|Can the Knicks challenge the Celtics?||12.13.10 at 9:46 pm ET|
Since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived in 2007, the Celtics have not had a legitimate challenger in the Atlantic Division. They won the division by 25 games in 2008, 21 in 2009 and while the Raptors were within 10 games last season, that said much more about the Celtics’ problems than any great surge by Toronto.
The Celtics run has neatly coincided with failed attempts at franchise building in Philadelphia and Toronto and complete overhauls in New Jersey and New York. While their opponents floundered, the Celtics took advantage, winning 47 of their 54 games against their divisional brethren.
That provided a comfortable landing space for the Celtics, who never had to worry about anything other than the Eastern Conference standings. Until now.
Finally, a challenger is emerging. The Celtics will play the Knicks Wednesday night in the most anticipated matchup in years at fabled Madison Square Garden. This is easily the biggest division game the Celtics have played since 2007, which is admittedly not saying much, but in a season that stretches as long as the NBA does you take your red-letter dates where you can find them.
Unlike other big games at the Garden in recent years this one has nothing to do with the future and everything to do with the present. While the Celtics have won 10 straight games, just like they did last year at this point in the season, all eyes are on New York.
The Knicks are the talk of the basketball world again, having won eight straight games to improve to 13-1 in their last 14 games. This comes after a dreadful 3-8 start that had many questioning, among other things, Mike D’Antoni’s system, Ray Felton’s ability to run said system and whether Isiah Thomas would make a triumphantly catastrophic return to New York at some point.
Things have changed. Felton is being hailed as the best Knicks point guard since Mark Jackson and MVP chants are raining down on Amar’e Stoudemire, who set a franchise record by scoring over 30 points in each of the last eight games. For his part, Thomas has faded blissfully into the background.
Of course, this being New York, a good deal of the attention has been consumed by someone not on the current roster, namely Carmelo Anthony, who more or less made it clear that he only wants to be traded to New York. (Whether or not he is in control of the process is another matter.)
After waiting patiently to build a proper roster, the Knicks are once again faced with a choice: Go for broke or give this team a chance. All of that makes for hot and heavy rumors, but until the day Anthony actually arrives – if he ever does – the Knicks are once again relevant for basketball reasons.
Here are five things to know about the Knicks: Read the rest of this entry »
|Preview: Celtics-Knicks||10.28.10 at 11:27 pm ET|
For the last two seasons, the New York Knicks tried to pretend that their team didn’t exist. The goal, which was carefully articulated and plotted by Donnie Walsh, was to remove contracts, not to win games. The fans bought into this strategy and in truth, it was an easy sell. They had their fill of shortsighted quick fixes with long-term implications and two years of penance wasn’t so bad if the return turned out to be LeBron James.
There were two problems with this plan. One, Walsh and his coach Mike D’Antoni did very little to make the last two years anything more than a chore. The only development players on the roster were Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Tony Douglas and Bill Walker, which left a roster full of players who knew they were going elsewhere eventually and they reacted accordingly. The other was that there was no guarantee LeBron would want to go to New York, and when he didn’t, Walsh was forced to scramble.
On the whole, the scramble doesn’t look so bad as the Knicks were able to sign Amar’e Stoudemire and Ray Felton and acquire Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike and Ronny Turiaf for David Lee. Throw in a potential second-round steal in Landry Fields and a 7-foot Russian named Timofey Mozgov and suddenly the Knicks look like an actual team with direction and a directive to be competitive.
If the Celtics are going to have any competition in the Atlantic Division it’s going to come from the Knicks. Stoudemire is an A-list scorer and Gallinari doesn’t look to be too far behind. Felton is a solid point guard, which alone is a huge upgrade from what they were running out in previous seasons, and now there is depth.
To be sure there are still holes on New York’s roster, especially when it comes to size and rebounding and a team that plays D’Antoni’s system could always use more shooters, but the Knicks finally resemble a coherent basketball team whose goal is winning games, not shedding contracts.
