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Are the Magic a threat?

01.23.09 at 12:01 am ET
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The Orlando Magic had the best record in the East, so it was only fair to say they were the best team. At least that was the credit the Boston Celtics were giving them before Thursday’s match up. But of the 41 games the Magic had played entering the game, only one had been against the Celtics. It was a loss.

The Magic have said they wanted to beat the best to be the best. In the last two seasons they lost to the Detroit Pistons early in the playoffs. Now the Celtics are the measuring stick in the East and after Thursday’s 90-80 loss to the defending champs (RECAP HERE), the Magic have failed to stack up twice.

It’s true the Magic haven’t received all the recognition they deserve nearly halfway through the season. Despite winning 16 of their last 19 games, they have flown relatively low under the radar and the talk of the East is still LeBron James vs. the Celtics. But there is a reason for that. Even with one of the most dominating big men in the game, the Magic do not have what it takes to unseat the Celtics in the postseason.

Leadership
There is no denying the power and talent of Dwight Howard. He is a beast on the glass and can body through the paint with authority. But the reality is Howard is 23, only three months older than Rajon Rondo. The Celtics point guard has three proven veterans to turn to whereas the veterans on the Magic turn to Howard.

On Thursday the Celtics held Howard scoreless for the entire second and third quarters. In that time he picked up four fouls and had to limit his defensive intensity late in the fourth before fouling out with 2:30 to go. The glaring question is, can Howard lead a team in a seven-game series?

Point Guard Play
Jameer Nelson is having a breakthrough year, averaging 17 points up from 11 last season, and is finally emerging as the point guard the Magic have been anticipating since 2004. However surging performances aren’t always consistent. It’s been said that as Rondo goes, so go the Celtics. The same can be said for Nelson and the Magic.

Rajon Rondo (through 44 games)
Wins: 11.9 PPG, 54.8% FG, 8.2 APG, 5.1 RPG, 2.5 PF
Losses: 7.0 PPG, 32.4% FG, 7.3 APG, 4.1 RPG, 3.0 PF

Jameer Nelson (through 36 games)
Wins: 18.1 PPG, 54.4% FG, 52.1% 3PG, 5.7 APG, 2.9 PF
Losses: 12.9 PPG, 37.4% FG, 19.4% 3PG, 4.0 APG, 4.1 PF

Long-Range Game
The Magic are the best three-point shooting team in the league. They hit an NBA-record 23 treys this month against the Sacramento Kings and entered Thursday’s game shooting 53.9% 3PG in their last five match ups. At some point, though, legs get tired and the finesse can fade, especially in a six or seven-game series.

The Magic’s leading three-point shooter Rashard Lewis may be dangerous from inside and out, but he wasn’t a threat when he only shot one-for-four from long range against the Celtics. The team as a whole shot 7-for-22, which was actually worse than the Celtics 0-for-6 performance. The Cs compensated for their slump by going inside. The Magic, on the other hand, lived and died by the deep three.

The Celtics weren’t wrong for giving the Magic credit. They are one of the hottest teams in the league centered around one of the most exciting players to watch. But the season isn’t even halfway over and the Magic are not prepped for a title run just yet. They wanted to beat the best in the playoffs to be the best, but the first step is beating the best in the regular season.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Orlando Magic

One less option

01.22.09 at 3:16 pm ET
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When rumors began buzzing about the Boston Celtics need for a back up center. Alonzo Mourning’s name had been mentioned in the mix of veteran big men. On Thursday, Mourning put those rumors to rest when he announced his retirement from basketball.

“I truly feel it’s best that I retire,” Mourning said at his press conference. “When you’ve got something you love and you’re passionate about, it’s hard to let that go. But at 38, I feel I’ve physically done all I can for this game. It has been an amazing ride.”

Mourning had been rehabbing from a knee injury he suffered over a year ago with the Miami Heat. The 15-year veteran, who had already overcome a kidney disease to win an NBA championship in 2006, decided to leave the game with a positive attitude.

“It’s not a sad day, but it’s a day to celebrate,” he said. “I can think of a million people right now that would have loved to walk the path I’ve walked. The ups and the downs made it even more joyous.”

In addition to Mourning, the Dikembe Mutombo and Joe Smith were also mentioned as possible acquisitions for the Celtics. Mutombo re-signed with the Houston Rockets in December after losing patience with Cs. Smith is still under contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Read More: Alonzo Mourning, Boston Celtics, Dikembe Mutombo, Joe Smith

Walker committed to Boston

01.22.09 at 12:10 am ET
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Bill Walker has close ties to his community. So close, in fact, that he tattooed the numbers of his childhood address on his neck. When the Boston Celtics rookie got recalled from the NBA Development League this month, he was eager to give back to the city he’s now calling home.

Last weekend Walker, along with Kendrick Perkins, Gabe Pruitt, and J.R. Giddens, served home-cooked meals to 150 men and women at the Boston Rescue Mission. The food was prepared by members of the Celtics staff as part of the Shamrock Foundation.

“[The best part was] just them being so happy that we’re there,” Walker said. “Just being somebody who actually could take enough time to come down there and just sit and talk with them, serve them food, things like that. Little things like that do mean a lot to people.”

