Friday, December 8

Jayson Tatum talks to his Celtics teammates about staying focused in the critical stretch of games ahead

Jayson Tatum sent a strong message to his teammates after Friday’s shootaround at State Farm Arena on how to stay focused entering a critical stretch of games, starting with the Hawks, who have won five straight.

“I think our guys understand that we have to keep building and keep getting better and [Tatum] he was very eloquent about it,” said Al Horford. “[He said] we needed to stay locked down and come out ready to play because it’s going to be a big challenge. Atlanta has been playing very well and I think we all know that. We’re looking at this as an opportunity to go out there and compete and continue to build on the way we’ve been playing.

“It was an important message for our group and everyone fell in line.”

Celtics coach Ime Udoka pointedly said his team shouldn’t feel comfortable after two straight blowout wins.

“Just look at our record,” said Udoka. “We’re a game over .500. A two-game winning streak isn’t really a winning streak.”

Despite their turbulent season, the Celtics are just 6½ games behind the leading Miami Heat in the East with the Heat coming to Boston on Monday and another key game against Charlotte on Wednesday.

Udoka said he welcomes Tatum, who has led by example throughout his early career, becoming a more vocal leader.

“I wouldn’t say often, he speaks when he has something on his mind and it’s welcome,” Udoka said. “I echoed his statement after he said it. We were here a few times this year and we had some slip ups so it was great for him to come out and say that and what we want him to do more of. We appreciate it and it is a sign of growth for him.

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Initially, the NBA released the results of the All-Star voting and listed Celtics center Enes Kanter without receiving votes from fans. This wasn’t some conspiracy by the NBA against the opinionated Kanter, who changed his name to Enes Freedom in November.

There have been perceptions that the NBA has been uncomfortable with Freedom’s political statements, but the league didn’t notice Kanter’s name change because it happened before the opening of All-Star voting on Dec. 25.

The NBA erred in its voting tabulations because it didn’t include the votes Freedom actually received, a byproduct of the name change during the season. Freedom actually received 8,834 fan votes for the February 20 All-Star Game in Cleveland and one player vote.

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum received the fourth-most votes from fans for an Eastern Conference frontcourt player, but was not named as a starter. Tatum and Jaylen Brown have a chance to be named reserves next Thursday. NBA head coaches vote for reserves, but cannot vote for players on their own teams.

Due to the impending snowstorm in Boston, the Celtics will spend Saturday night in New Orleans and travel back to Boston on Sunday morning. The opening play was to head home directly after kickoff at 7 pm ET. Sunday is a day off for the players because they are coming off back-to-back games, but the top-seeded Heat arrive at TD Garden on Monday, not giving the players much time to rest after the trip.

“You would rather not have to travel on a day off,” Udoka said. “Safety comes first and it will be crazy [in Boston], strong winds coming in, as well as ice and snow. It’s supposed to be clearer in the late morning or early afternoon, so we’re taking the same approach.”

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Horford, who spent his first nine seasons in Atlanta, said coming back isn’t as nostalgic as it was a few years ago. He said that he still has friends and family in the area. “As for the game, it’s just another game,” he said. … De’Andre Hunter and Danilo Gallinari were decisions at the time of the game with injuries, but both were available, giving the Hawks a completely healthy lineup.

Gary Washburn is a columnist for the Globe. You can reach him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.

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