Pick Your Poison

As the playoff picture unfolds there are still some twists and turns left to be taken before anything is set in stone. However, the Celtics possible opponents come spring are more condensed than others. Despite a 10-10 start which acts as a crutch for the entire season in terms of their own seeding, the Celtics have rebounded and won 33 of their last 50. As of late the team found their collective mojo. Jaylen Brown is making a strong for him being reinserted into the starting lineup; and before suffering a neck strain Gordon Hayward seemed to have found a groove.

Boston can hope to advance no further than the third seed in the playoff standings. It’s likely the first round matchup will be either the Philadelphia 76ers or the Indiana Pacers. It is not a given Boston will have home-court advantage. The green team sits two games behind both Indy and Philly. This is crucial since the Celtics currently are 17-17 on the road versus 26-10 at home.

The Pacers have shown great strength in not cratering since losing Victor Oladipo for the season. Currently sporting the best defense in the N.B.A. Anchored by two young bigs Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, the former leads the team in rebounding (9.2) and the latter in blocks (2.8). The health of Boston’s bigs are immensely crucial to this series. Without either Al Horford or Aron Baynes the Celtics will lose this series on the boards. The loss of Oladipo dropped Indiana’s offense in to the bottom-tier of the league. Someone whose supposed to carry the torch, Tyreke Evans, hasn’t cut the mustard and picked a helluva time to have the worst season of his career. That all being said, the Pacers are still scary to a team that can’t get out of their own way like Boston.

Turning to the Sixers, the old cliche “there’s no loved loss” rings true. Amongst the fans that is. Philly’s gone under an extreme makeover since the season began. Gone is the faltering number one pick Markell Fultz. Defensive stalwart on the perimeter Robert Covington and power forward Dario Saric, who was an underrated thorn in Boston’s side last playoffs. In are Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and Jonathon Simmons. This is Philly’s best collection of talent in almost two-decades and its all because they whiffed on the number one pick…

For the constant reshuffling of the deck Brett Brown is able to still field a top-10 team in offensive and defensive rating. No matter how you slice it Butler is not a good fit next to Simmons or Embiid. Yet, they are able to overcome the growing pains and remain a force in the east. No team or player can even remotely hope to contain the fearsome twosome that radically altered the floundering franchise to fringe title contender status.

Well… except for Al Horford. Whatever the reasoning Old, Steady Al (as I am trying to nickname him) constantly gets the best of Embiid. J.B can do it all, yet against Horford a bullet in the chamber is unloaded and Embiid is forced out of the paint and turned into a spot-up shooter. It’s magnificent to witness as it still doesn’t make any sense. It’s like I am watching Paul Pierce versus LeBron James before his Miami-days. The future of the N.B.A getting constantly bested by who many deem irrelevant and “overpaid” and “average”.

If Mike Budenholzer is guilty of annually fizzling in the playoffs, but getting the best of Brad Stevens. Stevens deserves the label of someone who owns Brett Brown.

I am going to regret saying this, but I think Boston can win on the road in Philly and can’t do it anywhere else. Because I’ve seen them steal one before down there and they have yet to have lost a game to Philly this season.

The Good, The Bad, The Meh

We are in a time of the year where everyone is still in love with their teams. Ask any Celtic fan, they wouldn’t give up Guerschon Yabusele unless it was to guarantee them an All-Star in the process. The water is still warm, stats speaking louder than results because their hasn’t been any action for months.

Little do we know what lays ahead for our teams. But we can read the various tealeaves, there’s a team that was one game away from knocking off the Warriors, only to fall to a statistical anomaly.

The Good, The Bad, The Meh

The Bad:

The Houston Rockets are the first team I want to touch on. They are on the downswing, falling from title contenders to mere pretenders thanks to the losses of veteran forwards Trevor Ariza (Phoenix) and Luc Mbah a Moute (Los Angeles). In their place, journeymen James Ennis, Michael Carter-Williams and the recently acquired Carmelo Anthony have big shoes to fill. Any viable option to defend Durant is gone, replaced with players who barley graze the bar of average and, in Anthony’s case, a washed up has been.

