Welker hoping to be happier after Houston rematch

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Welker hoping to be happier after Houston rematch

FOXBORO -- Wes Welker probably has some ugly memories from the last time New England played the Texans. 
It's not the fact that his team lost that game, the 2009 regular-season finale. No, it's that Welker tore both the ACL and MCL in his left knee that day. 
This Friday, he was prompted to remember.
"I try not to think about it too much. I appreciate you bringing that up," he said sardonically. "But I've just moved on from it, and worked hard to get better, and luckily I am where I'm at today."
Welker's production in New England -- both before and after the injury -- is remarkable. 
He's led the league in receiving three different times since joining the Patriots in 2007. With eight more catches in 2012, he'll become the first receiver in NFL history to have 100 or more in five seasons.
Can he appreciate the milestone upon approach? Not really.
"Maybe when I'm done," Welker guessed. "Right now I'm just focused on however many catches I need to get to help us win. Whatever that is is what it is.
"I'm really just trying to move forward. I don't really think about the past all that much. What's done is done. We just continue to get better and try to win."
When the Patriots take on Houston this time, they will already be dealing with not one, but two significant injuries to the receiving corps: Tight end Rob Gronkowski, who suffered a broken forearm November 18 against the Colts, and Julian Edelman, who left last week's Miami game because of a season-ending foot fracture. 
New England has since re-signed Donte' Stallworth, but the weight on Welker's shoulders could still be heavier than usual. Whereas he averaged 9.25 targets through the first four games of the season, he's gotten 12.5 through the last four. 
He doesn't worry about the way the numbers rise and fall. Welker's concern is that when quarterback Tom Brady needs a target, somebody is there. 
"I think it puts pressure on everybody. Everybody has to come out, everybody has to step up and come out and play the way we need to to win the game."
A victory against Houston, whether with two catches or 10, is all Welker wants this week. 
It would certainly make for better memories. 

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

CLEVELAND --  Down the stretch in Game 4, the Celtics were desperate for someone, anyone, who could slow down Kyrie Irving.
 
But short of that, Boston could have used an offensive closer, too. You know, someone like Isaiah Thomas.

GAME 4: CAVS 112, CELTICS 99

 

The Celtics have relied on the two-time All-Star to carry much of the offensive burden this season, but he was almost always at his best in the fourth quarter.
 
A right hip injury knocked him out of this series after 1 1/2 games. Still, Boston managed to win Game 3 without him and, for large chunks of Tuesday night, seemed poised to beat the Cavs again on their home floor.
 
But as much as Game 4 was a reminder of just how special a talent Irving is (42 points, 21 in the third quarter when the game’s momentum swung in Cleveland's favor), it also provided a clue to the clueless who thought the Celtics were actually better without Isaiah Thomas.
 
Defensively?
 
Absolutely.
 
It’s no secret that teams go to great lengths to try and use his 5-foot-9 stature against him. And as we have seen, the deeper we get into the postseason the more trouble he and the Celtics seem to encounter from a defensive standpoint.
 
But just as we praise Irving for being such a special talent, Thomas has shown that he, too, has offensive gifts that, throughout this season, have left many fans, media and defenders befuddled as to how “the little fella” keeps coming up with one big play, one big shot after another.
 
But as we have learned, he has been dealing with a sore right hip injury for several weeks. The pain and discomfort eventually became too much to bear and so the Celtics did the right thing and shut him down.
 
Without him, the C's are still a good team that on any given night can knock off anyone, even the defending champs.
 
But as Game 4 reminded us, they need Thomas in order to be their best.
 
When Irving torched Boston’s entire defense with jumpers, ankle-breaking crossovers, Euro-step lay-ups and free throws, the Celtics had no one to turn to who could maybe, just maybe, go back at Irving at the other end of the floor.
 
That's what Thomas does that makes him such a special, unique talent in this league.
 
He can score in a variety of ways, with the best in the NBA.
 
We saw that this past season, when he led all players in the Eastern Conference in scoring with a 28.9 points-per-game average.
 
Boston’s excellent ball movement and high assist numbers are certainly important to the team’s success. But to make a deep and meaningful playoff run, you need one or two guys who can just go get buckets regardless of what the opponent does defensively.
 
That’s not Avery Bradley.
 
That’s not Al Horford.
 
That’s not Kelly Olynyk.
 
You can search, poke and prod this roster all you want, and you'll come up empty when it comes to finding a player like that . . . other than Isaiah Thomas.
 
The fact the Celtics were able to avoid getting swept is a victory of sorts in itself. Boston’s coaching staff, as well as the front office, has repeatedly said that as talented as their team is, they aren’t on the same level of the defending champion Cavaliers.
 
And yet here we are four games into this series and the Celtics are basically a bad half of basketball away from being tied, 2-2.
 
It says a lot about their mental toughness, their ability to handle and navigate past adversity to give themselves a chance to be competitive against any team -- including the Cavs.
 
But their success this season has always been about the collective group, regardless of how many late-game shots Isaiah Thomas knocks down.
 
And while he has his shortcomings defensively, not having him available is going to hurt them in those late-game moments when they need a closer. It’s not a coincidence the Celtics were just 2-4 when he didn’t play during the regular season.
 
So as cool as it was for them to win Game 3 without Thomas, he’s still the straw that stirs the Celtics emotionally, bringing them to levels few think they're capable of reaching.
 
They were able to get by for one night without him, but remember this: It took Marcus Smart having an Isaiah Thomas-like game of 27 points and seven made 3’s, for them to win.
 
No one did anything remotely close to that Tuesday night.
 
They looked like the Isaiah Thomas-less Celtics, which is a look they don’t need this time of year.
 
Because that look is so not about winning.