Morning sports update: Why NBA experts still ‘believe’ in the Celtics despite recent struggles

"They have two young stars that are growing together, that are learning how to be leaders."

Jayson Tatum dunk
Jayson Tatum dunks on Robin Lopez during the Celtics' win over the Wizards on Feb. 28. –Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

The Celtics face the Clippers tonight at 7:30 p.m. The Bruins are back tomorrow, facing the Capitals at 7 p.m.

Elsewhere, Holy Cross men’s basketball announced that it will miss the upcoming Patriot League conference tournament and conclude its season due to a positive COVID-19 test within the team’s Tier-1 group.

Looking at the Celtics’ chances over the remainder of the season: At 17-17, the Celtics are currently locked in an unforeseen battle in the middle of the Eastern Conference. Despite preseason expectations of competing for a championship, Boston is at .500 and fighting for a playoff spot.

Yet following a dramatic 111-110 win over the Wizards on Sunday in which Jayson Tatum hit clutch shots in the fourth quarter — including the go-ahead basket with less than five seconds remaining — ESPN NBA analysts Richard Jefferson and Matt Barnes aren’t ready to give up on the Celtics.

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“I do believe in them,” Jefferson said on a Monday episode of “The Jump” when asked about Boston’s current state. “Do I believe that they need to improve a ton if they’re going to make a similar run that they made last year? I do. They have two young stars that are growing together, that are learning how to be leaders. You saw Jayson Tatum took over. Being up, being down, not having great month, all the reasons to kind of go a different direction, and he took over. Just based off of that, you have to believe in him.”

Barnes noted that the Celtics still have time to coalesce as a team, particularly once they can get players like Marcus Smart back from injury.

“The season doesn’t start until after the All-Star break,” Barnes explained, “and if you think about it, their core of Marcus Smart, Kemba [Walker], Tatum and [Jaylen] Brown have played two games together this year. So they still haven’t gotten that chemistry, that timing down that they need and they will get post All-Star break. They’re still right in the thick of things.”

“I definitely [believe] in the Celtics,” Barnes added, “and looking forward to their rise [in the] second half of the season.”

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Trivia: According to Basketball Reference, Danny Ainge’s second trade as a Celtics executive came on draft day in 2003, when he acquired what future member of the 2008 championship team along with Marcus Banks?

(Answer at the bottom).

Hint: The player in question also played for the Thunder, the Pelicans, and the Cavaliers in his career.

More from Boston:

J.J. Watt broke his own news:

On this day: In 2002, Arsenal forward Dennis Bergkamp scored one of the most creative and skillful goals in Premier League history. The Dutchman’s goal helped Arsenal to a 2-0 win over Newcastle.

Daily highlight: Kyrie Irving tossed it up and DeAndre Jordon threw it down.

Trivia answer: Kendrick Perkins

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