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NBA Power Rankings, 3/31 03.31.11 at 7:41 pm ET
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1. LA Lakers (53-20): Kobe Bryant recently said if he weren’t a basketball player, he’d be a bum. The rest of the league wishes he were the latter right about now. The Lakers are 15-1 since the All-Star break.

2. Chicago (54-20): The Bulls are one of two teams that haven’t lost three straight games all season. The other? The Celtics. The difference is that the Bulls have been better bottom feeders, recording a 31-6 record against lottery-bound teams.

3. San Antonio (57-17): With Tim Duncan in the lineup, the Spurs are 56-13 (.812 winning percentage). Without him, they’re 1-4 (.200). The guy’s still got it, and he should be in the lineup on Thursday night against the Celtics.

4. Dallas (53-21): While the surging Bulls and Lakers get all the attention, the Mavericks have quietly reeled off another five-game winning streak. Meanwhile, owner Mark Cuban not-so-quietly explained how to beat the Lakers: “Anything that puts the ball in Ron Artest‘s hands is always a good thing.” Except when its Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

5. Boston (51-22): I maintain that the Celtics are better than the Mavericks, Spurs or Bulls — and should still be the favorites to win the East — but I can’t slot them any higher simply because of that atrocious loss to the Bobcats. Until they start trying again, this is where they’ll sit. While they’re at it, they should ponder why their record against playoff teams (25-11) is nearly identical to their record against non-playoff teams (Hint: effort).

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA
Irish Coffee: Jermaine O’Neal’s Celtics impact at 12:02 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

On Feb. 1, when the Celtics began a two-month-plus stretch without either of the O’Neal “brothers,” if you had to put your life savings on which one would return first, how many people would’ve put money on Jermaine O’Neal?

Not many, me included. I know I would’ve put my $47 on Shaquille O’Neal. And, as Dale Arnold might say, if you gave Doc Rivers Sodium Pentothal, he’d probably admit that he would’ve rather had Shaq back first. But that’s not the case.

Jermaine O’Neal is returning to the Celtics lineup for the first time since Jan. 10, when his knee swelled to the point of no return. In 17 games this season, he had averaged 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 18.1 minutes.

So, what, exactly, can we expect from Jermaine O’Neal? If we can agree that all the Celtics need to replace Kendrick Perkins‘ minutes are guys who can defend bigs, rebound the basketball and knock down open shots created by the Big Four, then J.O. can give you plenty. Not as much as Shaq, but it’s something, right?

Let’s start with defense. Here are the points per possession (PPP) and field-goal percentages allowed by Perkins, Shaq, J.O. and Nenad Krstic on man-to-man defense in their limited time as Celtics this season:

  • Kendrick Perkins (7 games): 0.81 PPP on 41.0 percent shooting
  • Shaquille O’Neal (36 games): 0.77 PPP on 37.6 percent shooting
  • Jermaine O’Neal (17 games): 0.76 PPP on 35.2 percent shooting
  • Nenad Krstic (17 games): 0.90 PPP on 44.2 percent shooting

In a limited sample size, Jermaine O’Neal actually gave the Celtics the best defense of all four guys. Even if he can give them 15 minutes a night, that might limit Krstic’s ineffectiveness on the defensive end. When Shaquille O’Neal returns, the C’s should finally have the defensive depth at center that can fill the void left by Perkins.

Now, let’s look at rebounding. Here are the rebounding rates — or the percentage of missed shots corraled by a player in his time on the floor — for those same bigs:

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Jermaine O'Neal, Kendrick Perkins
Irish Coffee: Celtics should stop making excuses 03.30.11 at 2:24 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

The Celtics are 5-7 in their last 12 games. You know that. I know that. And they know that. There’s nothing you and I can do about it, but there’s plenty they can — starting with taking some responsibility for coughing wins up to teams like the Nets and undermanned Bobcats.

Just listen to the comments from Celtics veterans in a recent HoopsWorld story

Ray Allen: “I’m not comfortable, and I think even if we didn’t make trades we still had injuries where we were still playing catch up. I’m not comfortable.”

Was he more comfortable taking the same amount of shots per game in January (11.9), when the C’s finished 12-4 without Kendrick Perkins while Allen averaged more points, rebounds and assists than he did this month?

Paul Pierce: “It’s hard when you got pieces missing every other week, it seems like. In another week, we’re going to be a whole new team.”

Was it hard when the Celtics went 33-10 without Perkins for the first 43 games of the season, or when they finished 19-6 in their first 25 games without Shaquille O’Neal — or did it get exponentially harder over the last 12 games against powerhouses like the Nets and Bobcats?

