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NBA Power Rankings, 12/16 12.16.10 at 5:41 pm ET
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With all the injuries to the Celtics as the NBA storms into the second quarter of its 82-game season, what better time than now to sort through the injury lists of the league’s 30 teams — ranked from first to worst?

One quick observation before delving into this week’s Power Rankings: Perhaps the Eastern Conference, from top to bottom, isn’t THAT much worse than the West. Just as the top five teams in the East could give anybody out West a run for their money, the bottom three teams in the Western Conference (the Kings, Clips & T-Wolves) are just as bad — if not worse — than their counterparts back East.

So, without further ado …

1. Boston (20-4): While the injuries continue to mount (see: “brothers, O’Neal”not to mention Delonte West and Rajon Rondo), the Celtics continue to pile up victories, as their 11-game winning streak is the best in the NBA. That’s the single scariest thing about this team: They haven’t even played their best basketball.

2. San Antonio (21-3): Unlike the Celtics, the Spurs are healthier than ever, as Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Richard Jefferson and Tim Duncan are all feeling fine. As a result, they’re all playing better, which is why they have the best record in the league. While its nothing major, Parker is listed as day-to-day with a splint on his right middle finger. Wonder how he got that.

3. Dallas (20-5): The Mavericks aren’t really missing the immense production (2.0 personal fouls & 1.5 points per game) of the immortal Rodrigue Beaubois. The health of Tyson Chandler might be the  biggest surprise — and biggest positive — for the Mavs, as he’s truly anchored their defense this season.

4. LA Lakers (19-7): A walking knee injury the past few seasons, Andrew Bynum returned once again from a lengthy sabbatical, totaling seven points, four boards and two blocks in 17 minutes. His presence should help their recent .500 stretch. Now their injuries are limited to Theo Ratliff, who’s been listed since 1983.

5. Miami (19-8): The Heat haven’t skipped a beat since Udonis Haslem suffered a potential season-ending injury on Nov. 20. Now, the only two guys outside of Miami Thrice who were supposed to contribute (the other one: Mike Miller & his thumb) haven’t been a part of their current 10-game win streak. So, are they the team that was 9-8 through 17 games, or the 10-0 team from the last couple weeks?

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, NBA, power rankings
Irish Coffee: The Celtics & Knicks aftermath at 11:28 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

 

Amid all the glory that was Wednesday night’s 118-116 Celtics last-second win over the Knicks was Nate Robinson‘s faceplant into the floor of Madison Square Garden as he attempted to climb atop the game’s hero — Paul Pierce.

It was the funniest of all the videos Robinson has produced this season, and only because he lived to talk about it (thank God his high-top fade broke his fall).

As Robinson tweeted after the game, Pierce “damn near killed me today, but we won, so hey.” Maybe Robinson could somehow work the faceplant into the dunk contest, since he’s the heavy favorite now that Dwight Howard retired from it.

THE NEW YORK MEDIA THINKS THE KNICKS WON

I watched Wednesday night’s Celtics game with a diehard Knicks fan friend of mine at The Four’s in Boston. The Celtics fans who braved the cold — including the bartender — kept telling him the same thing: “I had no idea the Knicks were this good; I had no idea Amar’e Stoudemire was this good.”

“They are this good,” he responded. “They’ve won eight in a row and 13-of-14. And they’re just getting warmed up.”

There was no “I’m just glad to be competitive!” discussion from his perspective. In his eyes, they should be competitive. They’re the New York freakin’ Knicks.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, NBA, New York Knicks, Paul Pierce
Irish Coffee: Celtics going streaking! 12.15.10 at 1:20 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

It’s the year of the streak. The 2010-11 NBA season has already seen three teams pile up double-digit win streaks, and four others have won at least eight straight.

Four of those streaks have been snapped, and one more will end on Wednesday night, as the Celtics (winners of 10 straight) visit the Knicks (winners of eight straight). The Heat also put their nine-game win streak on the line Wednesday when they host the Cavaliers.

Just for fun, let’s rank those seven streaks in terms of level of difficulty, and then compare them to the 1971-72 Lakers’ all-time record of 33 consecutive victories:

1. MAVERICKS

  • Streak: 12 games (snapped by Bucks, 103-99, on Dec. 13)
  • Opponents’ win %: .505 (151-148)
  • Opponents above .500: 6
  • Average margin of victory: 8.3 points
  • Number of 10-point victories: 5
  • 2009-10 playoff teams beaten: 6
  • Observation: This was truly remarkable, considering it included wins over the Thunder, Spurs, Heat and Jazz (twice).

