Al Horford

Injury Notes: Sexton, Bucks, Pokusevski, Celtics

Jazz guard Collin Sexton, who strained his left hamstring in the team’s final game before the All-Star break, still hasn’t played since participating in the Skills Challenge on All-Star Saturday in Salt Lake City.

According to Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune (Twitter link), Sexton will be reevaluated next Monday, as Utah continues to rule him out one week at a time. He has missed the Jazz’s last five games and will be sidelined for at least three more, with the team playing in Dallas (on Tuesday), Orlando (Thursday), and Charlotte (Saturday) this week.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • The Bucks will be without All-Stars Giannis Antetokounmpo (non-COVID illness) and Jrue Holiday (neck soreness) when they visit Orlando on Tuesday, tweets Eric Nehm of The Athletic. However, there has been no indication that either ailment should be a long-term issue.
  • Thunder forward Aleksej Pokusevski was briefly assigned to the Oklahoma City Blue to practice with the G League team as he recovers from the left leg fracture that has kept him on the shelf since late December, per Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman (Twitter links). Pokusevski will probably assigned and recalled for practice purposes a few more times, Mussatto adds, noting that the 21-year-old’s return isn’t imminent quite yet.
  • Jayson Tatum (left knee contusion) and Al Horford (low back stiffness) both missed the Celtics‘ double overtime loss to Cleveland on Monday. As Tim Bontemps of ESPN observes (via Twitter), Horford played 45 minutes on Sunday and still hasn’t played both ends of a back-to-back set this season, so his absence came as no surprise. Tatum sustained his injury in a collision on Sunday.

Celtics Notes: R. Williams, Mazzulla, White, Horford

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla announced that center Robert Williams will be sidelined for seven-to-10 days with a strained left hamstring, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. However, given Williams’ history of injuries, Washburn believes he could be out longer and it might be best to shut him down until the playoffs.

Williams didn’t play Sunday after hurting his hamstring in Friday’s loss to the Nets. Washburn notes that even though Sunday’s game went to two overtimes, Mazzulla didn’t bring big men Luke Kornet or Blake Griffin off his bench. Grant Williams was used at center for long stretches of the game, and the Knicks repeatedly attacked him on the pick-and-roll.

According to Washburn, the Celtics believe they can survive the loss of their starting center with their current rotation of big men. However, he notes that the team has an open roster spot and there are numerous veteran free agents for president of basketball operations Brad Stevens to consider.

There’s more from Boston:

  • After holding the NBA’s best record for most of the season, the Celtics have now dropped three of their last four games, Washburn adds. Mazzulla said he has “zero concerns” about the recent rough patch, framing it as an opportunity for the team to grow. “You obviously want to be playing your best basketball later in the season as you get closer to the playoffs, but this is a tough stretch,” Mazzulla said. “And whatever this stretch has you have to learn from it and use it later in the year.”
  • With Robert Williams unavailable, Mazzulla went back to his early-season lineup by inserting Derrick White into the starting five, per Brian Robb of MassLive. White had 12 points, six rebounds and four assists in 32 minutes, and Robb suggests he could be considered the team’s third-most valuable player behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
  • Al Horford believes a lack of focus is causing the Celtics to let big leads slip away, according to Souichi Terada of MassLive. Brooklyn overcame a 28-point deficit Friday night, and New York trailed by as many as 14 points on Sunday. “We’re not locking in as much as we need to,” Horford said. “This is the second time that we kind of have a lead, we feel good about it, a team makes a run and we just kind of let them back in the game. And throughout the season, you’re gonna have adversity. We’ve played pretty good basketball most of the year, and this is a time where you tighten up, you fix some of these things, some of these issues, or it goes the other way.”

Celtics Notes: Horford, G. Williams, Mazzulla, R. Williams

Al Horford seemed to accept a deal below his market value when he agreed to a two-year, $20MM extension with the Celtics in December, but an unidentified league executive tells Steve Bulpett of Heavy that Horford’s decision was likely driven by market realities as well as his loyalty to Boston. Although Horford remains productive, he’ll turn 37 this summer. Most of the teams with cap room are rebuilding and won’t be looking for older players.

“Look at Boston. This is a perfect situation — for both sides,” the executive said. “Al’s a really important part of what they do. But if they didn’t already have him — if he was a free agent last summer — they wouldn’t have been able to spend big money on him. But it’s clear he wanted to stay there now, and this deal is good for him, too. He didn’t break the bank, but after all that he’s made in his career, that probably wasn’t that important to him. He gets good money to be where he really wants to be. There’s a value in that. And by signing for two more years now, it also covers him in the event of an injury that either stops him from playing or makes him a lot less effective.”

