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Good news: Shaquille O’Neal and his ‘calf juices’ are improving 12.14.10 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
Irish Coffee: Semih Erden’s Basketball Diaries 12.10.10 at 12:16 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

With the O’Neal brothers both sitting out with leg injuries, the Celtics turned to Semih Erden for the first start of his NBA career. Here’s how Paul Pierce summed up the Turkish national team center’s starting debut (to The Boston Globe):

“He understands a lot of things, but then some things he doesn’€™t get. So Kevin [Garnett] has got to constantly communicate with him, and he’ll get it. What he’s giving us right now is great because of the bodies we have out there.”

It’s not exactly what Doc Rivers & Co. were looking for, but let’s be honest: They had to think Jermaine and Shaquille O’Neal would be injured at the same time at some point this season, right? Anyhow, here’s a recap of Erden’s debut …

FIRST QUARTER

11:41: Erden blocks Spencer Hawes, runs the floor and dunks a Ray Allen dish. The Turk is on pace for 12,642 points and 6,321 blocks. Pretty good start.

9:59: As Jrue Holiday is shooting a pair of foul shots, Doc Rivers calls Erden over to the sideline to talk strategy. No interpreter necessary. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Rivers got his doctorate in Turkish studies.

6:48: Erden picks up his second foul. Tommy Heinsohn complains. Shocking on both accounts. The 7-foot Erden returns to a familiar spot: the Celtics bench.

4:12: Sitting on the bench together, Erden and Shaquille O’Neal discuss fine Turkish cuisine. Naturally, Shaq starts craving sugar beets and tarhana soup.

SECOND QUARTER

10:14: Still on the bench, Erden hums the lyrics to “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” by They Might Be Giants: “Istanbul was Constantinople, now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople — been a long time gone, Constantinople. Why did Constantinople get the works? That’s nobody’s business but the Turks.”

9:30: Picking up his third foul in 21 seconds, Glen Davis joins Erden on the bench. While watching a KG-Rondo-Nate-Marquis-Wafer lineup, Erden teaches Big Baby how to say, “Why can’t we stop fouling people?” Everyone enjoys Baby saying, “Neden biz kerlenme daha duramayiz?”

11:18: After sitting on the bench for almost 19 minutes, Erden re-enters the game, replacing Garnett. The C’s 2010 second-round selection proceeds to run up and down the floor a couple times.

11:47: Wafer enters for Erden, probably just to give the big fella a breather. Those 29 seconds had to be taxing.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, NBA, Semih Erden
The Three-Pointer: One Celtics play says so much at 12:29 am ET
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It was just one play, lasting 5.2 seconds, yet it said so much about the 2010-11 Celtics.

Not many coaches have the smarts (or the cojones) to draw up a game-winning alley-oop with 6.6 seconds left. But the Celtics have Doc Rivers ‘€” one of the best coaches in the business at designing plays following a timeout ‘€” and he had the script that resulted in a 102-101 Celtics win over the 76ers in his back pocket all along.

“We worked on the whole timing of it last week,” Rivers told reporters. “We tried to run it earlier in the year, and we had bad timing, so it’s just funny how things worked out. It’s a low-clock play, the ball is in the best passer’s hands, and you have shooters on the floor. … It worked.”

Not many point guards can throw a perfect blind lob over a taller defender in the final moments of a game. But the Celtics have Rajon Rondo, who picked up his 14th assist of the night with 1.4 seconds left when he dropped a pretty pass over the heads of Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday that led to the basket that resulted in his team’s ninth consecutive victory.

Not many post players have the length and athleticism to get from the top of the key to the rim in a blink of an eye. But the Celtics have a healthy Kevin Garnett, who rolled to the basket, caught the lob pass and converted it all in one fluid motion to improve the C’s Eastern Conference-best record to 18-4.

“Last year, Kevin would’ve missed the lob,” Rivers added. “Actually, we wouldn’t have thrown it. We can do it now.”

And not many teams have three deadly shooters who opponents absolutely have to respect in the waning seconds of a one-point game. But the Celtics have Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Nate Robinson, who all hovered around the 3-point line ‘€” drawing Andre Iguadola, Jodie Meeks and Louis Williams from the basket and allowing Rivers’ design to play out on the floor.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett, NBA
Fast Break: Celtics, Kevin Garnett sink Sixers 12.09.10 at 11:04 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo found Kevin Garnett for an alley-oop layup with 1.4 seconds remaining, as the Celtics stole their ninth consecutive victory — a 102-101 win over the 76ers in Philadelphia.

