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Jaylen Brown deserves to be in MVP race when playing at his ‘highest peak’

Jayson Tatum has emerged as one of the early favorites for NBA MVP this season as he’s led the Celtics to the best record in the league with several signature performances. “MVP!” chants rained down on him all night on Wednesday, when he scored 37 points to push the C’s past Luka Doncic’s Mavericks.

But do the Celtics boast two players who are MVP-caliber?

Marcus Smart thinks so, at least when Jaylen Brown plays like he did in Wednesday’s win over the Mavericks, when he scored 31 points to continue what’s becoming another career season for the All-Star forward.

“The things that he’s doing when he’s at his best, are the same things J.T. doing at his, and J.T. has been in the talks for that MVP race,” Smart said. “When J.B. is playing the way he’s playing at his highest peak, he’s in that race, too.”

Tatum is certainly ahead of Brown when it comes to that race. After cementing himself as a superstar last season, he’s raised his game to a higher level this year. When healthy, he’s the leading MVP candidate on the Celtics. But Brown deserves love, too.

Like Tatum, Brown has also elevated his game early on this season, especially on the offensive end. Wednesday’s performance – when he went 13-for-18 from the floor – reflected his improvements as he’s becoming a more efficient scorer. He’s thriving in Joe Mazzulla’s offensive system that relies on spacing, and it’s shown in the numbers. Entering Friday, his 56.1 effective field goal percentage was the best of his career and topped the Celtics.

“I was joking with Jaylen,” Smart said. “We have – in the old Western, when you’re in a shootout, you’ve got a gun on this one and I told him we also have another one with you over here. We got two sharpshooters that can do some damage, so when JB is playing at his highest, he’s an MVP candidate as well.”

Even if Brown ultimately likely won’t be part of the MVP debate, he and Tatum are continuing to prove they can thrive together as a duo – a debate they effectively put to bed last season as they led the Celtics to the NBA Finals. So far, they’ve picked up where they left off.

“It’s just something that takes time,” Tatum said. “We’ve had a lot of success early and obviously the beginning of last season was sort of a struggle. I think, I felt like people didn’t allow us to have time to kind of work through that. Everybody kind of questioned, blow us up, trade one of us and I’m 24 and he just turned 26, and two of the best two-way players in the league. We had a new coach last year and we were just trying to figure it out, and two guys that really care about competing and winning. …

“I was never worried, he was never worried, the team was never worried. It was only a matter of time, and it feels that much better when we’ve grown from his second year and my first year to now, and how hard we’ve worked to kind of build the foundation of how we play. It’s going to pay off one day.”

Talking about practice

The Celtics have been in the midst of a heavy stretch of basketball. Since Oct. 28, they’ve played at least one game every other day and are playing 22 games in 41 days until they finally have two off days in a row on Dec. 8-9. That hasn’t allowed the team to practice much at all as they try to maximize their days off to rest. But Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla doesn’t mind.

“I think it’s just based on the guys, kind of what they need and what they feel,” Mazzulla said. “The NBA season presents so many opportunities to do different things, and you don’t have to practice, to practice, I would say. There’s a lot of other ways to get better. And so I think you have to try to highlight ways to where you can grow as a team and where you can get better, whether it’s through film, whether it’s through conversation, whether it’s through a walkthrough or whether it’s through a day off. I think it’s just a matter of feeling what our guys need and putting them in that best situation.”

Despite a heavy workload over the last month, Mazzulla is happy with his team’s shape right now.

“I feel like the guys are fresh,” Mazzulla said. “I feel like they’re fresh physically, I feel like they’re fresh mentally. You’re always trying to find ways to get guys rest and steal minutes here or there, but I think our guys are in a great spot physically and mentally.” …

Because the Bruins played a 1 p.m. matinee game at TD Garden on Friday and it went to overtime, the Celtics game started at 8 p.m. As the ice was turned over to the court, though, one of the hoops was still being installed less than two hours before opening tip. But that didn’t impact the Celtics’ pregame routine, Mazzulla said.

“It doesn’t,” Mazzulla said. “We have to be ready to play. We will.”

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