And then listen to the comments from the newest Celtics in that same HoopsWorld story …

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Erik Ainge, Ray Allen
Irish Coffee: Chris Herren’s fall and rise 03.29.11 at 1:22 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

As a junior at Boston University, I remember attending a Celtics game during the 2000-01 season and hearing a fan scream, “Hey, Chris Heroin!” He was, of course, referring to Chris Herren, the kid I’d read about years before in Bill Reynolds’ book, “Fall River Dreams.”

It was a sad commentary on how far the former Durfee High standout had fallen since being named a McDonald’s All-American in 1994. Now, 10 years later, at the age of 35, Herren is the subject of another Reynolds project, “Basketball Junkie: A Memoir.”

After almost three years of sobriety from the substances that destroyed his career, Herren has been on the anti-drug speaking circuit at high schools around New England, detailing the poor decisions that led to his expulsion from Boston College, exile from the NBA and near-death experience after tours of basketball duty everywhere from China to Iran.

Here are two of those decisions Herren has been sharing with high school athletes:

As a 14- or 15-year-old Durfee High freshman, Herren attended a party, where he and four friends took down a few drinks on a Friday night. When his curfew came calling, his head said to call his mother for a ride home, but his self esteem let his best friend drive him.

“I didn’t have the courage, I didn’t have the self-esteem to say, ‘You know what, guys? This drinking and driving isn’t cool, and I’m not going to be a part of it,'” said Herren. “I jumped in the back seat, got dropped off, and six or seven minutes later my best friend was dead.”

A few years after he failed to prevent his drunken best friend from getting behind a wheel and colliding with a telephone pole, Herren had become a Boston College-bound high school senior and one of 22 players selected to the McDonald’s All-American Game (along with three other former Celtics: Antoine Walker, Raef LaFrentz and Danny Fortson).

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Read More: Austin Rivers, Boston Celtics, Chris Herren, Kevin Garnett
Irish Coffee: What Jared Sullinger’s decision means to the Celtics’ future 03.28.11 at 11:44 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Over the weekend, when Ohio State freshman forward Jared Sullinger vowed to return to Columbus for his sophomore season, the thought struck me: Because of the uncertainty surrounding the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, could many college underclassmen be targeting 2012 rather than this year’s NBA draft?

It sure looks that way, and that benefits the Celtics — considering they own their 2012 pick and the selection that came with Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic for Kendrick Perkins.

That pick from the Thunder is a little complicated. It’s top-10 protected and falls in the less favorable spot between the Clippers and Timberwolves. Basically, if either the Clips or Wolves capture any pick from 11-30, the lower one belongs to the Celtics. If both teams get top-10 picks, the pick gets pushed to the next season — until 2016, when it’s unprotected.

Considering the Clippers own the eighth-worst record this season and should improve based on a young roster that includes Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon, there’s a legitimate chance the Celtics could own two picks in a draft that will be much better than anticipated.

Of the 40 college underclassmen projected as potential first-round picks, only three have declared to enter the 2011 NBA draft — and none of them is a lottery projection. Of course, the remaining 37 players have until April 24 to declare.

Still, two w0uld-be lottery guys (Sullinger and Texas freshman forward Tristan Thompson) are going back to school. According to ESPN.com’s Chad Ford, 23 of those 37 — and six potential lottery picks, including North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, Arizona’s Derrick Williams and Kentucky’s Brandon Knight — are “50-50″ with less than a month to decide. The remaining 12 still reportedly have “one foot in the door.”

So, if half of those 50-50 guys — along with Sullinger and Thompson — wait until 2012, that could push as many as 15 more potential first-round picks to a draft that might also include Celtics coach Doc Rivers‘ son Austin Rivers. With possibly two picks in that draft, the C’s should be able to add some serious young talent for cheap dollars in 2012.

With a lockout looming, at least Celtics fans have something to look forward to.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Jared Sullinger, Jermaine O'Neal, Kevin Garnett
Doc Rivers: This is what happens when our ‘butts got tight’ 03.26.11 at 12:40 pm ET
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So – like any parent would with their misbehaving, unmotivated teenaged child – Doc Rivers has laid down the law.

He warned his kids, err his players, with five minutes left in Friday night’s sleepwalker against the Bobcats that if they won the game, fine, but you’re doing it on your own. Alas, the Celtics never recovered from blowing a 13-point lead, allowing the 28-42 Bobcats to go on a 16-0 run en route to a 83-81 win over the Celtics.

The natural first question afterward was whether Rivers was shocked. Rivers gave a qualified answered.

