IT took some frank talking and unfiltered thinking to get the Boston Celtics’ season back on track.
Pre-season favourites for the NBA’s Eastern Conference title, the knitting of the roster that ended last term with the one which began it before injuries struck was always destined for some growing pains.
Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward restored to the starting line-up. Their valiant stand-ins back to the bench. Extra talent, further confusion.
But although the Cs remain in fifth place in the East standings – 4.5 games behind the surging Milwaukee Bucks – there are plenty of signs that they are ready to belatedly live up to those high expectations and achieve what they planned: contend for a conference title, at the very least.
Mook ➡ 22 points on only 8 shot attempts pic.twitter.com/W9awT12Lwn
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 10, 2019
Seven victories out of nine heading into Thursday’s trip to the Miami Heat have put Boston back on a trajectory that could see them increase their win count for a sixth successive season (current pace: 51, target 56) and be at full speed just in time for the playoffs.
Over his last ten appearances, Irving has averaged 21.8 points and 6.8 assists but it is about quality over quantity, he insisted, after notching just 12 in a season-high tally of 135 on Wednesday against the Indiana Pacers.
The Celtics are now third in points allowed at 105.3 per game and tenth in scoring at 112.5 but over their last four – all victories – they have been collecting points at a rate of 120.0.
Miami, just one spot behind in the East but a world apart in current ambition, is the first of a three-game road trip for the Celtics which should allow them to boost their status further.
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) January 6, 2019
Good value on a handicap of -4 at 2.17 to easily make it five on the bounce, they then head to Orlando and Brooklyn and have a very soft rest-of-January, aside from a pivotal home duel with the Toronto Raptors and what, they hope, might be a NBA Finals preview against the Golden State Warriors.
Boston remains 9.00 for the championship but, in tandem with the Houston Rockets, their strength in numbers puts them among the elite group of teams that could conceivably dethrone the Warriors should the shots fall their way. It’s one reason why now is a good time to look at the Green Machine for the East at very favourable odds of 3.30.
Because if talk has been replaced by action, and for good, the Celtics’ best may be to come.
Best bet: Go over 217.5 total points in Miami – Boston at 2.45
A THING OF BEAUTY pic.twitter.com/T06uAUqObB
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 9, 2019
When the Washington Wizards host the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, what would have seemed another possible Eastern Conference Finals match-up last October now appears like a car crash in the making.
With John Wall out for the season, the Wizards are falling towards the lottery despite admirable wins over both Philadelphia and Oklahoma City over the past ten days.
And with the Raptors still motoring in their fight for number one seeding, and with a four-day break to follow their visit to DC, expect them to turn the screw with a handicap of -6.5 on the money.