Horford was a fixture in Boston for three years before accepting a big-money offer from the Sixers in 2019. Earlier this season, Horford told Bulpett that the disruptive atmosphere Kyrie Irving brought to the Celtics played a role in his decision to move on.

“I just think that if Kyrie would have stayed, I don’t know if it would have worked,” Horford said. “There would have had to be some major changes as far as players, because it was just clear that the group that we had just wasn’t going to be able to coexist.”

There’s more from Boston:

  • Grant Williams logged 18 minutes Friday night after not playing at all on Wednesday. A prolonged shooting slump from beyond the arc and the addition of Mike Muscala at the trade deadline have cut into playing time for Williams, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, notes Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. “He knows what he brings to this team and the type of player he is,” Jaylen Brown said of Williams. “He’s been able to carve value out in this league, so a couple games here and there based upon whatever the coaching staff thinks doesn’t mean any more or less.”
  • Joe Mazzulla has done an admirable coaching job, but there were red flags as a 28-point lead disappeared in Friday’s loss to the Nets, writes Brian Robb of MassLive. Mazzulla was reluctant to match up when Brooklyn used smaller lineups and his bench remains disorganized beyond Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon, Robb observes.
  • Robert Williams has been ruled out for Sunday after leaving Friday’s game with tightness in his left hamstring, tweets Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

Atlantic Notes: Maxey, Sixers, Horford, Trent, Barnes

Tyrese Maxey returned to the Sixers‘ starting lineup on Wednesday for the first time in over a month, replacing big man Joel Embiid. Interestingly, Maxey remained in the starting five on Thursday when Embiid was healthy, supplanting fellow guard De’Anthony Melton.

As Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice writes, when Melton first replaced Maxey in the starting five, the five-man group that featured Melton, Embiid, James Harden, Tobias Harris, and P.J. Tucker had a clear statistical advantage over the one that had Maxey in Melton’s spot, particularly on defense. However, in recent months, the five-man unit with Maxey alongside those four other starters has been the more effective lineup.

In Neubeck’s view, the Sixers should use the final few weeks of the season to get a long look at both lineups to assess their options entering the playoffs. However, he believes there’s a strong case to be made that it’s time to reincorporate Maxey into the starting five, based on how productive that group has been. Plus, as Neubeck outlines, starting Maxey means he’ll play alongside defensive anchor Embiid more often — that should benefit the young guard, who is frequently targeted on the defensive end.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • The Sixers look like the clear winners in last year’s James Harden/Ben Simmons trade for the time being, but that could change if Harden leaves in free agency without winning a title in Philadelphia, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer writes, noting that the Nets still control two of the 76ers’ future first-round picks (in 2023 and 2027) as part of that blockbuster deal.
  • It looked like Al Horford‘s NBA career might be winding down when he was traded in a salary-dump deal in 2020 following a failed stint in Philadelphia, but the 36-year-old has resurrected his career during his second stint with the Celtics. Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports has the story.
  • With recent acquisition Jakob Poeltl now part of the Raptors‘ starting lineup, Gary Trent Jr. is the team’s new sixth man. As Doug Smith of The Toronto Star writes, that role looks like Trent’s best fit in Toronto going forward, so it will be interesting to see how it might affect the swingman’s free agency decision if the Raptors make it clear they want him to come off the bench beyond this season.
  • Scottie Barnes‘ sophomore season got off to a shaky start, but since January 1, the Raptors forward has looked more like the player that won the Rookie of the Year award last spring, as Spencer Davies of details.

Marcus Smart To Return Wednesday For Celtics

Celtics guard Marcus Smart will return to action on Wednesday in the team’s final game before the All-Star break, as Jared Weiss of The Athletic relays (via Twitter).

Smart sprained his right ankle last month in a January 21 win over Toronto. Shortly after suffering the injury, he said he hoped to be back within a week or two, but he ended up being sidelined for about three-and-a-half weeks, missing 11 Celtics games during that time.

Boston’s roster has been a little banged up as of late, with Jaylen Brown out due to a facial fracture while Jayson Tatum (non-COVID illness) and Al Horford (right knee swelling) missed the first game of a back-to-back set on Tuesday in Milwaukee.

