SACRAMENTO — The need for Avery Bradley is growing exponentially with each embarrassing Celtics defensive performance. Once again Bradley’s name surfaced as a possible salve following the Celtics’ stunning 118-96 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Sunday at Sleep Train Arena.
Bradley is expected to return for the Celtics’ next game, Jan. 2 against the Grizzlies, and his defensive prowess is needed. The Celtics have allowed an average of 108.3 points in the past three games and yielded seven 3-pointers in the fourth quarter Sunday.
“The biggest thing is now is just trust in our communication defensively,” point guard Rajon Rondo said about the defensive struggles. “With Avery coming back, obviously that will be a better pick-and-roll defender for the guard spot, but it’s not just going to be on Avery. It’s going to be trust from our bigs and our guards, being patient, and playing together.”
The club kept Bradley at home during this West Coast road trip to workout in Waltham in preparation for his first NBA game in seven months after surgery on both shoulders.
“We can use a lot of [spark],” Rondo said. “But Avery will be good for us. I think it’s contagious the way he plays defensively. Hopefully, everybody else will feel the same way and fill their role.”
Rondo back at it
The Celtics got their floor leader back, although it didn’t make much of a difference in the final tally.
After missing Saturday night’s 101-83 loss to the Warriors with a bruised right hip, Rondo was back in the starting lineup against the Kings. Rondo scored only 2 points (on 1-for-6 shooting) and had 10 assists in 36 minutes.
On Saturday, the trio of Jason Terry, Paul Pierce, and Jeff Green combined for 12-for-50 shooting as the Celtics shot 36 percent as a team. Rondo dressed for the game, but watched from the bench.
Head trainer Ed Lacerte sent a text message to coach Doc Rivers Sunday morning clearing Rondo to return. He participated in pregame shooting drills before getting treatment and getting the start.
Rondo missed two games after being suspended for a Nov. 28 fight with Brooklyn’s Kris Humphries and the Celtics went 1-1 during that stretch.
Courtney Lee, who led the Celtics with 18 points Saturday night, returned to the bench, getting shutout in 21 minutes.
The Celtics heartily welcomed back Leandro Barbosa after he missed the past four games because of a personal matter in his native Brazil. Barbosa actually did not leave Sao Paulo until Sunday morning, flying 16 hours to Sacramento with a stop in Atlanta.
He said he was exhausted but played four minutes late in the fourth quarter and scored 2 points. He had last played Dec. 19 against Cleveland before leaving for Brazil the next day.
“Yeah I was missing the energy of my teammates and everybody,” Barbosa said. “Especially playing basketball, it was a tough situation being [in Brazil]. I know I had to be there for [his family]. It was really, really hard. I am wishing the best, family is family, and I am glad to be back.”
Barbosa said he was unsure about his endurance after 11 days off.
“I don’t how my body is, I haven’t been sleeping much,” he said.
Having signed a one-year contract and playing an important role as Rondo’s backup, Barbosa said he felt it was time to rejoin his teammates.
“It’s time, you know?” he said. “Leaving the situation is really bad. I have never been far away from my teammates that long so I just [thought about it] and it was time to come back.”
Rivers wasn’t pleased with the 6 p.m. local start Sunday after his team had played at 7:30 p.m. local time at Golden State. He said he would like at least 24 hours between starts on back-to-back games.
“I didn’t reach out [to the league office] to the point where I got a response,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting a response. It’s something as a coach, we’ve been talking about this for as long as I’ve been coaching. I just really feel there should be a 24-hour period. I think the other one that I dislike . . . the 8 o’clock [national television] start and then the 7 o’clock game the next night on the road. Those are just as bad because those [national TV] games last longer.”
The Celtics’ game with Golden State did not end until about 9:45 p.m. Pacific Time. The Celtics then took a bus to Sacramento and had to prepare for the early Sunday start.
“We’re playing 22½ hours, actually it’s less than that when you think about it because the game ended at a certain time,” Rivers said. “So it’s a lot less.”
Rivers is a member of the league’s competition committee and said the game-time issue will be on the agenda.
“You want the best for everyone, the fans, you want the performance to be good, and that affects it,” he said.
Evans out again
The Kings were without starting guard Tyreke Evans for the seventh consecutive game with a sore left knee. Isaiah Thomas got the start at point guard and scored a game-high 27 points . . . After scoring 75 points in his previous two games, Pierce is 20 for his past 58 from the field after going 8 for 15 in Sunday’s loss . . . After attempting a season-low six shots Saturday, Kevin Garnett returned with 13 attempts, good for 16 points. He notched his seventh double-double of the season . . . Rookie Kris Joseph tweaked his right ankle during mop-up duty Saturday but was suited up and did not play Sunday.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.