Post-2014 NBA All-Star Break Predictions for Boston Celtics
Boston will play 28 games to finish out their season's second half, but unless they start turning things around quickly, the games will have be of little consequence to the overall league. Boston is five games out of a playoff spot, with three teams still between them and the No. 8 seed Charlotte Bobcats.
Predictions on what will happen over the next couple months will also hinge heavily on who remains in uniform past Feb. 20's trade deadline. If the Celtics are able to make a sizable move or two, the outlook and predictions could drastically change in both directions.
Either way, the Celtics are back and playing basketball again after a long weekend off.
Rajon Rondo Will Continue to Score More
If Rajon Rondo remains with the Boston Celtics beyond one more game, the chances are he will continue to score more and more.
The Celtics have had a void in the scoring column since the beginning of this season. The void was supposed to be filled by Jeff Green, but Green doesn't have much of a killer instinct. On the contrary, Rondo has a slightly different mindset and more confidence in himself than his teammate.
In the four games he has played in February, he averaged 14.5 points on 65.8 percent shooting. While that clip isn't sustainable, Rondo will be getting more and more comfortable as he adjusts back into playing shape both physically and mentally.
"Time limit’s off, yeah," Brad Stevens told NESN's Ben Watanabe. "Still not playing back-to-backs, probably will be cleared to play in back-to-backs again very soon. I asked the question right after we met prior to the game and it sounds like, again, that’s sooner rather than later, but no time issues."
With that comfort level will come the desire and sense of duty to score a bit more. Boston isn't going to overwork him by any means, which could also help his averages stay fairly lofty. The Celtics will partake in six more back-to-back games this season.
Expect a handful of 20-25-point games from Rondo before the year is through.
Avery Bradley Will Push to Play 90 Percent of Remaining Games
There are a lot of factors pulling on Avery Bradley's return from this sprained ankle.
For one, the Boston Celtics' higher-ups may not be all that interested in winning games during the next two months. Keeping Bradley sidelined with a minor injury definitely hampers the team's chance to win games and improve their final record.
However, Bradley should be fighting that if it is happening as such. He is a 23-year-old with an already building history of injuries. He is also a restricted free agent after these 28 games are up. To play for that bigger contract he wanted earlier in the season, after rejecting a small offer from Boston, he must be on the court producing.
He's had a very good year so far, but none of that happened alongside Rajon Rondo. The sample size of those two playing in a backcourt together is still considerably small. He must get himself back on the court with the star point guard to prove his capability alongside him for the future of the franchise.
Unless the front office has made it known to him that they will sign him to the contract he wants this summer, Bradley will push to play a lot of these final games.
Therefore, don't read too much into him not making the trip to Phoenix for the first game post-All-Star break.
Jared Sullinger Will Average a Double-Double
In January, while playing just 26.5 minutes per game, Jared Sullinger was 0.8 rebounds shy of averaging a double-double.
In six February games before the All-Star break, Sullinger averaged 16.5 points and 11.2 rebounds while getting a minutes boost to 32.3.
Sullinger has cleared out a spot for himself amidst the crowded frontcourt of this Boston Celtics roster. Brad Stevens has been watching and guiding him closely since the start of the season. That care has helped Sullinger work himself into the best shape of his career and he has been dominant for stretches just before the break.
With the return of an attention-deserving point guard, who can also get him the ball creatively better than perhaps anyone on the planet, there is little reason Sullinger can't continue his breakout season.
His back broke down after 45 games last season, but he eclipsed that number a few weeks ago. Health will be a minor concern until he proves he can play the full year.
There is also the factor of the trade deadline. If Danny Ainge is able to make a move to deal Brandon Bass or Kris Humphries, there may be even more minutes and rebounding opportunities for Sullinger.
The Boston Celtics Will Struggle to Tank
The state of the Eastern Conference, along with the Boston Celtics' roster makeup, will make it increasingly difficult for them to tank these final 28 games.
Boston is home to a host of young talent, especially if Avery Bradley returns to the lineup soon. Rajon Rondo is a four-time All-Star who will be in his prime as soon as he is fully healthy and confident again. Jeff Green can still score and Jared Sullinger is having a breakout year.
It seems tough to think that Brad Stevens is a head coach who accepts losing in the effort to gain lottery position, but we don't know his NBA version all that well just yet.
Still, with Rondo's return and a presumed healthy Bradley, this team could do better than expected to finish out the season. Of those final 28 games, there are 17 against teams currently holding losing records, including each of the final eight games.
In the Eastern Conference, a playoff run still can't be ruled out of the conversation. The Atlantic Division is definitely out of reach at this point, but catching the Charlotte Bobcats, or whoever moves into the No. 8 spot, isn't beyond happening. Whether fans would like it or not, players still play basketball to win, especially young ones with a lot to prove.
There Will Be Some Move Made
While time is definitely running out, it is hard to believe Danny Ainge will sit quietly through another trade deadline without making at least a small move.
He has already pulled the trigger on two deals since the season began—and come close to moving on another for Omer Asik. As time gets short, before the Feb. 20 3 p.m. deadline, deals will shift and perhaps become more enticing.
Ainge will be too tempted by something before that time. It may just be a simple salary cut of a Joel Anthony or Vitor Faverani, but it could be something slightly bigger as well. Brandon Bass remains a target of many teams, and the Celtics have the expiring contracts to even out a variety of salary exchanges.
On deadline day in 2011, Ainge facilitated a move that sent Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jeff Green almost out of the blue. Just because you aren't hearing any substantial rumors just yet doesn't mean something won't happen last minute.
In my preseason bold predictions story for Bleacher Report, I did nail my first two choices. Both Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk played in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star weekend.
However, my final prediction on Oct. 22, 2013, is looking like quite a tall order. The final record predicted for the Boston Celtics was 39-43, a winning percentage that would currently put them in the No. 6 spot in this Eastern Conference. I also overshot Rajon Rondo's return by two weeks. Getting him back on Jan. 2 could've led to a few more wins heading into the break, making that record slightly more realistic.
For that record to come to fruition, Boston would have to finish their remaining games with a 20-8 record. Even with their relatively weak remaining schedule, that is a tall order.
Keeping in mind that that story was a list of bold predictions, and these are simple realistic ones, I think a 15-13 finish is a bit more likely. That would put Boston at 34-48 on the year.
That winning percentage would still land them outside that No. 8 spot in the current conference standings. Including the Western Conference for lottery terms, it would place Boston in 10th position for ping-pong balls in the current makeup of non-playoff teams.
This may be the sheer definition of that no-man's land that fans seem to dread, but it will take drastic changes to alter the outcome one way or another. There will come a point in the next week or two that a definite decision will be made on whether they will continue fighting for a playoff spot or start resting players in opportune spots to dip lower into the lottery.
Likely, we'll know after seeing if/when Avery Bradley returns from his sprained ankle.