Brown will remain on the shelf until sometime after the All-Star break, but according to Weiss, Tatum and Horford will be available on Wednesday vs. Detroit.

Smart, the reigning defensive Player of the Year, is averaging 11.1 PPG, a career-high 7.2 APG, and 3.4 RPG on .422/.333/.767 shooting in 41 games (32.4 MPG) for the Celtics this season. He hasn’t come off the bench for the club in nearly two years, so he’s a safe bet to be reinserted into the starting lineup in his first game back.

Celtics Notes: Horford, Tatum, Williams

Celtics center Al Horford has been fined $25K by the NBA for making “unnecessary and excessive” contact with Magic center Moritz Wagner, the league announced today in a press release (Twitter link). Horford threw an elbow to Wagner’s groin during the third quarter of Orlando’s upset win in Boston on Friday night, resulting in a Flagrant 2 foul and Horford’s ejection.

Besides costing him the rest of Friday’s game, the incident has now taken a small chunk out of Horford’s pay check. However, he won’t face a suspension as a result of the play, which can be viewed right here.

Here’s more on the Celtics:

  • Celtics forward Jayson Tatum has been ruled out for the Celtics’ rematch vs. Orlando on Sunday due to personal reasons, tweets Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe.
  • Prior to Robert Williams‘ season debut on Friday, his teammates spoke about how getting the big man back will benefit the club going forward, as Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston writes. “We got the No. 1 offense and we’re playing well on that end, obviously our defense has slacked a little bit, but we’re back up there, getting there,” Marcus Smart said. “With adding him, it’s only going to push us back over the top. We know the type of defender that Rob is, the type of player that Rob is, offensive player, the threat that he poses on defenses.”
  • Although the final score in Williams’ return wasn’t ideal, his reintegration into the rotation showed a path for the team to reach its full potential, Forsberg writes in another story for NBC Sports Boston. As Forsberg observes, besides helping improve Boston’s defense, Williams also gives the team its strongest finisher at the rim on offense — the Celtics ranked 29th in dunks entering Friday’s game, but Williams had four in 18 minutes in his first game back.

Robert Williams Expected To Make Season Debut On Friday

Celtics big man Robert Williams is targeting Friday’s home game against Orlando for his 2022/23 season debut, according to reports from Shams Charania of The Athletic and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter links).

The 25-year-old had arthroscopic surgery in late September to remove loose bodies from his left knee and to address swelling in that knee. The decision was made for Williams to undergo the procedure when he began his ramp-up process and experienced some discomfort in the knee.

Williams initially underwent surgery on the knee in March after tearing his meniscus.

He was able to return to the court less than a month later and played a part in the Celtics’ run to the NBA Finals, though he wasn’t at 100% in the postseason. The forward/center sat out five games in the second and third rounds of the playoffs and reportedly required extensive treatment as he dealt with fluid build-up.

Williams enjoyed a breakout season in ’21/22, establishing new career highs in PPG (10.0), RPG (9.6), BPG (2.2), games played and started (61), field goal percentage (73.6%), and several other categories. He also helped anchor the NBA’s top defense and was named to the All-Defensive Second Team.

Even without one of their best interior players, the Celtics haven’t missed a beat in ’22/23, sporting the league’s best record (22-7), best net rating (+7.0), and the top offensive rating (118.1). However, their defense has fallen from No. 1 to No. 8, and Williams should help improve that figure.

As Jared Weiss of The Athletic notes (via Twitter), Williams and fellow big man Al Horford are both officially listed as questionable for Friday’s contest. Horford and his wife recently had a baby, which is why he has been inactive since clearing the health and safety protocols — he has missed the past five games.

Eastern Notes: Horford, Young, Heat, Duarte, Brown

Celtics veteran big man Al Horford will rejoin the team on Friday, Jared Weiss of The Athletic tweets. Horford has been away from the C’s for personal reasons following a stint in the league’s health and safety protocols. Horford, who signed a two-year extension at the beginning of the month, hasn’t played since Dec. 4.

