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Doc Rivers and Phil Jackson kind of agree about playing on Christmas

12.22.10 at 11:24 am ET
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When you’re the coach of the Celtics or Lakers, it’s basically a given than you will be spending your Christmas Day at work. Both teams are staples of the NBA’s annual Christmas Day extravaganza. This year, the C’s play in Orlando, which is at least home for a few players, and notably coach Doc Rivers. The Lakers host the Heat, which was a given the moment Miami signed LeBron James.

In truth, no one likes playing on Christmas, but the Celtics all said Tuesday that it was a privilege and something they expect from playing on one of the league’s best teams. Lakers coach Phil Jackson expressed a different view:

“It used to be Phoenix and L.A. and New York and Boston and New York or Philly or somebody on the East Coast,” Jackson, told reporters before the Lakers game against the Bucks. “Now, I see they have like six games on Christmas. It’s like Christian holidays don’t mean anything to them anymore. You just go out and play and entertain [on] TV. It’s really weird.”

While Rivers didn’t bring up the religious aspect, he did note that the day used to be more special when it involved just two games. The league now has five games running all day with the Celtics and Lakers matchups in the marquee time slots.

“I wish they would reduce the games on Christmas,” Rivers said Tuesday. “I thought it was more special when it was two games. Now they it’€™s up five games. I think that’€™s too many.”

Read More: Doc Rivers, Phil Jackson,

Preview: Philadelphia at Boston, Game 27

12.22.10 at 10:35 am ET
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Up until Tuesday night, the Philadelphia 76ers were cruising right along with a nice little winning run at their backs. They had gone 8-3 in their last 11 games and taken four of the last five. Then, the Bulls happened. The Sixers lost by an astounding 45 points and allowed the Bulls to shoot 65 percent.

In Kate Fagan’s piece in the Inquirer, Andre Iguodala said it was a wake-up call, while coach Doug Collins called it one of those nights. Both of them have a point.

The truth is, the Sixers are not a bad basketball team. They might even wind up being quite good by the end of the season. For now, they have rebounded from a terrible start to become merely decent, which in the top-heavy Eastern Conference is good enough to be in the hunt for a playoff spot.

This has been quite a turnaround since starting the season by winning three of their first 16 games. It’s not hard to see Collins’ imprint all over this team. The key has been defense where the Sixers rank fifth (down from second after Tuesday’s debacle) in effective field goal percentage defense, a stat which accounts for the difference between two and 3-point shots.

The Sixers are not a very good offensive team, but they don’t turn the ball over and there is evidence that they are playing smarter: Thaddeus Young has almost completely cut out his penchant for taking (and missing) 3-pointers, for example.

In addition, Collins seems to have defined roles for his collection of young talent. He turned the team over to second-year point guard Jrue Holiday, who is learning on the job but showing good signs of development, and moved Lou Williams to the bench, where he can create offense for the second unit and provide a nice reserve combination along with Young.

Collins also took No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner out of the starting lineup, where he was horribly overmatched, and replaced him with Jodie Meeks, a 3-point shooter. The Sixers responded by going 6-2 and Meeks immediately went on a tremendous hot streak making, making 15-of-23 from beyond the arc, but he has since cooled hitting just four of his last 25 attempts.

But by far the biggest change for the Sixers has come from Elton Brand. He may never justify the ridiculous five-year, $80 million contract Ed Stefanski gave him after missing almost an entire season because of an Achilles injury — oddly enough, Brand proceeded to miss 53 games in the first of his new deal — but he has played well this season, averaging better than 15 points and eight rebounds a game.

That’s a far cry from Brand’s salad days with the Clippers where he put up almost 25 points and 10 rebounds in 2006, but five years ago Kevin Garnett was still in Minnesota and Ray Allen was still a Sonic. There were still Sonics, period. Times change.

The Sixers are still in the discovery stage. To Iguodala’s point, they managed to beat a handful of decent, but not great, teams during their streak in Portland, New Orleans and the trade-depleted Orlando Magic. Their losses came by eight points against the Lakers, one point against the Celtics and five at Atlanta, so they were playing competitively against the better teams. But mainly they’ve fattened up on so-so competition.

Still, Collins said when he took the job that his goal was to get the Sixers heading in the right direction and he is off to a solid start. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 76ers, Celtics, Preview,

Jermaine O’Neal ’50-50′ to play against Philadelphia

12.21.10 at 3:51 pm ET
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Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal went through his second practice with the team since he injured his knee in early November and said there was a chance he would be able to play Wednesday when the Celtics host the 76ers at TD Garden. “I’€™d say it’€™s a 50-50 chance,” O’Neal said. “At some point I’€™m going to play this week, whether it’€™s tomorrow or Christmas Day [against Orlando.]. I think I’€™m doable. I can help the team but for how long I don’€™t know.”

The issue for O’Neal is conditioning more than the knee injury, which he said has improved.

“My body’€™s going to be a little sore because I’€™ve been out for a month and a half,” he said. “There’€™s a difference between soreness and pain and right now I’€™m just a little sore. This is who I am right now. This is what God has given me. You deal with it and you move forward.”

