|Celtics not Magic’s biggest problem||03.25.09 at 12:34 am ET|
The Orlando Magic established themselves as a contender early on this season, positioning Wednesday’s game against the Boston Celtics as a possible Eastern Conference Semifinals ‘ or even Finals — match up. But before the Magic can think about playing the role of spoiler, they have their own issues to take care of first ‘ the Detroit Pistons.
‘We can’t focus in on how they’ve played us in the past,’ said Magic center Dwight Howard. ‘This is going to be a different year for us in the postseason if we continue to do the things that we do on a night in, night out basis.’
Over the past two seasons the Magic have made early exits from the playoffs at the hands of the Pistons. In 2007 they were swept 4-0 in the first round. Last season, in spite of earning their best record in over 10 years, they fell 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
With less than a month left in the regular season and Eastern Conference rankings changing every night, the Magic could very well face the Pistons in the first round of the playoffs.
‘I think mentally we’ve got to get over that hill, I guess, that they present to us,’ said Howard. ‘They’re a very physical team, they get away with it. They know how to score. They play great defense. And we know how to beat those guys, but it’s just going to take us to come out and do it. We know the way to beat them is to run, not let the defense set up, and then play help defense, and then rebound the basketball. So they’re a team that we can beat. We just have to be mentally on our game.’
This season was the perfect opportunity for the Magic to reverse their luck. They have been soaring behind Howard, beating the Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Los Angeles Lakers. The Pistons, on the other hand, have plummeted since the Allen Iverson trade. But the Magic went 0-3 against the Pistons this season. The third loss came just a day after defeating the Celtics in Boston this month.
‘Any team is liable to get beat any night. But you’ve got to be able to beat both teams,’ said Howard. ‘Boston is the world champion so they’re a tough team. And you’ve got Detroit, who’s been beating us like they’ve got our number. I think it’s just a mental block. It’s the same thing that happened to us with the (Atlanta) Hawks. They would always beat us until we got over that — ok, we can beat this team — then that’s when we started beating them. But we have to do that against a good team in Detroit.’
The Magic did not capitalize on the Pistons’ struggles. They are not focused on exploiting the Celtics’ either. While they could view Kevin Garnett’s restricted playing time and the recent depletion of the Celtics bench as a window of opportunity to steal the second seed, the Magic are paying more attention to their own team.
‘We’ve just got to continue to do things to win games,’ Howard said. ‘We can’t really focus in on how Cleveland or Boston’s playing. They’re still good teams without those key guys, so we’ve just got to come out every night and continue to get better. Hopefully we’re hot during the playoffs, and the team’s that hot during the playoffs is going to win.’
|Walker happy to take a seat||03.23.09 at 11:23 pm ET|
‘I’m actually happy Ticket’s back,” he said before Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers (RECAP HERE). “He gives our team that swagger again. We’re more aggressive on defense. You can just tell it’s a different team when he’s on the court.’
After bouncing between the bench and the NBA Development League, Walker received a rare window of opportunity for meaningful minutes on the Celtics. He had played a total of just 54 minutes all season before Garnett strained his knee on February 19. With the Celtics bench already hampered by injuries, Walker averaged 8.5 minutes per game in Garnett’s absence.
‘I learned that it’s more physical than it looks on TV out there,’ he said. ‘You’ve got to learn to rest your body and take care of your little aches because those games come back so quick. You’ve got to take care of the little things.’
While Walker’s numbers did not skyrocket ‘ his game-high was only eight points ‘ his perspective on the game did.
‘You can always get better, especially on defense,’ he said. ‘There are so many things that go with our defense that I don’t know everything. So watching tape and watching myself like, ‘Oh I’m a second late’ or, ‘I’m a step late.”
Walker is constantly learning, whether it is on the court or on the bench, so he does not mind taking it all in from the sidelines. He pay close attention to the players around him — ‘What do they do that’s effective?’ he asks himself ‘ and tries to incorporate their strengths into his own game. He doesn’t have to look much further than his own team to pick up some pointers.
