This past week has been rough for the Boston Celtics. The 24-point blowout loss in Atlanta Tuesday night, the first time all season this team has lost by more than ten points, was bad enough. The pair of losses that preceded it sting even more.
A listless Celtics squad gave away what should have been a surefire victory in Brooklyn, giving the Nets their third win of the season. That almost counts as two losses. Not only does it count against Boston's record, but they handed a win to a team that owes them a draft pick. A pick that becomes slightly devalued with every Brooklyn win.
One week ago the Celtics also dropped a home game against the Dallas Mavericks, another team that Boston will receive a draft pick from, so long as it falls outside of the top seven. If this was a clever rouse to ensure the Mavs finish with enough wins to allow the Celtics to collect that pick, it was wildly unnecessary.
Boston has now dropped three of their last four to drop to a middling .500, pushing them down the standings into a tie with the Detroit Pistons for 9th in the conference. It seems like only yesterday that we were praising the Celtics for ranking near the top of the league in defensive efficiency and point differential. The danger of small sample sizes is that it only takes one bad week for those numbers to suddenly look far less impressive.
In the end, all that really matters is what your record says in the standings. At the moment, that record isn't looking all that promising for these Celtics.
(Eastern Conference team gaining momentum)
Indiana Pacers: 9-5, 4th in the East
Those that didn't expect the Pacers to jump back into contention after sitting out the postseason last year must have missed the fact that this team was without its superstar player for nearly the entire season. Paul George is back and better than ever, posting career-highs of 25.9 points on 45.8 percent shooting. George currently sits at fourth in the league in scoring while draining an average of three 3-pointers per game. After a slow start where he appeared to still be shaking off some rust from a lost season, George has turned up his game, scoring at least 25 points in 9 of his last 10 games.
George deserves his share of the credit for Indiana's success, but it's not all him. Despite losing the rim-protecting presence of Roy Hibbert, the Pacers remain among the elite on the defensive end. They rank fourth in the league with a 96.1 defensive efficiency and their +6.0 scoring margin is second best in the East.
(Eastern Conference team that is struggling)
Toronto Raptors: 9-6, 6th in the East
The Raps have dropped six of their last ten games, putting them only one game ahead of the Celtics and Knicks in the loss column for the division lead.
That stumble wouldn't seem so bad if it weren't for the news that center Jonas Valanciunas will miss approximately six weeks with a fractured hand. The 4th year big man is averaging nearly a double-double with career-highs in points (12.7) and rebounds (9.3), while serving as Toronto's best post presence on offense. Toronto doesn't really have a true backup center worthy of giving extended minutes to, so the void will need to be filled by undersized forwards Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo, both of whom are listed at 6-foot-9.
The league is trending toward small-ball, but the Raptors probably didn't intend to play essentially the entire game that way. Until Valanciunas returns, they may not have a choice.
Draft Pick Watch
(Checking in on the status of teams that potentially owe a 2016 draft pick to the Celtics)
Dallas Mavericks: 9-6, 4th in the West
Remember when there were concerns that Dallas might tank in order to hang on to their first-round pick? Well we can forget about that now. The Mavs have started the season strong, tied for the third best record in the the competitive Western Conference.
37-year old Dirk Nowitzki is showing no signs of slowing down, flirting with a ridiculous 50-50-90 season. He's draining nearly two 3-pointers per game at a league-leading 52 percent clip. Dirk can't carry a heavy workload at this stage of his career, but the efficiency that the 18-year veteran provides when he is on the court is staggering. He ranks 24th in the league with a 22.16 PER. Outside of the immortal Manu Ginobeli, everyone else ahead of Nowitzki is under 32 years old.
It looks like the Celtics will have no issue getting that draft pick this year from Dallas. Unfortunately, the current outlook appears that it won't be the late-lottery pick we were hoping for.