Celtics Odds: Kyrie Irving Out with Sore Knee

kyrei-rving-celticsKyrie Irving is playing very well in his first season with the Boston Celtics. He’s averaging 24.4 PPG and shooting a career-high 49.1% from the field. Unfortunately for the Celtics, their star point guard will be forced to miss time with a sore knee.

He missed the second half of Sunday’s game against the Indiana Pacers when his knee flared up. The pain started in a March 3 contest against the Houston Rockets and sidelined him for a win over the Chicago Bulls.

Many hoped that the problem was behind Irving when he returned to score 23 points and dish out eight assists against the Minnesota Timberwolves. But even then he complained about how his knee felt.

Head coach Brad Stevens and Irving agreed that the best decision will be for the guard to sit out a few games to heal up. There’s no definite timetable on his return at this point.

Irving had the following to say to MassLive.com’s Jay King:

“It’s just been aching for a little bit,” Irving said. “I just think I need to take some time. … “I’m not concerned. Where we are in the season, I’m pretty comfortable.

“I think that competitively, I think that’s what I’m more or less concerned about, just when I actually do get back on the floor I want to feel the level I expect myself to play at and I want to play at. And being able to sustain it. So right now I’m unable to do that. So I’ve just gotta deal with that.”

Added Irving: “I think (taking time off) will probably be the best thing, just instead of kind of hoping that it gets better over the two or three days which it usually does. It’s aching a little bit more than I want it to now, so I’m just going to take the necessary time.”

ESPN.com’s Chris Forsberg also reported on the situation:

kyrie-irving-celtics“At halftime, he was talking about [the knee], felt some soreness in it, probably similar to the Houston game,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “He was getting it worked on after halftime. We don’t know what it is above general knee soreness, and he doesn’t seem overly concerned, big-picture, with it. But obviously it’s been giving him fits here and there for the last five to eight days or so.”

Stevens sounded open to the idea of shelving Irving until he’s more confident in the knee.

“If he doesn’t feel 100 percent, then we need to have him sit, and so I think that that is something that we’ve all talked about, and [that’s] why he didn’t come back in [against Indiana],” Stevens said.

Celtics could Struggle without Irving

Given that Stevens would also like Irving to rest, sitting out seems like the best short-term decision. But it’s also likely that Boston could struggle in his absence.

While the team’s record without Irving is 5-2, the Celtics have had trouble getting quality shots when he’s not on the floor. The team scores just 101.1 ponts per 100 possessions without their floor general. But they score 108.7 points per 100 possessions when he does play.

Terry Rozier is a capable fill-in at point guard and can generate some offense. But the other option, Marcus Smart, is a defensive specialist who doesn’t shoot well from the field. The good news, though, is that Rozier and Smart bring a nice balance at the position.

Injury Woes for the Celtics

gordon-hayward-injuryBoston has a deep roster with quality bench players. But this depth is being tested with the injuries that the team has been hit with. Gordon Hayward headlines the list since he suffered a broken ankle in the season opener and won’t play until the 2018-19 campaign.

Second-year forward Jaylen Brown suffered a bad fall in the game against Minnesota. Thankfully, he didn’t do any structural damage, but he will be sidelined for at least a few more games.

Center Al Horford was forced to sit out the Indiana game with an illness. With he and Irving on the bench, the team produced 12.2 fewer points per 100 possessions.

And German rookie Daniel Theis will miss the rest of the year after tearing a meniscus in his left knee.

Goal is to Prepare for the Postseason

The Celtics are having another fine campaign that sees them holding down the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed. They’re currently 3.5 games behind the first-place Toronto Raptors and are well ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second spot.

kyrie-irving-celticsI doubt that Stevens is willing to rest on the team’s laurels and just accept that they’re resigned to the two seed. But with just 15 games to go, the smart play here is to sit Irving for a few games so that he’s ready for the playoffs.

