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Danny Ainge sheds some light on why Rajon Rondo didn’t play for Team USA 12.23.10 at 5:29 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo

One of the enduring mysteries of the past summer is why Rajon Rondo was the last player left off the United States national team that participated in the World Championships. Rondo left the team shortly before the competition began.

Rondo has rarely spoken about it, although he did dispute the notion that he was cut during the Celtics media day. “No I [wasn't],” Rondo said. “It was a good experience. I don’t regret it all. I made a lot of good friends. [Mike Krzyzewski] is a great coach. I had a great experience.”

The official word was that Rondo withdrew from the team because of an personal issue (he had a death in the family) and because he was tired from the long playoff run. Speaking to The Big Show on WEEI, Celtics president Danny Ainge offered a little more insight.

“I think Rajon really didn’t want to do it,” Ainge said. “He was pretty tired after the end of the NBA finals and he needed some rest. He’s not a real attention seeker and I don’t think he wanted to play for the US team. They came back to him again and he said he really didn’t want to do it, and they came back again and he finally relented. They got it down to 13 players, I think he sort of volunteered to be the guy to not do it. I just don’t think it’s a dream, a passion of his to play on the US team. I don’t think there was any more to it than that.”

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Danny Ainge on Big Show: ‘I like this team much better’ 12.23.10 at 5:11 pm ET
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Danny Ainge (AP)

Celtics president Danny Ainge joined The Big Show for his weekly Thursday appearance and noted that he doesn’t think this season’s Celtics team will have the same kind of letdown as last season’s squad.

“I think this just a better team,” Ainge said. “I like this team much better. I like the depth better. I feel more more confident in this team and what we’re capable of doing. Last year we came very close. I feel like us at all positions. We’re playing now without Delonte [West] and Rajon [Rondo], which makes it very difficult, and we’re still finding ways to win.”

The key for Ainge is that injuries haven’t affected Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett as they did last season.

“I think last year’s regular season, we didn’t play with a lot of resolve, but we also had more injuries to more key players,” Ainge said. “Paul and KG weren’t near the same and both of those guys are having great years.”

To hear the whole interview, go to The Big Show audio on demand page.

Here are more highlights from the interview:  Read the rest of this entry »

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Rajon Rondo ‘moving a lot better’ 12.22.10 at 7:16 pm ET
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The Celtics don’t expect Rajon Rondo to be active when they play Orlando on Christmas, and there is still no definitive timetable for his return from an ankle injury that had him in a boot and on crutches for a few days, but they are encouraged by his recovery.

Rondo was at the team’s practice on Tuesday, without the boot, and was dribbling a basketball on the side of the court. “I know he’s walking and running pretty well and moving a lot better,” Doc Rivers said. “So I know he’s getting pretty close.”

Rondo injured his ankle in the fourth quarter against the Knicks last Wednesday. He had to be helped back to the locker room, but he returned later in the quarter and finished the game. He has also battled foot problems related to plantar fasciitis and a hamstring injury that caused him to miss four games.

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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.”

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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 »

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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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Kendrick Perkins

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.”

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