We have more from the Eastern Conference:

  • Hawks star guard Trae Young has been fined $25K for throwing the game ball into the spectator stands, Adam Zagoria of tweets. The incident occurred at the end of the Hawks’ 123-122 overtime win over the Bulls on Sunday. Young was inactive against Memphis on Monday.
  • The struggles of Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Duncan Robinson have taken some of the shine off the Heat’s vaunted development program but all is not lost, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel writes. Caleb Martin has developed from a two-way prospect to a steady rotation player and the development program has other potential success stories in Omer Yurtseven, Nikola Jovic and Jamal Cain.
  • Pacers wing Chris Duarte joined the G League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants for practice on Monday and he’ll play for Fort Wayne against the Wisconsin Herd on Wednesday and Friday, Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files tweets. Duarte is working his way back from a Grade 2 ankle sprain suffered in early November.
  • Pacers rookie forward Kendall Brown is out indefinitely with a stress reaction in his right tibia, according to Dustin Dopirak of the Indianapolis Star. Brown will be reevaluated by the team in two weeks. Brown, a second-round pick, is one of the team’s two-way players. He’s appeared in six games with the Pacers.

Health Updates: Lakers, Horford, Matthews, Payton

The Lakers will be shorthanded on Wednesday night in Toronto, according to Kyle Goon of the Southern California News Group, who tweets that star forwards Anthony Davis and LeBron James have both been ruled out by the team.

Davis is still battling the non-COVID illness that forced him to leave Tuesday’s contest in Cleveland early, while James is getting the second night of a back-to-back set off due to left ankle soreness. The Lakers have also listed guard Patrick Beverley as doubtful to play due to right knee soreness.

Here are a few more health-related updates from around the NBA:

  • Celtics big man Al Horford has been ruled out for Wednesday’s game vs. Phoenix after entering the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the team announced today (via Twitter). If Horford has tested positive for COVID-19, it will likely be at least a few days before he’s cleared to return, so his availability for the rest of Boston’s West Coast trip is up in the air.
  • Bucks wing Wesley Matthews has also been placed in the health and safety protocols and will be unavailable for Wednesday’s contest vs. Sacramento, tweets Eric Nehm of The Athletic. Like Horford, Matthews could miss more games beyond tonight’s.
  • Trail Blazers guard Gary Payton II is inching closer to his season debut following offseason abdominal surgery. Teammate Damian Lillard told reporters on Wednesday that Payton practiced in full today, tweets Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian.

Celtics Notes: Horford, G. Williams, Smart, Udoka

Al Horford gave the Celtics a “hometown discount” by signing a two-year extension this week valued at $20MM, an Eastern Conference executive tells Sean Deveney of Heavy. The executive believes Horford could have received more money if he had waited for free agency, but at age 36 he wasn’t interested in leaving Boston for a rebuilding team.

“The teams with money next year are mostly young teams,” the executive said. “So maybe Horford was looking at the landscape and saw who had cap space and wound up saying, ‘I do not want to go to Houston, man.’ It is a win for both sides, really, but if he wanted to chase money, he could have gotten more.”

Horford’s team-friendly deal puts the Celtics in a better position to re-sign Grant Williams, Deveney adds. Horford is making $26.5MM this season and Williams is at $4.3MM in the final year of his rookie contract. Boston wants to keep their combined salaries in the same range, so the team could theoretically offer Williams a new deal starting at about $20MM per season. However, sources have told Deveney that the Celtics might be reluctant to match an offer for the restricted free agent that’s in the $18-20MM range.

“I don’t know that they would go into $20MM a year for Grant Williams,” the executive added. “I don’t know that anyone else would, either. But they have some cushion. If it winds up being $15MM a year for Grant, they can match that and still be in a position where they’re not adding to that (tax) burden.”

There’s more from Boston:

  • Horford is the latest in a series of players that president of basketball operations Brad Stevens has signed to extensions before their contracts expired, notes Souichi Terada of MassLive. Stevens said Horford’s versatility and leadership have been instrumental as the Celtics have compiled the league’s best record. “Al is such an important part of our team,” Stevens said. “He’s a high-level player who enhances everyone around him on both ends of the court. His work ethic, commitment to his body and craft, and his unselfishness set a daily example on how to win big in the NBA.”
  • Marcus Smart is listed as questionable for Sunday with a left hip contusion, Terada adds in a separate story. Derrick White will likely replace Smart in the starting lineup if he has to miss the game, according to Terada, while Malcolm Brogdon and Payton Pritchard would see increased minutes.
  • Actress Nia Long has criticized the Celtics for the way they handled the suspension of coach Ime Udoka, her longtime partner, per Kevin Slane of The Boston Globe. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Long said the team made details of the incident more public than they needed to be, which caused embarrassment for their 11-year-old son.