It’s a damn shame. The entire Rockets franchise is a damn shame. So much losing on one squad, neither the brilliance of Daryl Morey, Mike D’Antoni, James Harden and Chris Paul could conquer their demons. Arguably, if the ownership of Tilman J. Fertitta wasn’t as tight with his pocketbook as previous owner Leslie Alexander, Houston would be the odds on favorites to dethrone Golden State. Unfortunately, for Houston, Fertitta is one of those capitalist who merely bought the team because he could and wanted to elevate his status in his social circle. That’s why the Rockets are in the middle of an awkward, bone-chilling stare-down with center Clint Capela instead of just paying him like the Celtics did Marcus Smart earlier this week. Morey has to squeeze Capela for every penny in these negotiations because this expensive team is already laying down the groundwork to cutting cost in the future.

The Good:

A team on the upswing is the Utah Jazz. They haven’t done very much other than draft Duke shooting guard Grayson Allen, who averaged 10 points in Summer League despite shooting just 6-of-29 from the field. Showing the ability to get under the opponents skin like he did at Duke.

Fairly above-average at every position, Utah is well positioned to take the mantle of second best in their conference. While the contingent of perimeter players Alec Burks, Thabo Sefolosha, Royce O’Neal, Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder leave much to be desired, you could do worse. Thabo and Crowder can defend their positions predominantly well, as Ingles is an elite shooter, making 44% of his threes.

Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors enjoyed bounce back years – Favors especially, his 56.3 field goal percentage ranks ninth in the NBA. While his fit next to the dynamic center Gobert remains unfounded, Favors rebuilt himself from the injury riddled power forward who saw his value depreciate over the years. Rubio soared in production after the All-Star Break, three-point percentage jumping from 32.4 to 40.9, postings +16.9, averaging 15 points per game. Rubio can defend Stephen Curry fairly well.

The Meh:

To round this column out, the Philadelphia 76ers, 50-Game winners the previous season are lucky if they’re to reach that mark next season. Losing Ersan Ilysova in free agency, trading backup center Richaun Holmes and promising forward prospect Timothe Luewawu-Cabarrot. Not that they helped a whole bunch last season, it’s possible they’d take a considerable leap this year. Their most notable additions Mike Muscala and rookie Zhaire Smith aren’t projected to be better then what Philadelphia lost at least for this season. Smith can defend, but his offensive game is lacking. As for Muscala, his effects on offense is a little overstated. Ersan played solid defense aided mostly by his effort, but Muscala is a complete liability.

The Sixers possess the best 1-2 combos in the conference, but are so underwhelming everywhere else the buyout market is going to be where management looks for the second consecutive year to raise their ceiling. The addition of Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler is a nice pick-up. Though the last thing Philly needed was a wing who could not shoot, the floor will be incredibly cramped as the only floor spacers will be star Joel Embiid and shooter J.J Redick. If number one overall pick Markelle Fultz sophomore year is to be loss, then it be wise of Brett Brown to consider starting the young T.J McConnell at point guard as his growth as a scorer and creator is a potential ace in the Sixers hole.

Philadelphia is set for the next however many years the Simmons/Embiid duo are together. They needed just one player to make them serious title contenders in the east, that player SHOULD have been Nemanja Belicja, who spurned Philadelphia last minute to apparently sign in Europe, then Vlade Divac of Sacramento offered him 3-years at $20.5 million.

I feel terrible labeling the Sixers off-season as a failure, even though it is, because they tried and seemed to have come out on the other side of the Jerry Colangelo burning account fiasco as fine as possibly can be. They swung big and whiffed on just every pitch. It won’t be the same story in the future, but it’s another year the Sixers reasonably could have grabbed control of the league is lost.