Celtics-Nuggets preview: One streak has to end

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Celtics-Nuggets preview: One streak has to end

BOSTON It's only fitting that the Celtics would be gunning for their longest winning streak of the season against the hottest team in the NBA right now.

That would be the Denver Nuggets, who come into tonight's game riding a season-best nine-game winning streak that includes a 111-103 win at Cleveland on Saturday.

But during Denver's run of dominance, there has been one thing missing: games in consecutive days.

Tonight's matchup with the C's will be the Nuggets' first set of back-to-back games during the current streak, while the Celtics had a back-to-back set of games in defeating the Raptors and Lakers, respectively.

Despite the recent run of success, Boston players consistently say they haven't focused much on their streak, which stands at six.

"We really do have to take it one game at a time around here," C's Courtney Lee told CSNNE.com. "We want to keep this thing going as long as we can, but we can't do that if we're thinking too far ahead."

Keeping their focus on the Nuggets will be one of the keys for Boston tonight. Here are some other factors to watch.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Nuggets are all about getting buckets, all the time. For the season, they have averaged 104.8 points per game which ranks third in the NBA. During their nine-game winning streak, they lead the league in scoring with 114.6 points per game. Meanwhile, the C's counter with a scoring defense (93.8) that ranks 6th overall this season, and is 4th in the league (89.7) during the Celtic's six-game winning streak.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs. Kenneth Faried. Pierce has been playing some of his best basketball of the season lately, but the 6-foot-8 Faried presents a different, and in many ways, tougher challenge for the captain. Faried is a high-energy, always-on-the-move player with great rebounding instincts evident by his 9.7 rebounds per game this season. Keeping him off the boards should be an even bigger priority for Pierce than doing what he does best, which is score.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Boston's second unit has been in attack mode of late, but Denver's JaVale McGee might make the C's think otherwise. He's averaging 10.1 points off the Nuggets bench, in addition to 2.02 blocked shots per game which doesn't factor in the shots he alters in the paint. His four blocked shots at Cleveland on Saturday was the seventh time this season he has had at least four in a game. That's tops among all NBA reserves this season.

STAT TO TRACK: Limiting Denver's offensive rebounds will be an across-the-board challenge for Boston. The Nuggets average an NBA-best 13.6 offensive rebounds per game. Boston has been among the better defensive rebounding teams of late, but during their six-game winning streak they are still giving up 13.2 offensive rebounds per game.

Blakely: No. 1 pick isn’t necessarily the road to title contention

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Blakely: No. 1 pick isn’t necessarily the road to title contention

BOSTON – Celtics fans are slowly but surely getting over the disappointment of the team not landing the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft lottery earlier this month.
 
As cool as that would have been, the conference finals serve as a reminder that while having the top pick can be a good thing, most teams have to take a different route when it comes to getting on track towards and NBA title.
 
Of the four remaining teams in the playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the only one that has truly been elevated to their current lofty status courtesy of landing the number one overall pick (first with LeBron James back in 2003 and more recently with Kyrie Irving in 2011).
 
That means the rest of the remaining field built their way up into an NBA power relying on a combination of making wise draft picks and shrewd additions via free agency and trades.
 
So much of that has to do with leverage, something the Celtics have plenty of on all three fronts.
 
They have the potential to free up enough salary cap space to sign a pair of max players, a first for this franchise. Boston also has eight draft picks in next month’s draft (three in the first round, five in the second), the most of any team leading up to the draft since it went to a two-round system in 1989.
 
Those picks plus a roster full of really good but not great talent, gives them the kind of ammunition to pull the trigger on a trade that could add that much-needed All-Star caliber talent.
 
But it’s like a high school chemistry experiment as the Celtics try to figure out the right combinations to avoid having it all blow up in their face.
 
For now, the emphasis has to be on the June 23 draft.
 
A big part of that planning process involves figuring out what to do with the No. 3 pick, the highest selection the Celtics have had since they took Jeff Green (and traded him that night) with the fifth overall selection in 2007.
 
If the Celtics keep the pick, it will certainly bring about some controversy regardless of who they select.
 
By taking Dragan Bender of Croatia, the Celtics will be selecting the youngest player in the draft (he turns 19 in November) who may take years to develop into a legitimate contributor.
 
