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NBA on Sling: How Long Before the Luck of the Irish Runs Out in Boston?

The Boston Celtics last year enjoyed their best season since the glory days of Paul Pierce, winning 48 games before losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Atlanta Hawks. Emboldened by a new sense of hope, GM Danny Ainge landed free agent center Al Horford (after coming up short on Kevin Durant) of the aforementioned Hawks to shore up his defense and see if his team could take the next step in a Eastern Conference that is pretty weak, but for the presence of LeBron James & Co. While it appears at first blush that the plan is unfolding nicely, the reality isn’t so simple.

All Star Guard Isaiah Thomas has gone next level, raising his game to a place no one (least of all the Kings) could’ve imagined, averaging 29.9 points and 6.4 assists, while Avery Bradley is scoring and rebounding like never before, though he’s battling a cranky Achilles that could keep him out against Sacramento on Wednesday. But Horford’s struggling, shooting just 45.6% from the floor, after coming into the season averaging 53.5% over his career, and the advanced stats suggesting his defense isn’t what it once was.

Pierce stopped by the Garden last night for the last time in his Hall of Fame career, checking in late in the fourth quarter for the visiting Clippers, and sinking a 28-footer with 11 seconds to play, scoring the final points in a 107-102 Celtics win that brought Boston’s record to 33-18, second best in the East, and fifth-best in the league and putting them on pace to win 53 games.

But while they’re on ace to win 5 more games, their point differential has gone down, from +3.2 last season to +2.7 this season, suggesting that they’re not as good as they were. More troubling still is that they have fattened up on weak teams, going 22-6 against sub-.500 teams, while going just 11-2 against winning teams. Scarier still, against the elite teams in the league – Golden State, San Antonio, Houston and Cleveland – they’re just 1-6. Only one of those losses was by more than 7, so they’re close, but they’re not quite there, they’re still a piece away, ideally one that can grab some rebounds.

Head coach Brad Stevens has done a great job of turning this franchise around, and shown himself to be a defensive genius – his spot at the helm of this year’s Eastern Conference All Star team is well deserved, and the Celtics will likely break 50 wins, and assuming they hold onto the #2 seed in the East, shouldn’t have much trouble advancing, but they’re a combined 2-4 against the Wizards and the Raptors, the teams they’re most likely to meet in the second round.

Watch the Celtics, Cavs, Spurs, Warriors and Thunder, among others battle it out on Sling.

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Monday

Cleveland Cavaliers (34-15) vs Washington Wizards (30-20)
7pm ET on TNT

San Antonio Spurs (39-11) vs Memphis Grizzlies (31-22)
9:30pm ET on TNT

Wednesday

Los Angeles Clippers (31-20) vs New York Knicks (22-30)
8pm ET on ESPN

Chicago Bulls (25-26) vs Golden State Warriors (43-8)
10:30pm ET on ESPN

Thursday

Cleveland Cavaliers (34-15) Oklahoma City Thunder (30-22)
8pm ET on TNT

Boston Celtics (33-18) vs Portland Trail Blazers (22-30)
10:30pm ET on ESPN

Friday

Indian Pacers (28-22) vs Washington Wizards (30-20)
8pm ET on ESPN

Chicago Bulls (25-26) vs Phoenix Suns (16-35)
10:30pm ET on ESPN

Saturday

Golden State Warriors (34-15) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (30-22)
8:30pm ET on ABC

Sunday

San Antonio Spurs (39-11) vs New York Knicks (22-30)
3:30pm ET on ABC

Watch the NBA on ESPN by subscribing to Sling Orange, on TNT by subscribing to Sling Orange or Sling Blue, or on ABC by subscribing to Sling Orange + Broadcast Extra

All stats courtesy ESPN and Basketball Reference.