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NBA Fastbreak: Celtics’ Jayson Tatum goes from All-Star to superstar in 10 games

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum sets up the offense while guarded by Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on Feb. 22 at Staples Center.
Celtics forward Jayson Tatum sets up the offense while guarded by Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope last week at Staples Center.
(Katelyn Mulcahy / Getty Images)

The smallest of smiles worked its way across Jayson Tatum’s face, the Boston Celtics’ loss to the Lakers still fresh and overshadowing his 41-point performance.

“Had you ever been double-teamed that much?” a reporter wondered.

“Nah,” he said. “That was the first time.”

It won’t be the last.

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Tatum has broken out in a major way, going from All-Star to superstar over Boston’s last 10 games, a stretch in which he’s averaged 31.1 points on better than 50% shooting while leading the Celtics to eight wins.

“That kid is special,” LeBron James said after Tatum’s barrage last Sunday.

Boston has emerged in the East as the top choice of scouts and coaches to unseat the Milwaukee Bucks if they falter, and it’s because of Tatum’s star turn.

Tatum, who turns 22 this week, is one of a handful of young scorers exploding for big numbers. He’s one of five players to have multiple 40-point games before their 23rd birthdays, joining Devin Booker, Luka Doncic, Brandon Ingram and Trae Young.

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The Nuggets are considered a potential contender for the NBA title, but they understand they have work to do to challenge the Lakers and Clippers.

Boston has won 14 of its last 17 games and is surging at a time when a possible playoff rival, Philadelphia, has been slowed by injuries to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

And Tatum has been the one pushing the Celtics’ surge, whether or not double teams are headed his way.

Curry isn’t ready

An injury update from the Golden State Warriors on Saturday had some good news: Stephen Curry “continues to make good progress” as he recovers from a broken left hand that has cost him almost the entirety of the season.

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The bad news? His targeted return Sunday is on hold, with the Warriors opting to get Curry more scrimmage and practice time, including a trip Monday to work with the Santa Cruz Warriors of the G League.

“He put up a little bit of a fight but also understood why we wanted to take extra precaution,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters, before adding that he’s got zero concern when it comes to Curry reinjuring the hand.

Anthony Davis never felt quite the way he did in a game four years ago, the kind of place that’s almost indescribable, when he had 59 points and 20 rebounds.

Speaking to the media last week, Curry said his left hand, which he broke when it got squashed underneath Phoenix Suns center Aron Baynes four games into the season, still feels differently from his healthy right hand. Curry’s still suffering from some “nerve damage” — though Kerr said that sounds more serious than it actually is. Curry just has to get used to dealing with some numbness.

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“The hand is ready,” Kerr said. “It’s healed and strong. That’s been the case for the past week.”

Jazz shuffle lineup

There was some confusion this week in Utah, where the slumping Jazz were poised to send veteran guard Mike Conley to the bench in favor of defensive-minded wing Royce O’Neale. However, the Jazz changed course after the decision was reported and instead sat veteran wing Joe Ingles.

Before beating Washington on Friday, Utah had lost four in a row during the middle of a six-game homestand.

While Conley played well against Washington, his season-long struggles to get healthy and stay in rhythm have him in the midst of one of his most disappointing seasons. Conley, for just the second season in his career, is without a 10-assist game.

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Tip-ins

Barring a serious run and a string of losing, it seems like Brooklyn will hang on to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, even with Kyrie Irving out for the season. The Nets’ closest challengers, Charlotte and Washington, haven’t been able to string together enough wins, despite the Wizards getting monster games from Bradley Beal. He had a pair of 50-point games and a 40-point game in the last week, but Washington lost each of them. … Allen Crabbe and Anthony Toliver both were waived Saturday, allowing the veterans to be added to teams as free agents and eligible for postseason play. … Former Clippers forward Maurice Harkless will finish the season with the New York Knicks and not seek a buyout.

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