Selecting Providence College’s Kris Dunn, arguably the best perimeter defender in this draft, seems a bit redundant considering all the guards Boston has under contract whose strengths are essentially the same as Dunn’s.
 
Buddy Hield of Oklahoma is another option. He’s the best shooter in this draft, but doesn’t provide much other than scoring. Is that really worthy of a No. 3 overall pick?
 
Regardless of who the Celtics take with the No. 3 pick (and that’s assuming they keep it and not trade it away which is indeed an option), one thing we know for sure.
 
History tells us that if the Celtics keep the pick, he will wind up being a pretty good player.
 
In the past 20 years, the No. 1 overall pick has produced 12 All-Stars.
 
Among top six picks in that same span of time, the No. 3 selection has generated the second-highest number of All-Stars (8), while the No. 2, 4, 5 and 6 picks each had five All-Stars.
 
That’s important to note because the need to have multiple All-Stars is paramount to a team’s chances at making a deep playoff run.
 
Take a look at the four remaining teams.
 
There’s the defending champion Golden State Warriors, whose roster includes a quartet of current (Stephen Curry; Klay Thompson and Draymond Green) and former All-Stars (Andre Iguodala).
 
Cleveland’s roster includes a similar breakdown of recent (LeBron James; Kyrie Irving; Kevin Love) and not-so-recent (Mo Williams) All-Stars.
 
And then there’s Oklahoma City (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook) and Toronto (Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan) who each have a pair of All-Stars.
 
For Boston, the team's lone All-Star is Isaiah Thomas, who knows all too well that he can’t carry this team to a deep, meaningful playoff run without getting some All-Star caliber help.

The top two picks in this year’s draft – Duke’s Brandon Ingram and LSU’s Ben Simmons – are head and shoulders above the rest of the draft class, but the Celtics are in a good spot if you’re talking about adding a key piece to a potential title contender. 

Report: Ainge in Israel this weekend scouting Dragan Bender

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Report: Ainge in Israel this weekend scouting Dragan Bender

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and his son, Austin Ainge, the team’s director of player personnel, will be in Israel this weekend scouting Dragan Bender, the potential No. 3 pick in the draft, the Boston Herald reported. 

Bender, a 7-foot-1, 18-year-old from Croatia, won’t be playing in games this weekend but will be practicing for Maccabi Tel Aviv.  Bender is a bench player for Maccabi, averaging 4.3 points and 2.6 rebounds. Still, his size and potential to develop  have him projected to go as high as No. 3.

Here’s CSN’s scouting report of Bender.

Danny Ainge was in Croatia earlier this week scouting 6-11 Ante Zizic. 

 

Report: 76ers look to deal Okafor or Noel in draft trade

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Report: 76ers look to deal Okafor or Noel in draft trade

There’s a high likelihood the Philadelphia 76ers will trade Jahlil Okafor or Nerlens Noel in connection with the June 23 draft, in which the Sixers hold the No. 1 pick, ESPN’s Chad Ford reported.

The Celtics, who have the No. 3 pick, have been rumored to be willing to part with it in a deal that includes Okafor.

Ford said in an interview with Philadelphia-area radio station ESPN 97.3:

You will not see the Nerlens Noel-Jahlil Okafor pairing at the start of next season. I think that they'll gauge the interest of both players. I think that there might be a slight preference for Noel, to keep him around with the Sixers, and I think you might be right, there might be a slight, better value for Okafor out on the market, but I think everyone agrees that that combination of those two players doesn't necessarily work.

The Sixers are expected to choose LSU’s Ben Simmons or Duke’s Brandon Ingram with the top pick.  Ford and Marc Stein also reported Philly’s willingness to deal Okafor or Noel in this ESPN article. 

As a deal with the Celtics for the No. 3 pick, Ford told 97.3:

Absolutely…If I was Philadelphia, it would be done tomorrow. I don't know if Boston would do it, but for Philadelphia, 100 percent. That would allow them to actually I think bring in another guard, an elite guard, whether that's Kris Dunn or Jamal Murray, and suddenly now you've got a very, very bright future. I think that's an easy call for the Sixers if Boston would do it.