NEW YORK (1-0)
Probable Starters: Felton, Fields, Gallinari, Stoudemire, Mozgov
Injuries: Randolph (ankle), Azubuike (knee surgery), Eddy Curry (hamstring)
Probable Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal
Injuries: Avery Bradley (ankle), Kendrick Perkins (knee surgery)
KEY MATCHUP: Stoudemire vs. Garnett
Garnett shutdown Chris Bosh in the first game of the season to such an enormous degree that people are already questioning whether Stoudemire would have been a better frontcourt running mate for James and Dwyane Wade. In his second game, Garnett recorded 15 rebounds, which is more than he had in any game last season.
He will have his hands full with Stoudemire who is the focal point on the Knicks offense. Stoudemire had 19 points and 10 rebounds in the Knicks opening night win over Toronto, but he also turned it over nine times. This will be a solid early-season test for Garnett because Stoudemire is one of the best pick-and-roll big men in the league and he will Garnett work all game.
KEY STAT: Turnovers
The Celtics have already turned it over 39 times. That’s how a team that is shooting 47 percent for the floor and 39 percent from 3-point range has an efficiency rating in the 20′s and has scored less than 90 points in both of its games. The Celtics simply must take better care of the ball. (Related: Zach Lowe had an interesting post about the Celtics turnover problems on The Point Forward).
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Celtics have not yet played a complete, 48-minute game and their struggles in the fourth quarter against Cleveland brought back bad memories of regular season collapses from a year ago. This will be their third game in four nights and it will be interesting to see how Doc Rivers uses his bench in what should be fast-paced game.
There’s also the matter of establishing their homecourt advantage, something that the players have noted over the past few days. The C’s are off until Tuesday and this would be a good spot to finish their first week on a winning note at home against a team in their division.
|Irish Coffee: Big ‘Swoll’ Baby; NBA goes Euro||10.08.10 at 9:48 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …
Um, Ok, Big Baby, whatever you say. Is it just me, or is anybody else confused as to what Glen Davis is saying here to NBA TV …
“Everybody on the East Coast watch out. We’re coming. Working hard on the elliptical. Get a nice burn before practice. Get rid of some of this body fat. They ain’t gonna call me Big Baby no more. They gonna call me Big ‘Swoll’ Baby.”
I’m not gonna lie, I actually had to consult UrbanDictionary.com on this one. They define “swoll” as “to be muscular, jacked, strong, etc.” (I also love their use of it in a sentence: “Man, I’m mo swoll than AC Slater“).
So, to get this straight, Davis no longer wanted to be called Big Baby, so last season he suggested Uno Uno, and now he wants to be called Big Swoll Baby. I think I’ve got it now.
The buffer Davis led all Celtics scorers with 20 points in last night’s 96-92 preseason victory against the Nets. Once again, the C’s second unit looked sharp, as Nate Robinson added 17 points and Delonte West scored 12 before leaving in the third quarter with discomfort in his lower back.
If you’ll recall, West missed Monday’s practice with lower back spasms. Not to worry, he stressed.
“I came in at halftime and felt my lower back pinching,” West told ESPN.com. “It’s real minor, but the muscle back there was tightening up and I think the tension was pinching the nerve, maybe. It was real uncomfortable. You saw me out there stretching before I went in for the third quarter, I just couldn’t move the way I wanted to. It’s just precautionary.”
LAKERS NO LONGER WORLD CHAMPIONS
NBA Commissioner David Stern made a bold prediction yesterday: “We’re going to have, really, our most successful season. … I think you’re going to be getting to see some of the greatest basketball ever played.” He made the statement prior to a game between Euroleague champ FC Barcelona and the NBA champion Lakers.
The Spanish team actually defeated the Lakers, 92-88, adding fire to the debate: Should the NBA champs face off against the Euroleague champs in a battle for world domination?
Stern: “I would guess that we will be in continued discussions with our friends at the Euroleague about an expansion of this possibility.”
Euroleague CEO Jordi Bertomeu: “To us, it is something we would like to happen. We would like it because that would mean that we would have met the circumstances, both sporting and economic, to make a game like that possible. We can only hope and expect, and I do, that with the work of our clubs and teams, those conditions will be met. In the event that those conditions are met, and continuing the same collaborations we have had so far between the Euroleague and the NBA, I am sure such a game would be a possibility.”