2. SPURS

  • Streak: 12 games (snapped by Mavericks, 103-94, on Nov. 26)
  • Opponents’ win %: .437 (128-165)
  • Opponents above .500: 4
  • Average margin of victory: 9.5 points
  • Number of 10-point victories: 5
  • 2009-10 playoff teams beaten: 6
  • Observation: The fact that their streak was snapped by the Mavs makes the Dallas run that much more impressive.

3. HEAT

  • Streak: 9 games (ongoing)
  • Opponents’ win %: .425 (93-126)
  • Opponents above .500: 3
  • Average margin of victory: 17.1 points
  • Number of 10-point victories: 9
  • 2009-10 playoff teams beaten: 4
  • Observation: Not only have the Heat been winning, they’ve been blowing people out — even without Udonis Haslem.

4. CELTICS

  • Streak: 10 games (ongoing)
  • Opponents’ win %: .425 (104-141)
  • Opponents above .500: 3
  • Average margin of victory: 14.6 points
  • Number of 10-point victories: 6
  • 2009-10 playoff teams beaten: 6
  • Observation: Not so impressive, considering they beat the Nuggets without Carmelo Anthony and Bulls without Carlos Boozer.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, NBA, New York Knicks
Irish Coffee: Betting on the Celtics 12.14.10 at 2:16 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Do the sportsbook oddsmakers know something that the people who cover the NBA don’t? I know, I know, you’d be shocked to find out that sportswriters aren’t always right. And it’s not like they have millions of dollars riding on their prognostications, as the bookies do.

In most publications’ NBA Power Rankings — including, likely, when WEEI’s come out on Thursday – the Celtics, Spurs and Mavericks are ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3, in some order. Yet, in most online sportsbooks, the Heat and Lakers are still heavy favorites to win the NBA title. Take a look:

THE SPORTSWRITERS

NBA.com …………………………………. ESPN.com ………………………………….. CBSSports.com
1. Celtics ………………………………… 1. Mavericks …………………………………….. 1. Mavericks
2. Spurs …………………………………….. 2. Celtics ………………………………………….. 2. Spurs
3. Mavericks ……………………………….. 3. Spurs …………………………………………… 3. Celtics
4. Lakers …………………………………….. 4. Bulls …………………………………………….. 4. Heat
5. Heat ……………………………………….. 5. Heat ……………………………………………. 5. Magic
6. Thunder ………………………………… 6. Lakers …………………………………………….. 6. Jazz
7. Jazz ………………………………………… 7. Jazz ……………………………………………. 7. Hawks
8. Magic ……………………………………… 8. Magic …………………………………………. 8. Nuggets
9. Knicks ……………………………………. 9. Thunder ………………………………………… 9. Lakers
10. Hawks ………………………………….. 10. Knicks ………………………………………. 10. Hornets

THE BOOKMAKERS

BetUS.com ……………………………… Sportsbook.com ………………………………. Bodog.com
1. Lakers (+210) …………………………… 1. Heat (+180) ………………………………. 1. Lakers (+210)
2. Heat (+220) ……………………………. 2. Lakers (+200) ………………………………… 2. Heat (+220)
3. Celtics (+500) …………………………. 3. Celtics (+220) ………………………………. 3. Celtics (+500)
4. Magic (+1,000) …………………………. 4. Spurs (+800) ……………………………… 4. Magic (+1,000)
5. Spurs (+1,100) ………………………… 5. Magic (+1,200) ……………………………. 5. Spurs (+1,100)
6. Mavericks (+1,200) ……………………. 6. Bulls (+1,500) ………………………… 6. Mavericks (+1,500)
7. Bulls (+2,000) ………………………. 7. Mavericks (+2,000) ………………………. 7. Thunder (+2,000)
7. Thunder (+2,000) ……………………. 7. Knicks (+2,000) ……………………………… 8. Bulls (+2,200)
9. Jazz (+2,500) ………………………… 9. Thunder (+3,000) …………………………….. 9. Jazz (+2,500)
10. Hornets/Nuggets (+4,000) …………. 9. Jazz (+3,000) ………………………….. 10. Hornets (+3,500)

There are two possible conclusions to draw from this: either 1) the bookmakers are right to anoint the Lakers and Heat as the NBA title favorites; or 2) there’s a lot of money to be made (you know, if online sports gambling were legal).

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Jimmer Fredette, NBA, Paul Pierce
Good news: Shaquille O’Neal and his ‘calf juices’ are improving at 11:48 am ET
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WALTHAM — You’ve heard of getting your juices going to get into a game. Well, Shaquille O’Neal put a whole new twist on that approach Tuesday when asked to describe how’s he feeling after missing the last two games.

O’Neal said before Tuesday’s practice that his sore right calf is “getting better” and is optimistic that he will be ready for Wednesday night’s game at Madison Square Garden against Amare Stoudemire and the New York Knicks. He worked out on the side and in the weight room but did not practice with the team.

