Designated Hitter: Taking the temperatures of our major sports teams

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When the Thanksgiving holidays come around, taking the temperature of our area's major sports teams is something that can be valuable.

If you are talking about the Celtics, not even one loss can stop them from being scalding hot.

That's right, the team that ran off 16 consecutive wins bounced back from a loss to throttle Orlando on Friday night. It's not what the Celtics did, it was how they did it.

"One of the things we need to do is we need to play better in the first half," is what Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens told the assembled media prior to the Black Friday game against Orlando.

What did Boston do in that first half? How about outscore the very mediocre Magic 73-47, shoot 57 percent from the floor and 52.3 percent from outside the 3-point arc.

I guess that's paying attention to your coach.

Stevens continued.

"We should be making progress in the first half," he said. "We're doing enough in the third and fourth quarters to indicate that we can."

Kyrie Irving, who was the recipient of "MVP" chants in the second quarter of Friday's blowout, is the best player on the team. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the future. Al Horford, said Stevens, is an indispensable piece.

"We just need everybody to make the right basketball play, and Al is one of the best in the league at making the right basketball play," the Celtics coach said. "We just need everybody on board to make the right basketball play, and I can't think of a better person to lead that charge."

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Life on the ice in Boston is pretty warm, and finally starting to heat up.

The Bruins beat Pittsburgh 4-3 on Black Friday, extending their current winning streak to a season-best four games.

"I think, collectively as a group, there are still things to build on," Jake DeBrusk said in the B's locker room. "Obviously, you can't complain with four straight wins. It's our first winning streak of the season and everyone's feeling good right now."

Jake DeBrusk is the son of former NHL player Louie DeBrusk. Jake had two assists in Friday's win over the Penguins. He has five goals and seven assists. He is now 19 goals behind his father, who scored 24 goals and had only 17 assists in 401 games in the National Hockey League.

Coach Bruce Cassidy reminded Bruins fans, and hockey fans, that while his team is pretty good right now, that might not be the case next week.

"Things can change in a hurry. I think [last] week we were written off to be honest with you. And now, we have a good road trip and now we are back in the mix," said the B's coach. "For us in that room, we understand where we are, how we are playing, how we need to play, the direction we need to be going."

What's been the key to Boston's recent success?

"I think 'no passengers,'" DeBrusk said. "We've had everyone on board. Everything's not going to be perfect. There are going to be mistakes. Overall, I think everyone's played their role and done their part and contributed. You need that to win in this league, especially four in a row against some pretty good teams."

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Matt McCall's UMass Minutemen were 3-2 going into Saturday's game against BYU in Brooklyn. A loss to 14th-ranked Minnesota might have ended a two-game winning streak, but it demonstrated one thing: Even when it is overmatched, McCall's team plays hard.

Anyone who thinks this team should be undefeated or should have been 4-1 going into the BYU game is not watching the same team that I have. UMass plays hard, but it is still a work in progress.

And as good as Luwane Pipkins has played so far this year, he is not a one-man wrecking crew. He and his teammates don't have the talent to take on and beat a nationally ranked Big Ten Conference team like Minnesota.

It doesn't get a lot easier for the Minutemen, who travel to Quinnipiac on Wednesday as they continue their road excursion. Massachusetts won't return to the friendly confines of the Mullins Center until Dec. 6 against Holy Cross.

On the road, UMass will play one of last year's Final Four teams at South Carolina. When the Minutemen come home, they'll have a couple of potentially really difficult matchups against Providence and the University of Georgia. Then Atlantic 10 season starts.

So the temperature for the Minutemen is lukewarm, but they hope to get warm soon enough.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter and 413-496-6253.


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