BOSTON (CBS) -- The Celtics are, dare we say, a very good basketball team at the moment. Possibly even a downright dominant one.
Boston has won five straight and seven of its last eight. The Jays are doing their thing, and when they're not, other scorers are stepping up, like Josh Richardson and Dennis Schroder off the bench. Robert Williams is looking like a great third head of the dragon, and Marcus Smart is rounding into form as the team's point guard. Best of all, the Celtics are playing incredible defense at the moment. As in, they are playing the best defense in the league.
This run has propelled them into a virtual for seventh in the Eastern Conference and just half-a-game out of a spot in the real playoffs. A month ago, the Celtics being anything but a play-in team was seen as something only the most delusional green-teamers believed could happen. Now, finishing in the top six in the East is a real possibility.
The majority of that has to do with their own play. Part of it has to do with the East being wide open. A lot of it has to do with the Celtics finally beating the bad teams of the league.
On Tuesday night, they'll be visiting another one of the bad teams in the NBA. At least in the sense that the Brooklyn Nets have been pretty putrid over the last five weeks.
While the Celtics have been one of the NBA's best teams since the calendar flipped to 2022, the Nets have been one of the worst. The preseason favorites are just 6-14 since the new year, and are currently riding an eight-game losing streak.
The Nets have completely unraveled since Kevin Durant went down with a sprained MCL last month. That tends to happen when a team loses a superstar, but the Nets at least had another superstar to fall back on. And you would think that James Harden would provide plenty of cushion when falling back onto him.
But Harden hasn't played since last week due to a hamstring injury, and he may or may not want to be a member of the Nets anymore. Kyrie Irving says that Harden is committed to Brooklyn, but his definition of commitment is not like the one that you read in the dictionary. And Irving won't be any help when his former team takes the floor at the Barclay's Center on Tuesday, since he can only play road games.
There more drama in Brooklyn than there is on Broadway at the moment. A lot more drama. And it's taking attention away from their real issue: Whatever semblance of a defense the team possessed earlier in the year is completely gone.
Brooklyn is surrendering nearly 120 points per game over its losing streak. The Nets haven't held an opponent under 100 since Dec. 7.
The century mark is no longer a great measuring stick in the NBA. But there is a pretty good defensive team that has made a habit of keeping opponents from reaching triple digits recently. That is, of course, the Celtics. (We are a Boston website, after all.) Boston has held six of its last eight opponents under 100, and while you could argue that most of them aren't considered offensive juggernauts, keeping any team under 100 is an accomplishment. Mix in the fact that the Celtics have held three of those teams under 90 points, and it is indeed impressive.
It's almost as if the Celtics just needed some time to figure out a new system and their new head coach needed time to figure out how to be a head coach. Health helps, too, and Ime Udoka finally has his regular five intact for the first time in... well it's been a while.
The Celtics are suddenly a dominant NBA team, and it has all started on the defensive end. Boston's 100.8 defensive rating over the last 15 games is worlds ahead of everyone else, with the Cavaliers second at 106.5. Their defense is feeding their offense, and at the moment, they are exceeding any and all expectations.
On the flipside, the Nets own a 119.0 defensive rating over their last 15 games, dead last in the NBA. That isn't all too shocking, as Brooklyn touts a 111.0 defensive rating for the season, which ranks 19th in the league.
There is no telling how these two teams will fare the rest of the way. Chances are Brooklyn is going to enjoy a much longer playoff run than Boston, and the wins will probably start piling up again when Durant returns. The Celtics are playing great right now, but for a team that has struggled with consistency all year, there is no guarantee this rejuvenated and dominant squad is here to stay.
But the Nets are putting themselves in a tough spot without the best player in the league. The Celtics, meanwhile, can keep digging themselves out of their early season hole with continued defensive dominance and success over the lesser NBA teams. Both should continue for Boston on Tuesday night.
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