“I’m doing better,” O’Neal said. “My calf juices are getting back up there. I’ll be alright.”

Doc Rivers said that he would see how O’Neal comes through Tuesday’s practice before making a determination on whether to play him Wednesday night against a revitalized Knicks team that has won eight straight and stands just four games behind the 19-4 Celtics in the Atlantic Division.

Semih Erden has filled in for O’Neal the last two games in the starting lineup.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, NBA, New York Knicks
Paul Pierce isn’t ready to buy in Boston-New York rivalry in NBA – yet at 11:29 am ET
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WALTHAM — Paul Pierce has a home in the Boston area and attends sporting events in the off-season. So he knows full well of the rivalries between teams like the Yankees and Red Sox and the Patriots and Jets.

But ask him about the Celtics and Knicks? Well, as the song goes, that’s quite the different story.

Both teams may be on extended winning streaks and both teams may have rich basketball traditions but Celtics captain Pierce said Tuesday that doesn’t mean the Celtics and Knicks have revived the old rivalry between the two cities.

“It’s a rivalry? You [media] let me in on all the new stuff,” Pierce said. “I didn’t know we had a rivalry going.”

The Celtics enter Wednesday night’s game at Madison Square Garden on a 10-game winning streak while the Knicks have won their last eight to stand just four games behind Boston in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference.

“We have bigger goals than winning streaks,” Pierce said. “I didn’t know we had a rivalry going. If that’s what you all want, if it’s going sell more tix, get more viewers, I guess so. You [media] all make up the rivalry, we don’t, to be honest. At the end of the day, we’re playing for championships, not certain opponents.”

Big man Glen Davis will be one of the Celtics trying to contain the reinvigorated Knicks front court, led by Amare Stoudemire.

“I’€™m not worried about that, New York and Boston,” Davis said of any rivalry with the 16-9 Knicks. “That’€™s just the way it is. I’€™m worried about winning the game and worried about June, what’€™s going to happen in June. That’€™s what I’€™m worried about. I’€™m not even going to get into that. New York’s a great team. They’€™ve been playing well and trying to be where we’re at. It’€™s going to be a big game for them.’€

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Celtics-Knicks rivalry, Doc Rivers, Glen Davis
Irish Coffee: Celtics passing the test 12.13.10 at 12:43 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Yes, the Celtics allow the fewest points in the NBA. That’s obviously one reason for their success this season. But they’re also the best passing team — and, as a result — the best shooting team in the league.

And that’s why this Celtics team is riding a 10-game winning streak and ranked No. 1 in most power rankings. During the win streak, the C’s have knocked down 51.7 percent of their field goals, shooting at least 50 percent eight times.

For the season, the Celtics are shooting better than any other team in the last 10 years, making 50.9 percent of their shots. The next-best team (Phoenix) is shooting 47.8 percent.

So, why are the Celtics shooting so well? They’re passing the ball better than everybody. In essence, they give up good shots to get better shots.

The C’s average 25.9 assists per game; only one other team (Utah) averages 24. What’s even more remarkable is that they’re doing that while shooting fewer shots than any other team in the league. The Celtics have averaged just 76.7 field goal attempts per game; no other team shoots fewer than 77.

The Celtics are shooting fewer shots but taking better shots than everybody else in the league. How do you get better shots? By making the extra pass.

The Celtics have recorded an assist on 66.6 percent of their field goals this year. That mark is better than any Celtics team of the last 20 years. In fact, the NBA’s best all-time passing team — the 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers — averaged 31.4 assists a game but assisted on just 65.2 percent of their field goals.

Obviously, Rajon Rondo is the main reason. He’s averaging 13.7 assists per game – a 40 percent improvement from last year – and threatening to break John Stockton‘s 1989-90 NBA single-season record (14.5 per game).

But just how big a role has Rondo played in the C’s passing success? The team is averaging 10 percent more assists per game this season than last — all while Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels are averaging fewer assists than they did last season. In fact, only Ray Allen and Glen Davis are averaging more assists than they did in 2009-10.

During their current 10-game winning streak, the Celtics have committed more turnovers than their opponents four times and have been out-rebounded three times, but they owned the assist advantage in all 10 games.

In fact, the Celtics have not been out-assisted once this season. Through 23 games, they’ve recorded 168  (39.2 percent) more assists despite shooting 11 (1 percent) fewer shots than their opponents.

So, what do all these numbers mean? Essentially, game in and game out, the Celtics’ superb passing ability can make up for deficiencies in other areas.