Ray Allen (game-high 23 points) and Glen Davis (16 points, 7 rebounds) also hit shots that put the Celtics up one in the final 1:04, but the Sixers regained the lead each time — until Garnett sealed the deal.

Rondo finished with 19 points and 14 assists.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Rondo’s offense: He might have been hobbled by a sore hamstring and sore feet, but even at 85 percent Rondo is better than anybody the 76ers have to defend him. And he took advantage of that, assuming the bulk of the C’s offensive load.

Rondo put up a double-double … through the first three quarters. When all was said and done, he finished with 19 points and 14 assists, including the game-clinching lob pass to Garnett with 1.4 seconds left.

3-Point shooting: As if the Celtics’ 56 percent shooting clip wasn’t impressive enough, their 3-point percentage was even better at 58 percent (7-of-12).

Nate Robinson hit three of the six 3’s he took. Ray Allen drained 2-of-3, including a clutch trey that put the C’s up 98-97 with 1:04 remaining. Even Von Wafer and Rondo knocked down a 3 apiece.

Energy off the bench: In 11 first-half minutes off the bench, Robinson scored nine points on 3-of-5 shooting. While the rest of the team looked somewhat disinterested and more than a step slow, he provided the necessary boost to keep the veteran Celtics in the ballgame on the second night of a back-to-back.

As usual, Glen Davis picked up where Robinson left off, totaling 16 points and seven rebounds by the end of the night — including a jump shot with 27 seconds remaining that put the Celtics up 100-99.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Crash the boards: The 76ers outrebounded the Celtics, 39-33, and 15 of those 33 Philadelphia boards came on the offensive glass. The C’s showed little interest in boxing out in the opening 24 minutes, as Elton Brand, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes combined for 14 first-half boards. That’s how the C’s entered the locker room with just a one-point lead, despite shooting 58 percent.

Transition defense: The Celtics showed just as much interest early in getting back on defense as they did in boxing out, allowing the 76ers to pile up 16 fast-break points in the first half. The pace slowed in the second half, as Philadelphia finished the game with 22 fast-break points.

The athleticism of Jrue Holiday (12 points, 6 assists) and Andre Iguadola (14 points, 11 assists), in particular, caused the C’s problems.

Under the weather: Paul Pierce wasn’t feeling well before the game, and it showed throughout. He shot just 3-of-8 from the field and appeared a step slow on the defensive end. Somehow, though, Pierce still managed to play 40 minutes and post a near double-double (10 points, 8 rebounds).

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, NBA, Philadelphia 76ers
NBA Power Rankings, 12/9 at 6:37 pm ET
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1. Boston (17-4): The Celtics have the best top six in the NBA and the best defense in the league. They’re the best shooting team in the league, and they’ve won eight consecutive games despite not having Rajon Rondo at full strength. With five All-Star candidates, they’ve  been the most complete team.

2. San Antonio (18-3): The Spurs won another three games this week, and Manu Ginobili (20.1 points, 5.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds) has played his way into the MVP conversation. Oh, and New Hampshire’s own Matt Bonner is making two 3’s a game while shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc.

3. LA Lakers (16-6): After losing four straight, the Lakers are back on track with three consecutive victories. This whole Andrew Bynum situation is strange. Phil Jackson seems to call him out on a daily basis, but why rush him back? The guy is like Mr. Glass. Don’t you want him healthy for the playoffs?

4. Dallas (17-4): The Mavericks have the longest winning streak in the league at 10 games. Even Ian Mahinmi is contributing double-doubles. Why did this team all of a sudden decide to start playing defense? This team could’ve won multiple titles if they were playing defense like this in the mid-2000s.

5. Orlando (15-6): You can’t really blame the Magic for losing two straight games to Atlanta and Milwaukee. Dwight Howard, J.J. Redick, Mickael Pietrus and Jameer Nelson have all been hit by the flu. With them, they’ve been able to keep pace with the C’s. Without them? Not so much.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA
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