Chris Forsberg: Good season by Sacramento Kings is bad news for Boston Celtics

Chris Forsberg
NBC Sports Boston

Chris Forsberg: Good season by Sacramento Kings is bad news for Boston Celtics originally appeared on nbcsportsboston.com

Fourteen Celtics-related thoughts with 14 games remaining in the 2018-19 regular season:

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1. Speaking of 14: In a season in which little has gone as expected for the Boston Celtics, there has been no development quite as surprising as the Sacramento Kings being something less than terrible and the Kings currently projected to deliver the 14th pick to Boston. Celtics fans spent most of the season figuring the Kings would eventually come back to Earth but it really never happened. Yes, Sacramento has stumbled a bit recently and the Clippers raced away in the quest for one of the West's final playoff spots (something that actually helps Boston, with L.A. set to deliver a first-round pick). Still, there is the very real chance the Kings will end up as the best of the worst, a team with the worst lottery odds. Truth be told, Sacramento is actually a really fun team to watch but the Kings outkicking expectations turned what seemed like a surefire top-5 pick into what's much more likely to be the latest of lottery selection.

2. Spin zone: If Sacramento had been one of the NBA's worst, draft lottery night would have super stressful for a Celtics team that wouldn't have collected the Kings' pick if it landed at No. 1. At the moment, the Sacramento pick has a mere 0.9 percent chance of vaulting to the top spot, and a 2.2 percent chance at jumping to spots No. 2 or 3. Still, it would have been a lot easier to pull off a big-splash move this summer had that pick landed in the top 5 instead of No. 14.

3. If the season ended today, the Celtics would collect picks Nos. 14 (via Sacramento), 18 (via the Clippers), and 21 (their own). The draft lottery would decide if Boston would also get the Grizzlies' first-round pick, which is top-8 protected. Memphis currently has the seventh-worst record in basketball but, if two teams were to leapfrog it in the lottery, that would push the selection outside the protection and deliver Boston its most glitzy pick. It might be even more valuable if it doesn't convey as the protections loosen further out and the Grizzlies' uncertain future makes it a strong trade chip for Boston.

4. Current win projections, via ESPN's Basketball Power Index, has Philadelphia at 51.6, Boston at 50.6, and Indiana at 50.4. Which only hammers home the fact that the Celtics' three remaining head-to-head matchups with those teams will almost certainly decide how the middle of the East seedings shake out.

5. The Pacers have by far the hardest remaining slate of those three teams, ranking fifth in BPI's remaining strength of schedule. Both the Celtics (21st) and 76ers (24th) rank in the back third of the league. Considering the way the Celtics have struggled with inferior competition this season, that might not necessarily be a good thing.

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6. ESPN's Basketball Power Index favors Boston in all but two of its remaining games. Alas, those two games are in Philadelphia and in Indiana. 

7. Tough news to hear the Nuggets are plucking Isaiah Thomas from their rotation, particularly given the team's upcoming visit to Boston. Statistically, it's hard to argue. The Nuggets have a minus-5.4 net rating with Thomas on the floor through 140 minutes and the team's offensive rating -- which stands at 113.1 for the season -- has been an eyesore at 96.2 with Thomas on the court. Maybe as seeding becomes locked in the team can experiment a bit with Thomas, but there simply might not be enough time to work off the rust before the playoffs arrive. Here's guessing he still gets a bit of floor time in Boston on Monday night.

8. And, all that said, after watching the 2016-17 season and especially the playoffs that year, there's no way we'd bet against Thomas winning the Nuggets a game along the way with some of his familiar heroics.

9. One of the more surprising numbers over the last five games: Aron Baynes' net rating is a minus-11.7 since returning from injury. The Celtics have struggled on both ends in his 61 minutes of floor time and he didn't play more than 16 minutes in any game out west. Baynes essentially missed a month with the foot injury and it's fair to expect some rust but they need to get him back in rhythm considering the bigs they could encounter in the playoffs.

10. The player with the best on-court net rating in that five-game span? Gordon Hayward at plus-11, and Terry Rozier is next at plus-9.3 That's a very encouraging development for Boston's bench. Those two guys will be supremely important in whatever the Celtics accomplish the rest of the way. Hayward might just be the X-factor in all this considering how the Celtics tend to thrive when Hayward produces good games.

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11. What is Brad Stevens looking for after an encouraging trip out west (that ended on a sour note by giving up 140 points to the Clippers)? "Better transition defense and improve our habits in the halfcourt, defensively. Improve our habits in our execution. It's pretty simple. As you go through film there's a million things you could highlight. But I think ultimately if we do those three things then we'll be better than we are today. And I think we need to be better than we are today to be able to move on once the playoff start, regardless of where we're seeded." 

12. Boston's transition defense has been a concern for a while now but it's usually a product of poor offense. When the Celtics' offense plods and the team settles for long jumpers, it typically leaves opponents racing the other way and creating opportunities - especially when the Celtics let poor offensive shooting impact their effort level on the defensive end.

13. We haven't gotten to see much of Robert Williams on the floor lately with the Celtics but his overtime-forcing tip dunk in the G-League on Wednesday night is worth a watch -- and got the Jayson Tatum seal of approval.

14. People keep asking who the Celtics should want to avoid more in Round 2 of the playoffs: Toronto or Milwaukee. We tend to point to the latter, given the presence of Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the real answer is that neither one is going to be much easier than the other, particularly given the absence of homecourt advantage. That said, it's more important the Celtics finish the year strong and try to build off those West Coast vibes than to try to line up seedings.

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