Wake up with the Celtics  and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
For the first half of this month, Boston was the hub of the NBA universe, as the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics welcomed four other championship contenders to the TD Garden — the Mavericks, Magic, Lakers and Heat — in a span of nine days. Sports Illustrated writer Ian Thomsen followed the C’s every step of the way for a cover story  in the magazine’s issue that hits stores this week.
From each game, Thomsen uncovered some pretty juicy anecdotes. Here are the highlights …
Mavericks 101, Celtics 97
- Paul Pierce  didn’t know Mavericks guard J.J. Barea spent his college days in Boston: “I’m an NBA player, I’m a Celtic! I came from Kansas! What would I be doing watching Northeastern play?”
- Mavericks center Tyson Chandler  idolized Kevin Garnett : “What I try to do for my team is what he’s done his entire career. I respect what he’s accomplished, so I’m just trying to mirror that.”
- Like many players, Barea thinks Garnett isn’t always nice: “He likes to pick on little guys, I think.”
Celtics 91, Magic 80
- Magic swingman Quentin Richardson  joined the anti-Garnett club: “Garnett is a great player, he’ll be a Hall of Famer, and his rÃ©sumÃ© speaks for itself. But at the same time you may not have a lot of respect for some of the things he’ll do. He picks fights with [the Raptors’ 6’3” Jose] Calderon or with Barea. Come on, man, that’s not showing that you’re big or bad. You’re trying to fight point guards.”
- And Celtics coach Doc Rivers  once again came to Garnett’s defense: “This guy should be the model. He is as pure a team player as I’ve ever been around. Does he say things the wrong way at times? Clearly Kevin has used the ‘F’ word as a noun, adjective and verb, and it’s mean-spirited if you’re not on his team. With his teammates he talks the same way, but it’s all about help, it’s all about team. The players who don’t like him are usually the players who aren’t winning, and maybe they should be more like him instead of talking about him.”
- Pierce didn’t enjoy 25-year-old Magic center Dwight Howard ‘s imitation of Garnett’s chest-thumping pregame regimen: “I don’t know if they’ve won a game when he’s mocked anybody. I think he’s got to stop it. I saw LeBron [James] go for 51 [in a Feb. 3 win at Orlando] when he mocked him.”
- When Celtics 26-year-old center Kendrick Perkins  baited Howard into a technical foul, that showed maturity on Perkins’ part, according to Rivers: “First time in his life — he fouled Dwight, holds him and holds him, Dwight hits him with an elbow, hits him with another one, and Perk just stands there. At halftime I said to the team, ‘That is toughness. Toughness is somebody hitting you in the freaking face, and you’re looking at him and laughing and walking away. That’s a tough mother.'”
- Magic coach Stan Van Gundy  doesn’t believe his team can contend with the Celtics: “Not even in the same ballpark as these guys. We can be, but we’re not right now.”
Lakers 92, Celtics 86
- The C’s really enjoyed the fact that Kobe Bryant  had to pay homage to Ray Allen  after the latter’s record-setting 3-pointer. “You know that was hard for Kobe to do that,” said one Celtic.
- Based on their success already, the Celtics are comfortable with where they stand among the contenders. Just listen to Rivers between games: “Clearly this game meant more to [the Lakers] than to us, and you could see it in the way both teams approached the game and how they played. That’s tough to beat, and we’ve got to beat that tomorrow. For Miami it’s Armageddon. For us, well, we beat them twice, we’re injured, there’s so many reasons for us not to play tomorrow. That’s my concern as a coach.”
Celtics 85, Heat 82
- Rivers’ faith in point guard Rajon Rondo  can’t be questioned: “He’s the smartest player I’ve ever coached. Maybe that I’ve ever been around.”
- And Rivers had no problem with Rondo entering the Heat huddle: “Rondo is nuts in that way. He was saying he didn’t have to get out of the huddle because it wasn’t a timeout. It was pretty funny — when it was over.”
SOURCE: DON’T EXPECT JERMAINE O’NEAL  BACK
In that same SI, writer Chris Mannix breaks down some of the worst contracts handed out during the most recent offseason. And surprise, surprise, Jermaine O’Neal‘s deal tops the list .
The C’s big man has played just 17 games this season and wasn’t expected to return from left knee surgery until at least April. However, as one source told the magazine, that might be wishful thinking:
“They say he will be back in time to help in the playoffs,” says one scout. “Try and find someone who believes that’s going to happen.”
IS ANTHONY PARKER  ON CELTICS RADAR?
A free agent at the end of this season and under contract for $2.86 million, Cavaliers  guard Anthony Parker joined Nets forward Troy Murphy  and Pistons guard Rip Hamilton as potential trade targets  for the Celtics. Here’s what CBS Sports columnist Ken Berger wrote in his most recent coumn :
Sources say the Bulls and Celtics are widely expected to make a move before the deadline, and each is seeking wing help. The Cavs’ Anthony Parker would be an ideal fit in both places. Wizards  guard Kirk Hinrich  would be a good fit, too, but his $8 million salary next season would make such a transaction troublesome.
RAJON RONDO TURNED DOWN SKILLS COMPETITION
According to a report  on RealGM.com, Rondo declined an invitiation from the NBA to participate in the Skills Challenge at the upcoming NBA All-Star Weekend. Here’s what he told the website:
“Maybe when I don’t make the game. I wouldn’t do both.”
Had he accepted the league’s offer, Rondo would’ve participated alongside Stephen Curry (Warriors), Tony Parker  (Spurs), Derrick Rose  (Bulls), Tyreke Evans  (Kings), John Wall  (Wizards), Russell Westbrook  (Thunder), Baron Davis  (Clippers) and Derek Fisher (Lakers).
REMEMBERING CHUCK COOPER
In the midst of Black History Month, the Duquesne University newspaper took a look back  at alumnus Chuck Cooper, who became the first black player taken in the history of the NBA draft when in April 1950 the Celtics selected him with the third pick in the second round.
From a nice piece that details Cooper’s legacy, here are some highlights from the writer’s conversations with the late Cooper’s son Chuck Cooper III and fellow trailblazer Earl Lloyd:
Chuck Cooper III: “[My father] always gave credit to Jackie [Robinson]. At that time, baseball was America’s pastime. He went through it first and he went through it on a bigger stage. …
“All we saw was a caring, loving father who came home every day. To endure what he did to become the first black player drafted in the NBA really speaks volumes to the kind of man he was.”
Lloyd: “People in St. Louis didn’t treat you decently. St. Louis is a southern town. We’re talking 1950. If it wasn’t us, it was going to be somebody. It happened to be Chuck, happened to be [Nat ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton], happened to be me. …
“If I had to hand pick a guy I had to follow, Chuck Cooper would be him. To know Chuck Cooper, you couldn’t know him and not love him. When he walked into a room, he filled it up. You knew somebody important was in that room.”