Boston Celtics lead the way in the Eastern Conference with a league best 18-5 overall record but they face a test on Sunday as they travel to an improving Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets were a team in disarray during the offseason as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving requested trades. The two stars ended up staying in Brooklyn and the Nets are starting to look like genuine championship contenders again as they head into Sunday’s game seeking a fifth straight win.
What: Boston Celtics @ Brooklyn Nets
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn
When: 18:00, Sunday 4th December 2022 (Eastern Time)
How to watch: ESPN
Odds: Brooklyn Nets +125 Money Line, Boston Celtics -145
The Nets axed head coach Steve Nash at the start of November after a breakdown in his relationship with Durant. The team initially stood by the former MVP after a difficult summer but after a poor start to the season he was replaced by Vaughn, initially on an interim basis, before the appointment became permanent soon after.
Vaughn has an 11-6 record since taking charge and the Nets are 13-11 overall, meaning they are in sixth spot in the Eastern Conference, 5.5 games behind the Celtics ahead of Sunday’s meeting.
The 47-year-old coached Orlando Magic earlier in his career but has been with the Nets since 2016, stepping up from his role as assistant to replace Nash. Vaughn hasn’t necessarily made any major changes to the Nets style since taking charge but he has managed to get the best out of their star men and they are starting to look a real force in the East once again.
The Celtics reached the Finals Series last year, going down in six games to Golden State Warriors, but they then had to deal with their own offseason soap opera. Boston suspended their head coach Ime Udoka for the entirety of the season but replacement Joe Mazzulla has managed to keep the team on an upward trajectory.
Mazzulla has arguably made the Celtics a better team, particularly in offense where there is a bit more fluidity to the team and, after the first quarter of the regular season, they look the team to beat.
Boston are rated at +400 to win the NBA Championship outright - the Nets are +1600 - and star man Jayson Tatum is among the frontrunners for the MVP award at +250.
Tatum is averaging a career-high 30.8 points-per-game and joint career-highs in rebounds and assists with 8.0 and 4.4 respectively. Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart are also in fine form for Boston and the team appear focused and determined as they bid to claim top seed in the East before mounting another serious championship challenge.
Durant may have requested a trade during the summer but he was still performing on court during the early stages of the season under former coach Nash. The same cannot be said of Irving, who was briefly suspended by the organization and looked disinterested at times when he was involved.
The Nets are 6-2 since Irving returned from suspension towards the end of last month and the guard has been putting in some big performances, including a game-high 27 points in the win over Toronto Raptors last time out. If the new Brooklyn coach can keep Irving at this level, then the Nets will be a serious threat when the playoffs begin at the end of the campaign, although that is perhaps easier said than done.
Vaughn’s appointment has also coincided with a return to form for Ben Simmons in what is essentially his first season with the Nets after he sat out the previous campaign, having arrived from Philadelphia 76ers mid-season.
The former number one draft pick has been impressing of late but he won’t be involved against the Celtics as he is due to miss a third straight game with a calf injury. Simmons’ absence does leave Brooklyn a little light in terms of their defense and he isn’t their only absentee as Yuta Watanabe and Edmond Sumner are also unavailable.
The Celtics have concerns over Smart as he is listed as ‘day-to-day’ but he did play in the overtime defeat to Miami Heat last time out so he should be involved. Robert Williams III and Danilo Gaallinari are both out for the Celtics with respective knee issues.