‘€œNo, the way we’€™re playing shocks me,” Rivers said. “Our attitude shocks me. We’€™re just not ready to win any games right now the way we play, the way our approach is to basketball games. I told them that with about five minutes left. I said if we win great, you find your own way. Right now, I just think we’€™ve become very, very selfish. Not just as far as trying to get our own, but everything is about how we’€™re playing individually. Instead of how the team is playing. You can see it, a guy struggles, he pouts, he mopes. Everything is me, me, me on our team right now. Feeling sorry for themselves, instead of giving themselves to the team and playing.”

And Rivers reiterated the ‘lack of urgency’ message delivered by Paul Pierce following Wednesday’s loss to Memphis.

“You can just see it manifest throughout the team,” Rivers said. “Until we can get through that we will continue to have results like we had tonight. Clearly should have won the game. I thought the starting unit in particular, came in casual in the fourth quarter, assuming they were going to win the game. No urgency. Then all of the sudden when the game got won, their butts got tight.

When you got that 11-point lead, the shots aren’€™t easy anymore. I always say it, you screw around with the game and the game will screw around with you. Either I’€™m doing a terrible job getting to them or right now they just aren’€™t there. I don’€™t know why, it’€™s my job to figure it out though.’€

There was the rebound by 5-foot-11 D.J. Augustin in the paint while Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis watched. The rebound was put back for a go-ahead layup with 3:56 left. And the crowd began to leave.

‘€œWe deserve it,” Rivers said. “Everything they did we deserve. I’€™m not going to comment on individual plays. I just think we deserve everything that happened. It had nothing to do with soft. I could care less about their slumps. It’€™s not hard, you keep playing. You play hard. You’€™re not going to play well every night, but it can’€™t be about you. It’€™s got to be let me do something else to help the team.’€

As for comparisons to last year when they suffered home-court losses to the Nets and Wizards late in the season, Rivers said they don’t hold water since it was he who was holding out his players.

‘€œNothing like this. Last year I shut them down,” Rivers said. “They were injured. They’€™re not injured. They’€™re not playing well.”

Are they bored?

“Yeah, Yeah, I think so,” Rivers said, before pausing and adding, “Last year we lost Game 7 [NBA finals] on the road.’€

Read More: Boston Celtics, Charlotte Bobcats, Doc Rivers, NBA
Paul Pierce is getting pretty sick of giving speeches at 12:17 am ET
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Celtics captain Paul Pierce is not about to stand up on a table in the locker room and yell at his teammates to stop being lazy and bored. He said after Friday’s collapse and shocking home-court loss to the lowly Bobcats that every player needs to recommit themselves to the team or the losing will continue.

‘€œIt has to come from all of us,” Pierce said. “One player can come out here and say it and ‘€œhoo-rah’€ around the locker room, but it has to come from everybody. We’€™re all veterans, we’€™ve all been here before, and we all know what it takes. It’€™s got to come from each individual to take a look in the mirror, and look inside and decide if that’€™s what they want to do. We can talk about it everyday, but until we look at ourselves in the mirror, that’€™s what it’€™s going to be.”

Last year, Kendrick Perkins, during a late-season slump, said the Celtics were bored and were just trying to get to the playoffs. Are Celtics playing bored during their latest uninspired stretch?

‘€œI can’€™t speak for everybody. I’€™m not bored, if you’€™re asking me,” Pierce said.

Rivers called the team out for being selfish after the ugly loss. Pierce said that comes from a lack of ball movement in the offense.

“From time to time, that’€™s the reason why we don’€™t shoot a high percentage, or score 100 points, because the ball is sticking when we usually make extra passes that’€™s when the offense is flowing, and we’€™re able to get out there on a break and get easy opportunities,” Pierce said. “You haven’€™t been seeing that, and that’€™s why we’€™re shooting a low percentage and that’€™s why we’€™re not scoring.’€

Did Celtics defense get uptight as the Bobcats went on a run in the fourth?

‘€œI wouldn’€™t say that,” Pierce said. “It’€™s just our defense really broke down in the 4th quarter. We played good defense for three quarters, solid for the most part. Then we give up 30 points in the 4th quarter. Regardless of how our offense if going, which we’€™ve been struggling as of late; we still should be able to pull together a defensive run and hold this team off, especially when we’€™re up by 10 point in the 4th.’€

Pierce’s comments came just 48 hours after he called the team out for not having ‘a sense of urgency’ with the regular season winding to a close. Friday’s loss dropped the Celtics two games behind the first-place Bulls in the Eastern Conference. And with Miami coming from behind to beat Philadelphia, the Heat stand just a half-game behind the Celtics for second place.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Charlotte Bobcats, NBA, Paul Pierce
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