Brooklyn Nets: 3 things to watch in visit to well-rested Boston

Brooklyn Nets D'Angelo Russell (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets D'Angelo Russell (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /
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Brooklyn Nets
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1. Celtics struggles shouldn’t have been a surprise

The Boston Celtics have not been the dominant force in the Eastern Conference that many expected.

It was assumed with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward — each of whom missed the playoff run to the conference finals last season due to injuries — returning at 100 percent and the Cleveland Cavaliers losing LeBron James to free agency that the East was ripe for the Celtics to take.

But the Celtics have sputtered at times while going 23-15 to this point. Aside from an eight-game winning streak from Nov. 26-Dec. 14, Boston is literally a .500 team.

In retrospect, we should have seen it coming.

The Celtics rallied behind younger players during the postseason. Rookie Jayson Tatum was their leading scorer in the playoffs at 18.5 points per game. Second-year forward Jaylen Brown averaged 18.0 a night. Terry Rozier put up 16.5 a game in place of Irving.

In order to reintegrate Irving and Hayward, those younger players and role players were going to have to take a step back.

Then it dawned on me. The Celtics weren’t reintegrating Hayward at all. He signed a four-year, $128 million deal with Boston in July 2017 before playing 59 preseason minutes.

Then he sustained a grotesque injury five minutes into last season’s opener at Cleveland and missed the rest of the season.

When a guy has played 64 minutes in your uniform and just five in a game that counted, you’re not reintegrating anything. Hell, you’re one small step up from having “Hello, My Name Is …” tags on the practice jerseys.

Hayward has struggled in his return. After earning his first All-Star nod with the Utah Jazz in 2016-17, Hayward is averaging just 11.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.0 steals in 26.8 minutes per game while shooting 41.9 percent overall and just 32.6 percent from 3-point range.

The scoring average is his lowest since his second NBA season in 2011-12 and he hasn’t shot this poorly since 2013-14. He’s also been removed from the starting lineup for all but one game since Nov. 17.

Hayword showed signs of life in Wednesday’s 115-102 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, dropping a season-high 35 points in 32 minutes on 14-of-18 shooting while hitting 4-of-7 from deep.

But against Dallas, he scored 16 points on 6-of-15 shooting and was just 2-for-6 from long range, though he did have a season-high 11 rebounds.

Coach Brad Stevens has been juggling the rotation, trying to find the right combinations, all season, using 14 different starting lineups in just 38 games with 11 different players starting at least twice.