The team will be hoping for another deep postseason run. Last year, the Celtics made the Eastern Conference Finals, where they met the Cavs. Boston wasn’t really very competitive in this series, losing 4-1 in a matchup that featured multiple Cleveland blowout victories.

This convinced Ainge that he needed to shake up the roster. The result was multiple trades that sent away all but three players from the 2016-17 team.

Irving was the biggest addition in this busy offseason. The 26-year-old was a costly add that required sending All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round pick to the Cavs. But based on the numbers, this looks like a good trade in hindsight.

Of course, how Boston performs in the playoffs will go a long way towards validating whether all of the off-season moves were a good idea.

Some criticized Ainge’s decision to overhaul the team’s defensive identity. But they haven’t taken any step back in terms of regular season results so far. That said, it’ll be interesting to see how they do come playoff time in April.

2018 Celtics Futures (via GTBets.eu)

Celtics Odds to Win 2018 NBA Championship

  • Golden State -170
  • Houston +250
  • Cleveland +850
  • Toronto +950
  • Boston +1400
  • Oklahoma City +3500
  • Philadelphia +4500
  • San Antonio +5000
  • Washington +6000

Celtics Odds to Win 2018 Eastern Conference

  • Cleveland +140
  • Toronto +180
  • Boston +350
  • Philadelphia +1200
  • Washington +1800
  • Milwaukee +5000
  • Indiana +6000

12 Teams that can Win 2018 March Madness

top-2018-march-madness-teamsMarch Madness starts out with 68 schools that want to hoist the championship trophy. And each school – big and small – dreams of cutting down the nets at the Final Four.

But let’s be honest: only about a dozen or so teams have a realistic chance at winning college basketball’s most prestigious title. And some of these schools, like Duke, Michigan State, Kansas, and Villanova, are in the title hunt year after year.

Which teams have the best chance to emerge the champ in the April? Let’s find out by looking at the 12 best contenders. Also keep in mind that we’ll have odds on all of these favorites and other schools throughout the tournament at GTBets.

1. Virginia (1 Seed)

The Cavaliers haven’t lived up to their tournament expectations in recent years. And here we are again, with them having a high seed and already drawing doubters.

But this doesn’t feel like the same Virginia team that’s come up short in the past. There are few reasons to believe that this squad is the one that’ll make a breakthrough.

They have a methodical offense that uses every second of the shot clock to get highly efficient looks.

Opponents also use every second against Virginia, but only because they’re hounded into doing so.

Virginia’s defense is the second best in college basketball in the last 17 years (0.002 adjusted points per possession). They’re also really good at forcing turnovers, which is a lethal combo for opposing schools to deal with.

Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense has even been smothering against elite opponents like Clemson, Duke, and UNC. The Cavaliers played 16 teams that made the NCAA Tournament this season, holding 12 of 16 of these squads to less than a point our possession (including the three mentioned above).

Virginia hasn’t been to a Final Four since 1984, and they don’t have any future NBA lottery picks on their roster. But this is the ACC champion, and they have the country’s best defense. You can’t do any better in picking a potential winner.

2. Duke (2 Seed)

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Michigan State vs DukeIf we’re basing everything on pure talent, then the Blue Devils would be the odds-on favorite to win it all. They boast a starting five that’s filled with NBA first-rounders, including Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter, Trevon Duval, and Marvin Bagley

The only problem with this lineup is that they’re inconsistent at times. Allen is the only senior, and he’s scored 20 points or more 10 times this year. But he’s also been held below 10 points on eight different occasions. The underclassmen haven’t fared any better in the consistency department.

Duke utilizes a zone defense, which is an improvement from when they were trying to play man to man. But it’s still nowhere on par with Virginia right now.

3. Villanova (1 Seed)

The Wildcats come into 2018 March Madness with a top-2 seed for the fifth straight year. It’s obvious that as long as Jay Wright stays here, his team is always going to be a contender.

jay-wright-villanovaWright won the title a couple of years ago. The team stumbled as a top seed last spring. Which Villanova squad are going to see this year? My bet is one that wants to avenge last year’s disappointing tournament appearance.

Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges were role players on the 2016 national championship squad. But now they’re the top options and looking for the second championship of their college careers.

4. Kansas (1 Seed)

The Jayhawks have entered each of the past two tournaments as a potential champ. They lost a close contest to Villanova in 2016 before the latter went on to win the title. Kansas also had the misfortune of running into a red-hot Oregon team last year.

I don’t think that this year’s Jayhawks squad is exactly as talented as the two teams that recently lost. But they’ve got to be due for better luck with opponents in 2018.

And the talent is still here of course, including star point guard Devonte Graham. Kansas can also rely on the sharp-shooting Svi Mykhailiuk and all-around talent Udoka Azubuike.

5. Michigan State (3 Seed)

cassius-winstonThe Spartans may not have a top-2 seed. But they do have the potential to rise from being a three seed to cutting down the nets in San Antonio.

Cassius Winston offers excellent guard play, Nick Ward is a load down low, and Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges are future lottery picks.

The problem with Michigan State’s bid is that they’re just 2-4 against NCAA tournament qualifiers. They’re no doubt going to need a more-complete effort against the top seeds to have any hope at winning. I’m still high on their talent, though.

6. Arizona (4 Seed)

Arizona forward DeAndre Ayton has had a stellar freshman season with 20.3 PPG and 11.5 RPG. The 7’1″ phenom has likely played his way into being the top pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

deandre-ayton-arizonaThis means that the rest of the team has been lacking, given that they’ve only achieved a No. 4 seed. Sure, Arizona won their conference. But the Pac-12 was down this year, and the Wildcats didn’t exactly dominate the conference, despite what their title suggests.

The biggest problem for Arizona is that they don’t play great defense. They also have an ugly out-of-conference loss to Purdue (25 points) on their resume.

Despite the drawbacks, Arizona has a chance mainly because of Ayton’s greatness. He can shoot three’s, score inside, rebound, and block shots. Sean Miller’s team also has a solid starting 5 that can provide Ayton support on most nights.

7. Kentucky (5 Seed)

Kentucky is the biggest dark-horse contender in this year’s crop. And the chief reason why is because Gilgeous Alexander has played much better than his pedigree.

gilgeous-alexanderA four-star recruit in high school, he’s shined over the 5-star recruits on this roster. Gilgeous-Alexander’s play has helped a young team stay in contention. Kentucky especially helped themselves win seven wins in the past eight games.

This isn’t viewed as the same top-5 squad it was to open the season. But they could surprise analysts if their young lineup can finally gel in the coming weeks.

8. North Carolina (2 Seed)

The defending champion punished opponents last year with four big men who owned the paint. Three of these players are gone, and the team is quite different this season. Roy Williams team is now utilizing stretch fours and fives, while the team is shooting more three-pointers than ever before.

The good news for Carolina, though, is that the success hasn’t dropped off amid big changes. Luke Maye, a walk-on who was last year’s Elite Eight hero, is likely the top player on a balanced team.

9. Michigan (3 Seed)

This Wolverines team is playing the best defense in John Beilen’s tenure. They force opponents to work the clock and eventually take bad shots. If Michigan’s Big Ten tournament title run is any indication, they have the goods to compete for a national championship.

10. Gonzaga (4 Seed)

Gonzaga had their best-ever tournament run last season, culminating in a close title loss to North Carolina. But they lost four of their top six players from that squad, including lottery pick Zach Collins. Nevertheless, this four-loss team has played its way into being a Final Four contender once again.

11. Xavier (1 Seed)

Xavier isn’t getting much love here as a top seed. But they’re also the most-vulnerable of the No. 1 seeds, especially since they don’t have much depth. Trevon Bluiett must do his best job to carry this team, especially if they meet Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.

12. Purdue (2 Seed)

Purdue has used a successful formula that includes five different three-point shooters (all 39% or higher) and 7’2″ center Isaac Haas. This inside-outside combo has frustrated opponents all season.