KOBE BRYANT VS. JOHN HAVLICEK

As Kobe Bryant approaced John Havlicek‘s career scoring mark (he surpassed it Friday), NBA.com caught up with Hondo to talk Lakers and Celtics.

Here are a few of the highlights from the interview:

NBA.com: What are your thoughts on Kobe being on the cusp of passing you for the 11th spot on the all-time scoring list?

Havlicek: Actually, I thought he already surpassed me and that is was a foregone conclusion that he would eclipse me because he’s been playing a number of years.

He came right out of high school and with the career that he’s had and the teams that he’s played with — he’s been surrounded by good players and championship-caliber coaches  — it’s not surprising.

Who knows how far he’s going to go? How long he’s going to play? He could end up second or third. I don’t know if he can reach Kareem. He’s been a fantastic player.

Kobe came in with a little bit of an attitude early on and a lot of people thought that it was a little bit too much for a high school player to have that type of attitude. But he certainly made people realize that he wanted to be one of the best and comparing him to Michael is something that people have done, so it puts him in a class above most people.

NBA.com: When he retires, where will Kobe rank among the all-time great Lakers?

Havlicek: Well, Jerry West said Kobe is the all-time Laker as he sees it, but I never played against Kobe, so Jerry West is my all-time Laker.

If Jerry West says Kobe is the all-time great Laker, I’ll go along with him, but Jerry’s my favorite all-time Laker.

NBA.com: Do you wish you played with the 3-point line?

Havlicek: I’m just as happy to get an old fashioned three I guess. It would have added a few more points to my career and it would have probably changed the way I played but I can’t really say how much it would have changed my game because I never played under that ruling.

NBA.com: One record that appears to be safe is your Celtics all-time scoring mark. At 33 years old, Pierce would need to score 6,000 points just to tie you.

Havlicek: Well, I don’t know how long Paul is going to play but I think he’s probably the best 1-on-1 Celtic player of all time because the game that he has is much different than the game other people play. His ability to score and create shots is something that he’s done better than any other Celtic. If he plays long enough, he’ll break the record. I don’t know if that’s something he has on his mind or not.

NBA.com: Talk about Rajon Rondo’s emergence into an elite point guard.

Havlicek: He’s unlike any point that I’ve ever seen. He rebounds. He doesn’t shoot the ball that well. He’s not a great free-throw shooter. But his ability to create situations on the floor is uncanny. He’s not like a Chris Paul who breaks down defenses and that type of thing. He’s totally a different kind of point guard.

 I don’t know how you can compare him to anyone. He can play defense. He’s one of the great steals leaders of the league. His quickness is probably the thing that separates him from most players. He doesn’t appear to be that quick but he sort of leaves people in the dust.

He’s a surprising type of point guard that’s unlike any I’ve ever seen. He gets the job done.

DOC RIVERS VS. PHIL JACKSON

Speaking of Celtics vs. Lakers, Shaquille O’Neal knows the rivalry fairly well at this point. So, the Boston Herald asked him to compare C’s head coach Doc Rivers and Lakers head coach Phil Jackson. Here’s what he said:

“I’m going to call Doc an ebonic Phil Jackson. And what I mean by that is Phil Jackson has his Buddha ways, but Doc got his homeboy ways because he was once one of us and he really relates to us very well. I think the guys respect him for that. You know, he treats us like men. He only expects one thing from us: Do what he says and play hard. If you could substitute a better word than ‘ebonic Phil Jackson,’ I’d like you guys to put your degrees to work. But it’s sort of like that, on that level.”

As a player, Rivers averaged 10.9 points and 5.7 assists, making one All-Star Game and never winning a title in 13 seasons. Jackson averaged 6.7 points and 4.3 rebounds, never making an All-Star team and winning the 1973 NBA title.

As a coach, Rivers has won 55.0 percent of his games, one Coach of the Year honor and the 2008 NBA championship in 12 seasons. Jackson has won 70.5 percent of his games, one Coach of the Year award and 11 NBA titles in 20 years.

WHO IS THE BEST RIVERS?

Gatorsports.com caught up with University of Florida volleyball standout Callie Rivers — Doc’s daughter — who broke down the family basketball dynamics:

Q: If there was a Rivers family 1-on-1 basketball tournament, who would win?

A: (Younger brother and the nation’s top high school recruit) Austin. Maybe (Indiana University senior) Jeremiah. Maybe my dad, actually.

Q: You think your brothers can beat your dad?

A: I don’t know. My dad doesn’t take to losing very well. He’s got some weight on all of my brothers, so he’d probably find some way to pull it out. He’s a better shooter now than what he was when he was playing, which is weird. Maybe there’s no pressure now.

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

Read More: Boston Celtics, John Havlicek, Kobe Bryant, NBA
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