the bulk of his career with the Celtics, few have a better understanding and feel for how to contain Ray Allen. Plus, Tony Allen is a heck of a defender whose defensive presence in Memphis is similar to how Kevin Garnett is viewed by the Celtics. "He's like an Army General," Grizzlies guard Mike Conley told the Commercial-Appeal. "He says crazy things but goes out there and backs it up." However, Ray Allen has shown lately that he can still have a major impact on the game without scoring, if teams spend too much time and effort keying in on him. Averaging 2.8 assists per game this season, Ray Allen has averaged five assists in Boston's last three games which includes a season-high eight assists in Boston's 93-90 win at Cleveland on Jan. 31.PLAYER TO WATCH: Although he's not one of Boston's main attractions, Chris Wilcox is starting to provide just what the Celtics need in the front-court. In Boston's 91-89 win over New York on Friday, Wilcox was a huge part of the win despite some less-than-stellar numbers. He had six points and four rebounds, all of which were offensive boards. "I thought Chris Wilcox was the hero," said C's coach Doc Rivers after the Knicks win.STAT TO TRACK: Memphis leads the NBA in steals (10.6) per game, which means Boston's transition defense will have its hands full today. Those turnovers are a big part of why the Grizzlies average 17.3 fast-break points per game, which ranks No. 3 in the NBA. Meanwhile, Boston's defense as a whole has been solid this season. They have the league's second-best scoring defense, giving up just 87 points per game. And they're just as stingy when it comes to limiting fast-break scoring, giving up just 10 points per game which ranks No. 2 in the NBA.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

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0:41 - Michael Holley, Kayce Smith and Tom Giles recap their thoughts on drafting Jayson Tatum and trade rumors involving the Celtics.

6:21 - Ian Thomsen joins BST to discuss if it would be worth trading for Paul George as a one-year rental and if there would be a chance he could still around long-term if traded to Boston.

11:13 - Evan Drellich joins BST to talk about Rick Porcello’s outing, the Red Sox offense coming to life, and Doug Fister being claimed by the Red Sox. 

15:10 - Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely look back at the Celtics/Nets trade, what the assets have turned into, and if Danny Ainge has done a good job turning those assets into players. 

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

CHICAGO – As opening nights go at the NHL Draft, Friday night was a bit of a ho-hum affair for the Boston Bruins at the United Center home of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Bruins went the safe route by drafting a smooth, defensive-minded defenseman with the 18th overall pick when they selected Finnish product Urho Vaakenainen, and in doing so left more dynamic forwards like Kristian Vesalainen and Kailer Yamamoto still on the draft board for other teams to claim as their own. It was a bit of a curious choice given how many defensemen the Bruins already have in the prospect pipeline, but the lack of strength in the draft class seemed to lead teams to carve their own paths looking for players.

MORE: Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder clearly has miles to go offensively despite his smooth skating and solid passing skills, but there’s also a consideration that the teenager has been playing in the men’s league in Finland for the last couple of seasons. It makes things a little more difficult to project for the Finn D-man, but the Bruins believe there is some upside to his offensive game given the skills, the hockey IQ and the considerable confidence that the player has in his own game.

“His gap control and skating ability are really good. He’s obviously played in the Finnish Elite League at a very young age for one and a half years now and he’s played on the big stage at the world juniors. We feel like there’s a lot of upside for a 200-foot player that gets back on pucks, and then can transition them back out. Being able to cover ice is an important part of the game, and it continues to evolve in that direction,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who indicated Vaakenainen will play in North America in 2018-19 after fulfilling his contractual obligations in Finland. “We tracked what he did on offense at the junior league level prior to him jumping to the elite league, and it lines up pretty well with other elite players that made the jump to that level.

“It’s a valid question and whether he gets put into those [offensive] situations this year is what we’re excited about with his [Finnish] team moving forward.”

While Vaakenainen sounded surprised the Bruins selected him after only a single meeting at the NHL scouting combine, Sweeney said that Boston’s head scout in Finland has enough history with the family to vouch for the kid’s makeup.

So while it’s far from a sexy pick and the Bruins could have tried to hit a home run with an 18th overall selection in a mediocre draft, the B’s will also get some time before anybody is ready to label the Finnish blueliner a boom or a bust.

The rest of the draft night didn’t add up to much for the B’s, however. They made the selection of Vaakenainen after strongly considering dropping down in the first round, and in doing so lost one of the better trade chips in the form of their 2017 first round pick. There were discussions with Minnesota about Marco Scandella and a few trade feelers to other clubs that might listen on a D-man, but the Bruins now have to hit the reset button on trade discussions for left-shot defensemen or top-6 left wings.

Perhaps Scandella’s $4 million per season salary was an issue for the Bruins, or maybe the Bruins didn’t want to give up their first round pick for a 27-year-old D-man coming off a so-so season with the Wild. Either way, there wasn’t enough momentum for the Bruins to get a trade done with a bevy of defensemen rumored to be available if the offer is good enough.

“I was on the record saying that we’d be offering our first round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to go through with it, so we went ahead with a player we wanted with our own pick. We continue to build what we think is a good group of guys moving forward.

“There are a couple of areas we’d like to address and get better. We’re trying to help our team currently. Certainly Brandon [Carlo] jumped into our lineup and we hope Charlie [McAvoy] will carry over what he did, and we have other players that will push. We have six returning defensemen we feel good about and we’ll certainly push from underneath, but it’s an area we’ll continue to address. We have some forwards that we also hope will come online, but we’ll never stop exploring and trying to improve our club.”

So let’s sum it all up after a week of additions and subtractions from the Original Six organization: The Bruins added a decidedly vanilla defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft that might be a simple stay-at-home guy, and they weren’t able to muster any kind of deals for a D-man or winger to enhance the NHL roster. On the other hand, they didn’t give up much over the week as well and they didn’t do much at all to harm a solid roster that looked like they were finally on the right track pushing into the playoffs last season.

The Bruins could be in store for an action-packed Day Two of the draft on Saturday full of promising prospects and bountiful trades, but it sure feels like the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago isn’t going to be a very memorable one for the Black and Gold.