Boston is one of the many places where Walker, 21, wants to make a difference. Even though he is just starting his NBA career, he already has made plans for years to come.

“That’s just something I want to do when I’m done with basketball, just to try to help the communities that I’m in first and then expand,” Walker said. “So that was just fun, going back and trying to cheer up a couple people.”

For more information on the Celtics community outreach, visit www.celtics.com.

Read More: Bill Walker, Boston Celtics, Gabe Pruitt, J.R. Giddens

Celtics-Heat Reactions

01.21.09 at 10:43 pm ET
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Here’s something that I’m almost positive has not happened this season to the Boston Celtics this year. At one point in the third quarter, the Miami Heat scored on 10 of 11 possessions. You can’t score in practice on 10 of 11 possessions.

At the end of that run that saw Dwyane Wade score 10 points and had Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley playing like they were back in the Big 12 against Iowa State, the Heat still trailed by 11 points. That made it the strangest of NBA occurrences: a relatively close blowout.

It didn’t last all that long because the thing with having a lead that size is that one nice push the other way and it’s game ovah, which is exactly what happened when Ray Allen started dropping bombs in the fourth. (Click here for a full recap).

So, the Celtics wrapped up their sixth straight win. Kendrick Perkins got some much needed court time before facing down Dwight Howard Thursday night and the starters kept their minutes down. All in all, a pretty decent night for the C’s who are now 35-9 and back in first place in the Eastern Conference (albeit by a half game over the Magic and not by winning percentage where Orlando has a slight edge).

A six-pack of observations:

1. Free Eddie House!

House got his NBA career started in Miami where he developed something of a cult following and I vaguely recall a story where Pat Riley’s daughter was spotted sporting a Free Eddie House! t-shirt. Riles should have listened.

House has not had the greatest of shooting seasons, but last night’s line (9-for-15 from the floor, 7-for-11 from 3-point range) proves why he is so valuable. You just can’t afford to leave the man open. Of course, that’s exactly what Miami did time and again playing some of the laziest perimeter D seen this year. The Celtics made 15-of-25 3-pointers (15-of-25!) and most of them were of the wide-open nolo contendre variety.

2. The Good, the Bad, the Rondo

Rajon Rondo scored only seven points and took just seven shots, but he knocked down a 3-pointer in rhythm from the top of the key with the shot clock winding down. That’s good. He also passed up several shots inside, forcing passes to big men that weren’t really there. That’s bad.

Rondo beat his man whenever he wanted to and wound up with 10 assists. That’s good. He also had five turnovers, including four in the first quarter. That’s bad.

Raw +/- stats are only superficially useful. They don’t take into account context, score or pace, but for a one-game snapshot they can me somewhat interesting and tonight the Celtics were +23 when Rondo was in the game. (That’s good).

3. Kendrick Perkins Had Some Rust

Perkins played 23 minutes, scored just two points and for the first 18 or so of those minutes looked like a guy who hadn’t played in a week and a half, which was to be expected. But in the last five he grabbed every rebound and generally made himself a menace to any Heat players who wanted to get down the lane.

It was a solid run for Perk who now has to face Orlando’s monster-child Dwight Howard 24 hours later.

Interestingly, Brian Scalabrine who played so well in place of Perkins, stayed in the rotation in the first half, getting 22 minutes on the floor total. Big Baby Davis played well when he got his chance in the second half. I’ll be curious to see if Scal keeps a spot in the bench rotation after playing so well and if anyone’s time suffers as a result.

4. Miami Cold

For reasons that I will keep to myself, I have spent a decent amount of time in the town of Manhattan, Kansas aka The Little Apple and the home of Kansas State University. It was always a curious thing that Michael Beasley wound up there, for while it is a underrated spot of midwest terra firma, it ain’t exactly UCLA.

You could see all the good stuff in Beasley’s game. The left-handed jumper, the quickness off the floor, the scoring instinct, etc. You could also see the kid needs work, especially on the defensive end. He’s a nice talent, however, and along with D-Wade just about the only two things I liked about this Miami team.

Granted, Shawn Marion hurt himself on a missed dunk (thus delaying the trade rumors for a little while), and it’s possible that the Celtics just caught them on a bad night, but the Heat shot way too many 3′s and got crushed on the boards. Erik Spolestra is either the best coach in the league, or D-Wade is playing even better than we thought, but it’s hard to believe that Miami is playing better than .500 ball.

5. Stephon Marbury to Greece?

This is one of those there-is-no-way-it’ll-happen stories, but it’s out there. Apparently a Greek team has expressed an interest in Stephon Marbury and contacted the Knicks about trying to work out a deal. (Now here comes the joke about how the Knicks would trade him for a box of Souvlaki.)

Marbury apparently hasn’t been in contact with the team, however, and a move to Greece doesn’t seem likely. The pressure has been turned down on the bench a little and at this point, Marbury seems more like an illusion than a reality.

