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Celtics are going from preseason favorites to average disappointments after 20 games

To say this isn’t the way the Celtics — or frankly, just about anyone — envisioned this team looking through the opening 20 games of the season is an understatement. Yet here Boston is, floundering at 10-10 and already trailing the Toronto Raptors by six games for the top spot in the Eastern Conference — the one Boston was expected to claim for itself after LeBron James abdicated his throne atop the East by joining the Los Angeles Lakers this summer.

And, as Smart said, the Celtics find themselves saying the same thing game after game. Their offense remains inefficient, mired among the bottom 10 in the league despite a wealth of players capable of filling it up. Too often their first quarters are like the one Boston had Saturday night, as the Mavericks raced out to a 32-18 lead behind some spectacular shotmaking and playmaking from sensational Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic.cheap nike nfl jerseys from china

Even Boston’s defense, which is normally among the league’s best — and is ranked second behind the Oklahoma City Thunder in efficiency over course of the season — has slipped a bit lately. The Mavericks sliced through the Celtics time and again at that end of the floor Saturday night, knocking down 16-of-41 3-pointers (39 percent) and finding DeAndre Jordan multiple times at the rim for easy alley-oop dunks.6

“I thought we were a step slow all night,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought they put us on our heels.

“They made a ton of effort plays, they got a bunch to the rim, and then we couldn’t contain the drive … those drives really hurt us. They turned the corner, laid it in, and had a couple of and-1s, lobs … those are just killers.”

The Celtics have been on the receiving end of plenty of those kinds of moments lately. Not only did Saturday’s loss drop Boston to seventh place in the East standings, but the Celtics have now lost four of their past five, and eight of 12. Of those four wins, two came in overtime — including one miraculous road comeback against the hapless Phoenix Suns. The other two came against the equally hapless Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks.

Boston simply hasn’t looked like the team it was expected to be entering the season. So what is the issue?

Perhaps there is something to be said for the Celtics having to adjust to the feeling of being the favorite, as opposed to the scrappy underdog.nfl cheap nike jerseys

Throughout the past few seasons, Boston has been seen as a team punching above its weight — first when Isaiah Thomas was lighting up scoreboards two and three seasons ago, and then last season when first Gordon Hayward, and then Kyrie Irving, were sidelined because of season-ending injuries.