Three Things to Know: Forget the top seed, Celtics need to rest, get healthy

Kurt Helin
NBC Sports

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Injury bug hits Celtics hard, focus now needs to be on getting healthy, not top seed. The Boston Celtics are 3.5 games back of the Toronto Raptors for the top seed in the East, four games back in the loss column. That’s very hard to make up with 15 games left on the schedule.

That’s also not near the Celtics biggest problem right now.

A team where the whole has been greater than the sum of its parts all season — the reason Brad Stevens is the frontrunner for Coach of the Year — has been hit hard by the injury bug. Right now, Boston just needs to rest guys and get right before the playoffs. Forget chasing the top seed. Look at this list of guys out.

Kyrie Irving will miss a few games with knee soreness. He’s had tendonitis, especially since fracturing his kneecap in the finals a few years back, and some rest/maintenance of that is an annual necessity. Boston will be the antelope lagging at the back of the herd if he’s not close to 100 percent for the playoffs, his rest needs to be the priority.

Daniel Theis is out for the season following surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. This means a much bigger role for Greg Monroe.

Jaylen Brown will be out a while in the league’s concussion protocol after his nasty fall.

Marcus Smart has a right thumb injury — some reports say a torn ligament although Danny Ainge denied that — that may require surgery. This is his shooting hand, and both he and the team are evaluating treatment options. It’s not clear if he can ultimately get a little rest and then play through it, or if the surgery needs to be immediate and he is out for an extended period.

Gordon Hayward is out for the season after his gruesome injury five minutes into the season. I know what he keeps saying and posting, but players are the worst judges ever of their own recovery times. Both Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge say he’s out, so I will take their words for it.

Boston has been special this season because of how this jigsaw puzzle of pieces fit together to form a team that has a shot at coming out of the East (and 11 percent chance according to fivethirtyeight.com). However, that chance only exists if this team is close to fully healthy. Stevens and the Celtics need to take a page out of the Gregg Popovich/Steve Kerr book, rest guys down the stretch, get right, and be ready to go as the two seed in mid-April when the games really matter.

Just take a deep breath, relax, the Celtics can get through this and be a force in the playoffs. It’s going to be fine. They just need to focus on health for a little bit.

2) Brandon Jennings returns to Milwaukee like it’s 2009. Brandon Jennings is back in the NBA, and after a long, strange trip he’s returned to the place where he had by far his greatest success as a player — Milwaukee.

It took all of a couple of minutes for Jennings to make it feel like it was 2009 again (but without “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas, good lord please do not bring that song back). Jennings was on triple-double watch fast in his return and he finished the game with 16 points (he was 3-of-6 from three), 12 assists, and eight rebounds. All that in 23 minutes.

Yes, it still counts if you do all that against the Memphis Grizzlies (now the losers of 18 in a row after this one).

We’ll see if Jennings can sustain this, but for a night the prodigal son was back in Milwaukee and the celebration was on.

3) West playoff update: Rockets thump Spurs (who fall out to 10th), Thunder and Trail Blazers get easy wins. Every game, every day in the crowded Western Conference playoff chase is going to shake up the standings. Here’s a brief little recap out of Monday.

Houston had little trouble with a San Antonio team without LaMarcus Aldridge, winning 109-93 behind 28 points from James Harden. For the Rockets, it’s another win to keep them a couple of games ahead of the Warriors in the race for best record in the NBA. For the Spurs, the loss drops them to 37-30 and a three-way tie with Denver and Utah (right now Utah would win the tiebreaker, but there’s a number of games that would have a say in that before the last day of the season). Technically, the Spurs fall to 10th. Add to that the Spurs have a brutal schedule the rest of the way and it’s tempting to say they will fall out and miss the playoffs, but I would respond with two words: Kawhi Leonard. He is expected back on Thursday, and that could change the game.

Portland helped secure its hold on the three seed with a 115-99 win over Miami, and Oklahoma City remained the four seed (two games back of the Blazers) with a 106-101 win over Sacramento. Guess what? Russell Westbrook had a triple-double in that one, his 20th of the season.

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