6. How Important is the Orlando Game?

For the Celtics, mildly. It’s a chance for them to show the rest of the NBA (the game is on TNT) that they are still the baddest dudes on the block. They wiped out Orlando earlier in the year–who was playing without Jameer Nelson and generally solidified the opinion that the Magic are a nice, but not great, team.

Since then the Magic have gone 20-3 and riding a seven-game winning streak. For them, it’s a big game. They played well against the Celtics last year and a win would help give them some credibility.

Cousy’s All-Star history

01.21.09 at 8:57 am ET
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On Thursday the 2009 NBA All-Star teams will be revealed. While a lack of fan votes has put Rajon Rondo’s selection in question, it was 55 years ago today that another Celtics PG made his mark on the game. On January 21, 1954, Bob Cousy scored 10 of his 20 points in overtime to lead the East to a 98-93 win. It was the first overtime in All-Star history. Cousy won All-Star MVP honors and appeared in 13 All-Star Games over his career.

The 2009 All-Star teams will be announced on TNT prior to the Celtics-Magic game.

Read More: Bob Cousy, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic, Rajon Rondo

Sounds of the game… Celtics 104, Suns 87

01.20.09 at 1:48 am ET
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For the Celtics, Monday night was an embarrassment of riches. For the Phoenix Suns, it was just an embarrassment.

Rajon Rondo had perennial All-World point guard Steve Nash for lunch, scoring 23 points while dishing out seven assists and grabbing five rebounds in three quarters. Nash was held to 12 points and eight meaningless assists.

Kevin Garnett and Brian Scalabrine feasted on Shaq Diesel, who couldn’t believe his teammates didn’t bother showing up.

The Celtics forced 15 first half turnovers, matching the same number of field goals the Suns managed in the same 24 minutes.

Maybe the Celtics were inspired by the fact that they will be traveling to Washington early Tuesday for the historical inauguration of Barack Obama. Whatever the reason, the Celtics made the Suns look like the Arizona Cardinals when they visited Foxboro in December.

But, as the Cardinals showed, regular season games sometimes don’t mean much, just don’t tell Shaq that.

Shaquille O’Neal had no excuses for his teammates’ performance.

O’Neal said it was an old-fashioned butt-whoopin.

Steve Nash said the Celtics put on a clinic.

Doc Rivers was proud that his team is so excited to see the Presidential Inauguration.

Rivers said the team defense was the key to the win.

Kevin Garnett said the team did a great job on Shaq Diesel.

Paul Pierce said Garnett and Brian Scalabrine were huge in containing O’Neal.

Rondo on being better than Steve Nash for one night.

Read More: Celtics, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo

Rondo makes Suns pay

01.19.09 at 11:52 pm ET
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On Draft Night 2006, the Phoenix Suns selected Rajon Rondo with the 21st pick and traded him to the Boston Celtics. It was a move to stay under the salary cap, avoid the luxury tax, and free up money for future acquisitions. Three years later, nearly $75 million in payroll could not stop him.

“The challenge is what everybody’s challenge is with him – keeping him in front,” said Suns head coach Terry Porter following the Celtics 104-87 victory. “He does a great job of penetrating, getting to the paint, and causing havoc that way.”

This season Rondo is set to earn $1.3 million, a bargain by NBA standards and nearly one-tenth of Steve Nash’s salary. On Monday night he proved he was worth every penny the Suns did not pay for him. Rondo posted 23 points, seven assists, and five rebounds, six more than Amar’e Stoudemire (RECAP HERE).

“There were a lot of fast break opportunities for me,” he said after the game. “They missed shots, that was key for us all night long. We got stops on defense and that allowed me to push it up on the break and get easy looks at the basket.”

Rondo scored more than half of his points in the paint against the Suns $35 million front court of Shaquille O’Neal and Stoudemire. Whereas other teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have collapsed on Rondo, the Suns let him have his way at the hoop.

“He’s improving all the time. He’s emerging as one of the elite guards in the league,” Nash said. “I think regardless of whether he’s shooting the ball well and he needs to improve there, his game has improved. I think it’s made the shooting not as big a question. He’s become a better and better passer. He’s a great athlete who does a lot of things for his team on the floor. He’s emerging as one of the elite guards in the league.”

Even though Rondo says he does not think about being traded, his performance only accentuated the Suns’ Draft Night loss. Over the years they have also drafted and dealt point guards Nate Robinson and Sergio Rodriguez, as well as forward Luol Deng. After missing out on Brandon Rush in the 2008 Draft, the Suns are left with little depth at the one-spot and a point guard who turns 35 next month.

“Well, we’ve had a few draft night trades to stay under the salary cap that were difficult in the big picture,” said Nash. “Our franchise is built on a business model that tries to stay under the cap as much as we can. It’s just how it’s been.”

It’s games like this that could have the Suns wondering what might have been. But for Rondo, it’s just another game.

“I just try to get better every game,” he said. “No one particular night I can try to say my confidence has been boosted, but I just try to stay consistent as possible because there’s a lot of ups and downs in the NBA. I had a good night tonight, shooting the ball but it’s all about the win.”

Three years ago it was all about the money for the Suns. On Monday night it was all about the win for Rondo.

Read More: Amare Stoudemire, Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, Rajon Rondo
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