Joe Mazzulla is 35 games into his NBA head coaching career. Boston’s interim head coach has led the Celtics to the best record in the Association. Mazzulla and company are the first team to 25 wins.
The Celtics picked up their 25th win of the year Tuesday night, a 24-point home victory over the Houston Rockets.
Mazzulla was absent from the sidelines Tuesday night, though. According to a NESN report Thursday, Mazzulla suffered an eye injury during a recent pickup game.
Reporters on-site Tuesday noted that Mazzulla appeared uncomfortable during his pre-game interview session. Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire was notified roughly 10 minutes before tip-off that he’d be in charge of the team that night.
Mazzulla is considered questionable for Thursday night’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
“We don’t really know,” veteran guard Marcus Smart told reporters Thursday morning when asked if Mazzulla will coach against LA. “We just know he has a corneal abrasion. We don’t know what really happened or what’s going on.”
The Clippers (21-15) are the fourth-place team in the Western Conference. Thursday’s contest is the last of a seven-game homestand for Boston (25-10). The game begins at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised nationally on NBA TV.
Mazzulla was named Boston’s interim head coach in September after the sudden year-long suspension of head coach Ime Udoka. Celtics President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens stated last week that there haven’t been any recent conversations about removing the interim tag from Mazzulla’s title.
“He’s running the show. The title is the title, and we’ll have updates at a later date on all that other stuff,” Stevens said. “He’s doing a good job. He’s running it like the head coach runs it.”
Mazzulla has had the backing of Stevens since the start of his interim head coaching tenure. He has proved that backing to be well-founded.
Mazzulla got off to a historic start to his NBA head coaching career. He won his regular season head coaching debut, and put together the second-best start by any first-year coach in Celtics history. He was then named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month thanks to his team’s 18-4 record through the first full month of the NBA regular season.
While Mazzulla and Stevens have not talked recently about his job title, Stevens said they do speak regularly. Stevens added he gives small observations but tries not to give too much input to Mazzulla, knowing well how much input an NBA head coach receives daily.
Asked to assess Mazzulla’s performance, Stevens said, “It’s been really good. It’s been really good. Every 20 games you coach in the NBA, you’re just getting better, and better, and better. And just even looking at where we started from the start of training camp, the leadership, the organization, the way that everybody embraced him, he embraces everybody else, he’s very open to people to the different ideas that they have. … He’s been great.”
Mazzulla and the Celtics are the odds-on favorites to win the NBA Finals. The NBA regular season is nearing its midway point.
Boston will play on national TV when it takes on the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET on TNT.