‘Offensively you can take from just about anybody out there. (Rajon) Rondo, how he gets to the basket. Paul (Pierce), his footwork. Ray (Allen’s) shooting. Ticket’s post work. There’s a lot of stuff to watch out there,’ Walker said. ‘I watch Ray on defense. Ray’s got some great defense. People don’t really realize it but Ray’s always in the right position. Hands are where they’re supposed to be. He’s just a smart player.’
The Celtics basketball IQ has already rubbed off on Walker. He’ll take the opportunity to watch the Big Three play any day.
‘I think it’s very, very valuable because everybody is not playing on a team with three sure-fire Hall of Famers,’ he said. ‘It’s not like these guys are stuck up. They teach me things every day.’
|Notes and numbers: Third quarter||at 9:30 pm ET|
- KG watch: 9 minutes, 4 points, 1 rebound
- Leading scorer: Baron Davis (10 points)
- Leading rebounder: Kendrick Perkins (8 rebounds)
- Leading ball handler: Rajon Rondo and Baron Davis (3 assists)
- Points in the paint: Celtics 16 ‘ Clippers 10
- Fast break points: Celtics 6 ‘ Clippers 0
|Notes and numbers: First quarter||at 8:11 pm ET|
At the end of the first quarter … Celtics 31, Clippers 18
- KG watch: 9 minutes, 8 points, 1 rebound, 1 foul
- Leading scorer: Rajon Rondo (10 points)
- Leading rebounder: Zach Randolph (5 boards)
- Leading ball handler: Rondo and Baron Davis (3 assists)
- Hot shot: Celtics 68.4% FG, Clippers 45.0% FG
|The boys are back in town||at 7:46 pm ET|
It’s been 30 days … But tonight the Big Ticket returns to the Garden … Are you ready?
For the first time in over a month the true Boston Celtics starting five is taking the court. After a dramatic introduction on the Jumbotron, Kevin Garnett looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. After the lineups were announced he got in Kendrick Perkins face and shouted who-knows-what. He acknowledged each of the Clippers and then ran to the corner of the court to address the crowd, lifting fans to their feet with every point of his finger. There is something different tonight — maybe the Garden is trying new lighting — but the energy in the air is undeniable.
|NBA already thinking playoffs||03.22.09 at 7:02 pm ET|
|Garnett makes most of minutes||03.20.09 at 11:43 pm ET|
Perhaps more frustrating than an injured Kevin Garnett in street clothes is a restricted Garnett in uniform.
After missing the last 13 games with a strained knee, Garnett returned to the Boston Celtics starting lineup in Friday night’s win against the San Antonio Spurs. (RECAP HERE) As a precautionary measure, head coach Doc Rivers capped his minutes at just 15, leaving the Celtics without their big man down the stretch.
However this game had a different result than the last time Garnett returned from a lengthy absence:
February 19, 2008 vs. Denver Nuggets
Last season Garnett was sidelined for nine games in January/February with an abdominal strain . After going 7-2 without Garnett, the Celtics dropped the first three games with KG back in the lineup. His return was spoiled by a 124-118 loss to the Denver Nuggets following the All-Star break. Garnett scored just 4 points (2-7 FG) in 27 minutes and committed four turnovers. After the game Rivers deemed Garnett’s performance ‘not very good’ and thought he looked ‘rusty.’ Garnett bounced back the following night, posting 17 points and 15 rebounds in the Celtics two-point loss to the Golden State Warriors.
March 20, 2009 vs. San Antonio Spurs
Garnett had been averaging more than 32 minutes per game before suffering his knee injury in February. Knowing his playing time would be limited, Garnett came out aggressive in his return. He attempted his first shot 15 seconds into the game and finished the night with 10 points (5-9 FG) in just 15 minutes. He also grabbed four rebounds. Unlike his return last season, Rivers was full of compliments for Garnett this time around. ‘He was playing terrific right before we took him out,’ he said after the game.
The Celtics intend to limit Garnett’s minutes on Saturday night against the Memphis Grizzlies.