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Celtics guard Avery Bradley practiced Monday for the first time this season, seven months after undergoing surgery to repair torn ligaments in both of his shoulders. While Bradley has already said he feels great, he’s not expected to return to game action for about two weeks. With the Celtics currently at 13-12 and currently 1-3 in their last four games, Bradley’s impending return is the best news the team has gotten in weeks.
Boston is allowing opponents to score 98 points per game which is fourth worst in the Eastern Conference. During the Doc Rivers era, the Celtics have prided themselves on playing tough, hard-nosed D, making their defensive ranking all the more disturbing.
Bradley, virtually unknown at the start of the 2011-12 season, made a name for himself as a lockdown defender during the latter half of the year. Bradley was sorely missed during the Conference Finals, especially after he’d limited Dwyane Wade to 35 total points in two April wins over Miami. Let’s take a look at the key questions surrounding his return:
The Celtics are targeting an early January return for Bradley, which makes sense in terms of his recovery, but also because that will be a relatively comfortable stretch of the schedule for them. After closing out the year on a four-game road trip, including three California games, seven of their first nine contests of 2013 will be in Boston. Overall, the C’s will play 10 of their 15 January games at home.
Expect Rivers to be cautious and limit Bradley’s minutes early. It’s way too soon to panic about the Celtics’ record and there’s little doubt that they will improve as the new pieces start to click. In other words, there’s no reason to rush Bradley into playing 30 minutes a night before he’s 100%.
Rivers has made it clear that he expects Bradley to take over the starting shooting guard spot from the underperforming Courtney Lee, who’s averaging just 6.3 points per contest. This isn’t likely to be the case right off the bat, and Bradley will likely return to form as a member of the Celtics’ bench. Eventually he should return to the starting lineup, while Lee becomes a fixture in the second unit alongside Jason Terry.
Lockdown defense is Bradley’s specialty, and that’s what the Celtics hope he continues to provide. He’s not going to score a lot of points, but the C’s don’t really need him to – they’re the fourth highest scoring team in the East at a respectable 97.1 ppg. With a healthy Bradley and Rajon Rondo, Boston has one of the best defensive backcourts in the league, and defense is where they’ve struggled so far this season.
Hopefully, Lee’s move to the bench will also solve some of his woes, although this is far from a sure thing. Bradley’s return isn’t going to magically put an end to all of the Celtics’ problems, but its importance cannot be understated. While there’s still a ways to go before the Celtics can compete with the best teams in the East, look for them to improve significantly with Bradley back in the fold.