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The latest on Kendrick Perkins return

12.21.10 at 3:44 pm ET
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For the first time since undergoing knee surgery, Kendrick Perkins was back on the court for a practice with his Celtics teammates. He went through the non-contact, or skeleton, phase of practice and participated in the team’s warmup and stretching drills. It was a small step for Perkins, but an important one.

“Perk looked good for what he did,” Doc Rivers said. “Actually dunked a couple of times today. He’€™s in great shape and he’€™s worked so hard, so that’€™s good.”

“I felt all right,” Perkins said. “My timing was a little bit off. I thought I did pretty well for my first time out.”

Perkins had an MRI last week, which went well, and he is scheduled to have another one in early January. He was fitted for a brace last week, which has allowed him to do more work on the court. Once he got the brace he went out and dunked, “Just to make sure I still can,” he joked. The plan is for him to continue with non-contact practices for the next few weeks and then he will be reevaluated.

As for a more definitive timetable, Perkins isn’t there yet. “It’s hard to say,” he said. “I feel good. I haven’€™t had any setbacks. Really I’€™m just trying to keep moving forward. I’€™m actually surprised about how good I did out there today.”

Interestingly, Perkins said his doctor had originally pegged late January as a possible return date while he had the All-Star break in mind. But all that is purely speculation right now, and while the Celtics were happy to have him back on the court in any capacity, Rivers sounded a more realistic note.

“If we can get anything out of Perk this year, we’€™ll be thrilled,” Rivers said. “It usually takes a year after the surgery to be completely confident.”

Read More: Kendrick Perkins,

Irish Coffee: The Celtics’ bench struggles

12.21.10 at 12:16 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

 

Remember when a lot of people — including me — believed the Celtics had the best bench in the NBA? Well, they don’t. At least not now.

The second unit that C’s head coach Doc Rivers had cultivated to give his veteran starters their much-needed rest throughout the 82-game NBA season was supposed to look like this: Nate Robinson, Delonte West, Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis and Shaquille O’Neal.

On paper, that lineup looks good. Very good. Unfortunately, wrists, ankles and knees aren’t made out of paper. As a result, the Celtics’ reserves rank 24th out of 30 NBA teams, according to Hoopsstats.com‘s efficiency differential.

West’s suspension and subsequent broken wrist have kept him out of all but five games. Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal have been a pain in the knee, missing a combined 28 games and vaulting a third-string guy (Semih Erden) into four starts. And Rajon Rondo‘s feet, hamstring and ankle soreness, tweaks and sprains haven’t helped, either, forcing one of the original sencond unit’s go-to scorers (Robinson) into a starting role six times.

Put those injuries to paper, and the Celtics’ bench has produced better than only one team that would be in the postseason if the playoffs started today — the Trail Blazers, who have had more injuries than King Leonidas‘ men in the movie “300.”

Here’s where the C’s reserves rank in the league statistically per game this season:

Minutes: 22nd
Points: 17th
Rebounds: 25th (22nd defensive/30th offensive)
Assists: 26th
Steals: 18th
Blocks: 18th
Turnovers: 10th
Field-goal percentage: 1st
3-point field goal percentage: 23rd
Free-throw percentage: 19th

And here’s where their opponents’ bench’s production against them ranks:

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Larry Bird, NBA

Video: Shaq conducting the Pops

12.21.10 at 10:21 am ET
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This is Shaquille O’Neal leading the Boston Pops through a holiday favorite Monday night at the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The Harvard Square Statue move was an unique bit of modern art and even inspired our own Rob Bradford to try the same stunt (the Bradtue). What’s next for Shaq, a reenactment of Paul Revere’s famous ride?

Read More: Boston Pops, Shaquille O'Neal,

Irish Coffee: Celtics are ‘Best of the Best’

12.20.10 at 12:03 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

In somewhat of a footnote in his most recent Sports Illustrated column, Ian Thomsen listed the records of NBA teams against oppoenents with a .500 record or better. You’ll never guess which team ranked atop the list.

Every day, people are coming up with new ways to capture how impressive the 2010-11 Celtics have been despite injuries that are piling up faster than my Christmas shopping list.

But the fact that the Celtics are 10-2 against above-.500 teams while no other Eastern Conference club has a winning record against those same squads might tell us all we need to know about the C’s chances of returning to the NBA Finals.

Against the best, the Celtics have been the best.

Only three teams in the entire league own a winning record against plus-.500 teams: the Celtics (10-2), Spurs (8-2) and Mavericks (9-3). Three others — the Thunder, Nuggets and Jazz — have .500 records against teams with winning records.

Considering the Spurs and Mavericks have been relatively healthy this season, what the Celtics have been able to accomplish is remarkable, as Rajon Rondo, Shaquille O’Neal, Delonte WestJermaine O’Neal and Kendrick Perkins have missed a combined 81 games already.

The Celtics’ biggest competitors in the East — the Heat (5-6), Magic (3-6) and Bulls (4-8) — have all been disappointing against above-.500 teams, as have the Knicks (3-5) and Hawks (2-7). In fact, 10 teams have two wins or fewer against opponents with a .500 record or better, including the Lakers, who are 1-3 in just four games against quality opponents this season.

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Read More: Antoine Walker, Boston Celtics, Jermaine O'Neal, Nate Robinson
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