With the Boston Celtics three games behind the Toronto Raptors heading into tonight’s matchup, is first place in the Eastern Conference feasible?
Greg Cassoli (Celtics Wire): Given the current state of their roster, catching the Raptors seems highly unlikely for the Celtics. Obviously things shift drastically if Boston can take both games against Toronto. That seems like an exceptionally improbable outcome. Then again, so did beating Portland…and Utah…and winning fifty games without Gordon Hayward.
Cory Prescott: Even with Toronto’s recent .500 play (3-3 in their last six games) and Boston’s MASH unit success (five-game winning streak missing everyone), there is little reason to believe the Celtics can catch the Raptors for the No. 1 seed. With seven games to play and the talent mismatch favoring the Raptors at the moment, it’s difficult to envision the Celtics taking it to the Raptors twice in five days. (Food for thought: If Boston wins tonight, does Brad Stevens push harder for the top spot in the East? In addition to a home-and-home with the Celtics, the Raptors schedule includes Cleveland, Indiana and a Heat team trying to claw into the middle of the playoff pack.)
Daniel Poarch (CelticsHub): It’s certainly possible, but I wouldn’t consider it very likely. The Celtics will need to win both games to secure the tiebreaker due to Toronto’s superior conference record, and that’s a tall order for a team missing so many key contributors right now. This five-game winning streak has been incredibly impressive considering the circumstances, but I’m not sure I can see them coming away with consecutive wins over this Raptors team without Kyrie Irving. If they do, though, things will get VERY interesting.
Markelle Fultz returned to the Sixers lineup on Monday. Can he contribute for Philly in the playoffs?
Cassoli: As our old friend Kevin Garnett once told us, anything is possible! Is it likely that Fultz will fill a meaningful role in the playoffs? I would say no. He’s only played six games in his entire career and he still hasn’t fully rediscovered his jumper. Philly’s spacing will collapse in on itself if they pair him with too many non-shooters, of which they have plenty. The question really comes down to whether or not Fultz can provide more benefit to the Sixers than T.J. McConnell. At the moment, I’m skeptical he can. In the end it might not even matter. Philly’s starting five is plenty terrifying to any potential playoff opponent on its own.
Prescott: Fultz: With the unfortunate news surrounding Joel Embiid, the 76ers may look to try anything. Even before Embiid’s untimely injury, there was optimism that Fultz could maintain a solid 10-to-15-minute role off the bench as another ball handler behind Ben Simmons. Fultz clearly has a knack for scoring, a quick first step and an effective pull up game. The 76ers’ offense has cratered in the fourth quarters of games this season (29th in the NBA) in some part due to Simmons’ inability to keep defenses honest. Perhaps Fultz can be an unconscious chucker the Sixers might need. Heck, if Nick Foles can lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl win, anything is possible.
?NEW #CELTICSBEAT PODCAST with @KyleDraperTV!?#NBA Coach of Year Brad Stevens. #Celtics playoff matchups all suck. Shutting down Kyrie Irving may be right move. No Brinks for Isaiah Thomas. @Scalabrine dirt.
— Adam Kaufman (@AdamMKaufman) March 29, 2018
Poarch: Fultz’s return to the court on Monday was one of the coolest moments of the NBA season, but I’m not ready to get too carried away with his short-term impact. Fultz has brought a lot of energy to the Sixers’ bench, moving the ball well and attacking the rim, but it’s only been two games. He isn’t scoring particularly efficiently yet and he hasn’t taken a shot from further than 20 feet out. The jumper looks improved, but it’s still a question mark; if he can’t space the floor, he can’t really share the court with Ben Simmons, which inherently limits his impact. I think Fultz’s return will serve as more of a teaser for his undoubtedly bigger role next year, rather than being the piece that puts the Sixers over the top in the Eastern Conference playoffs right now.
If we could redo the 2015 NBA Draft, where would Terry Rozier be picked?
Cassoli: I’m tempted to say he’d wind up right where he did the first time around. Boston’s front office clearly valued Rozier more highly than most teams throughout the league, and I think the satisfaction of being able to shove it in people’s faces that Ainge was right about him has warped our perception of just how good Rozier has gotten. I don’t want to come off as overly critical here. Rozier has improved a ton since his rookie year and deserves a world of credit for it, but he still can’t finish at the rim, and he isn’t a particularly deft facilitator. He’s shot the ball well enough from three and is a good enough defender that I think there’s a case for him going in the top ten of our hypothetical redraft, but much earlier than that feels like a stretch.
Terry Rozier's production the past six games since Kyrie Irving’s knee soreness forced him to seek surgery:
— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) March 26, 2018
Prescott: Is Terry Rozier better than Kyrie Irving? Was the next Michael Jordan really right under our noses the entire time? With all kidding aside, it’s clear that Rozier is a starting level point guard in this league. Rozier would certainly pass busts like Jahlil Okafor, Mario Hezonja and Cameron Payne in any redraft. With Emmanual Mudiay and D’Angelo Russell – two point guards taken above Rozier in the draft – struggling to find any sort of consistency, it wouldn’t be too far to imagine Rozier as the best lead guard from this draft. Redo the 2015 draft and Rozier nestles in between picks 8-through-10.
Poarch: Point guard has not necessarily proven to be a position of strength for the 2015 Draft, and given what we’ve seen from him this season, I think Rozier would have a case for the top ten in a redraft. You’d have to imagine a team like Denver would be much happier with Rozier at pick seven than they were with Emmanuel Mudiay. Another interesting conversation is where Rozier ranks compared to Toronto’s Delon Wright and Minnesota’s Tyus Jones, both of whom are enjoying similar breakout years. All three look to be better players at the moment than the first three point guards off the board at the time – D’Angelo Russell, Mudiay, and Cameron Payne – and would certainly see a solid jump in draft position.
With a 3-6 week timeline now for Kyrie Irving to return, is that better, worse or about what you expected?
Cassoli: The difference between three weeks and six weeks is substantial. Double some might say. Answering this question without knowing exactly when and in what condition Kyrie will return is tough, but broadly speaking I would say the following. As compared to my expectations from the moment Irving joined the team, having any surgery is far worse than would have been hoped for from a health perspective. However, as compared to other knee surgeries, 3-6 weeks of recovery seems like a preferable outcome. The Celtics have endured enough injuries this year that their window for meaningful contention has been pushed back. As long as Irving’s knee doesn’t cause problems into next year’s campaign, Boston should be happy about the surgery, even if it means he misses the entirety of the playoffs.
Prescott: It’s obviously still far from over – we need to see Kyrie back out on the court before passing judgement – but this latest surgery seems to be encouraging. Given the injuries this season for the Green-and-White, a 3-to-6 week prognosis is a walk in the park.
Poarch: I’d hope his return is closer to three weeks than it is to six, but overall, this is about what I expected. It’s unfortunate that Kyrie isn’t with the team for this late push to steal the top seed from Toronto, but his long-term outlook is far more important to the franchise than slim odds at improving playoff seeding. By all accounts, Kyrie’s knee looks good structurally and he should be able to make it back at some point in the playoffs. That’s good enough for me.