ESPN.com asked Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant if Barcelona could compete in the NBA over the course of an 82-game season, and their answers differed:
Jackson: “They’re not up to the competition that we face night in and night out. But that’s not taking anything away from them. The physicality of our game, the size of our players, those are things that night in and night out are very difficult to contest.”
Bryant: “I think they execute extremely well, they know each other extremely well, they move the ball extremely well and that’s what you’re looking for. In the NBA, teams that do that are few and far in between, teams that play together as a unit. You see a lot of isolation game; you see a lot of guys going one-on-one. They do a great job moving the ball, they do a great job helping each other defensively, so I disagree, but, what do I know?”
Bryant hit just 2-of-15 shots in the loss to Barcelona. As we all know, failing to perform in championship games is nothing new to Kobe. Remember his 6-for-24 performance in the final game of the 2010 NBA Finals? Of course. How could you forget?
|Stoudemire out against Celtics||02.20.09 at 1:14 pm ET|
When the Boston Celtics face the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, Kevin Garnett will not be the only big man out of the game. Suns power forward Amar’e Stoudemire underwent successful eye surgery today and could miss eight weeks, according to multiple reports. Stoudemire suffered a partially detached retina in Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers. ESPN has reported Garnett will return to Boston today for an MRI after straining his right knee during Thursday’s loss to the Utah Jazz.
|Nike All-Star Kicks||02.10.09 at 8:33 pm ET|
Nike is rolling out a special line of sneakers for the 2009 NBA All-Star Game, including a pair for Paul Pierce. The shoes will be red and blue to match the Eastern and Western Conference uniforms. There will also be artwork to represent the host city of Phoenix, Arizona. Check out the shoes and a list the players who will be wearing them, from NiceKicks.com.
Eastern Conference: Chris Bosh (Nike Huarache 09), Danny Granger (Nike Zoom Phenom, not pictured), LeBron James (Nike Zoom LeBron VI), Rashard Lewis (Nike Hyperdunk), Paul Pierce (Nike MAX P2 V, not pictured)
Western Conference: Kobe Bryant (Nike Zoom Kobe IV), Pau Gasol (Nike Hyperdunk), Dirk Nowitzki (Nike MAX Spot Up), Brandon Roy (Nike Zoom Phenom), Tony Parker (Nike Huarache 09), Amare Stoudemire (Nike Foamposite Lite), David West (Nike Foamposite Lite)
|Rondo makes Suns pay||01.19.09 at 11:52 pm ET|
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.
|Suns expecting big game from Shaq||at 7:38 pm ET|
The Phoenix Suns have the size advantage almost every game with Shaquille O’Neal. Take the Boston Celtics biggest player off the court and the Suns are feeling good about the mismatch.
“Any time we get an opportunity to have a size difference with Shaq in the paint, we always try to go to him,” Amare Stoudemire said prior to Monday’s game. “We try to feed it to him, see if he can take advantage of that. And if not, we go to our other options. So tonight will be a pretty good night for Big Fella if he can dominate out there and stay out of foul trouble.”
The Celtics have to alter their plan of attack without Kendrick Perkins (shoulder). Doc Rivers is looking for Kevin Garnett to use his quickness to outplay Shaq, while the biggest mission for back ups Leon Powe, Glen Davis, and Brian Scalabrine is keeping a body between O’Neal and the basket. The Suns, though, aren’t changing their gameplan.
“I think it changes the fact that having Scalabrine starting as opposed to Kendrick Perkins, that’s a bit of a difference. But as opponents we can’t look at it that way,” said Stoudemire. “We’ve got to attack it as if he were playing, so we should go inside to the big fella. Shaq should have a pretty good game tonight.”
The Suns are one of the few teams who figured out the key to beating the Celtics last season. Stoudemire scored 28 points off of 10-for-23 shooting and Steve Nash added 18 in the Suns’ 85-77 victory. Combine that with former Charlotte Bobcat Jason Richardson’s success against the Cs and the Suns think they know how to get it done tonight.
“I’m pretty sure he knows how to defend the guards out there,” Stoudemir said of Richardson. “As a team, we’ve just got to pull together. We beat them last year, Bobcats beat them. What we’ve got to do is just keep playing how we’ve been playing.”
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