An NBA executive walked out of Staples Center on Wednesday night after watching the Clippers and the Boston Celtics play an early season overtime classic. Before the executive made it to the parking lot, he excitedly asked a rhetorical question.
“How good is Marcus Smart?”
Getting a consensus answer hasn’t always been easy, but with the Celtics off to a great start, Smart’s fans are getting louder and easier to find.
Take the 107-104 loss to the Clippers on Wednesday. Smart missed 10 three-pointers and still had people gushing. In the final seconds of overtime, it was Smart who deflected a pass to Kawhi Leonard and sent it out of bounds off Leonard’s foot, giving the Celtics a chance to tie the score.
After the game, Patrick Beverley scoffed at the notion that Smart plays with the same intensity as the veteran Clippers guard, but anyone who watched that game would’ve made the same connection. If Beverley is the heartbeat of the Clippers, Smart is the pulse that pushes Boston.
The Celtics are undefeated in games in which Smart has a positive plus-minus rating. Last year, they were 39-9 when Smart was at least a plus-1.
Now with Kemba Walker out because of a head and neck injury suffered Friday when he collided with a teammate, Smart is set to take on a bigger role.
He’ll probably never be a scoring threat, but there’s so much more to his game. While his field-goal accuracy is below 40%, Smart’s three-point volume, rebounding and defensive toughness have made it clear.
Marcus Smart? He’s very good.
The NBA and players union are in discussions about changes to the schedule that could shorten the season.
According to a person familiar with the negotiations, the parties are discussing changes that would include an in-season tournament (a favorite idea of commissioner Adam Silver) and changes to the postseason, including play-in games and reseeding. Teams could play as few as 78 games.
Changes could happen as soon as the 2021-22 season.
The in-season tournament could be similar to events that are prevalent in European soccer. The playoff changes would feature a mini-tournament between teams seeded Nos. 7 through 10 for the final two spots. The league and players union also are discussing reseeding the four conference finalists, something that already happens in the WNBA.
Talks are progressing with the hope that proposals can be voted on in April at the board of governors meetings.
One of the biggest questions around the NBA is what’s happening in San Antonio? The Spurs just ended an eight-game losing streak with a win in New York. In addition to the losing, it didn’t go unnoticed when Tim Duncan, not Becky Hammon, took over as the acting head coach when Gregg Popovich got ejected last week. The Spurs’ succession plans, no matter how fluid, are on the radar of executives around the league. … Kyrie Irving’s shoulder injury will keep him from playing in the Brooklyn Nets’ first game in Boston this season. Irving’s been out since Nov. 16. … Credit is due to Denver coach Michael Malone. The Nuggets have overcome a little bit of a sluggish start to move back to the top tier of the West while Malone has juggled a 12-man rotation. … Carmelo Anthony’s return to the NBA is off to a so-far, so-good start, with Melo scoring 18 in his second game. His presence, though, has yet to lead to a Portland win.