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Can the Knicks challenge the Celtics? 12.13.10 at 9:46 pm ET
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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 »

Read More: Amare Stoudemire, Celtics, Knicks, Ray Felton
Fast Break: Celtics win ugly over Bobcats 12.11.10 at 9:29 pm ET
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Take an NBA team that’s been on the road for a few days and knows it has some time off ahead of them,and  put them in an arena with all the ambiance of a library and what you get is something like the game between the Celtics and Bobcats Saturday night.

It was ugly, as evidenced by the Celtics 43 percent shooting from the floor and Paul Pierce’s unsightly 1-for-9 night. But in yet another sign that the Celtics are coming together as a team, they overcame their collective offensive woes and put the hammer down defensively in a 93-62 win.

They have now won 10 straight games and clearly established themselves as the class of the Eastern Conference. They also have three days off until Wednesday when they play the rejuvenated New York Knicks in what should be an interesting matchup between the classic rivals, who haven’t had much of a rivalry in recent years.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Kevin Garnett, again: Doc Rivers limited his starters minutes in the first half, keeping Allen, Pierce and Garnett to just 16 minutes of court time. This seemed like a conscious decision because even though Allen and Pierce struggled, Garnett was the best thing the Celtics had going for them.

He had nine points and eight rebounds in the first half, en route to another double-double (13 and 11) in just 23 minutes. Garnett also led the way on the glass where the Celtics owned a healthy 48-38 advantage.

Glen Davis to the rescue: This is why Davis should be considered one of the best sixth men in the NBA. It’s not his points and rebounds, although they definitely help. It’s not even his charges, although they help as well. It’s that when he comes into the game he can change the flow and he can do it playing multiple frontcourt positions.

Davis played the four, the five and even guarded Gerald Wallace successfully. With all the injuries the Celtics are having up front, his versatility is a great compliment to his production. The production wasn’t bad either as he scored 16 points to go with seven rebounds.

Defense wins: Try as they might, the Celtics couldn’t get anything going offensively. To their credit, they stayed away from launching jump shots and attacked the basket to get to the line 28 times. But what won the game for them was their defensive effort. The Bobcats aren’t a good offensive team, but the Celtics made them look dreadful.

Charlotte shot 33 percent and turned it over 21 times. They scored 16 points in the first quarter, 16 in the second and then 15 in each of the third and fourth quarters. If you were looking for a 48-minute defensive effort, this was it.

WHAT WENT WRONG

No Shaq: Shaquille O’Neal missed his second straight game with a lower calf/shin injury. There’s no need to rush him back, especially with a few days between now and Wednesday’s game with the rejuvenated New York Knicks. But Shaq’s absence left the Celtics vulnerable in the middle and Nazr Mohammed made them pay, at least in the first half when he went 6-for-9.

Cold shooting: The Bobcats have two things going for them in terms of matchups — Stephen Jackson, who is one the tallest off guards in the game and Gerald Wallace, who is one of the strongest forwards. Those two combined to make life miserable for Allen and Pierce who shot a combined 2-for-11 in the first half. Allen recovered to score 10 of his 16 points in the third quarter when the Celtics pulled away, but Pierce was never able to get going.

Turnovers: The Celtics have done a solid job of limiting their turnovers lately but they crept up again Saturday with 17. The prime culprit was Rajon Rondo with six. A number of Rondo’s turnovers came on passes that were simply way too difficult. He is granted a certain creative license to make those kind of plays, but sometimes the best play is the easiest one.

Read More: Bobcats, Celtics, Fast Break,
Fast Break: Celtics crush New Jersey 12.05.10 at 3:26 pm ET
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The Celtics have a well-worn reputation for playing sub-par basketball on weekend afternoon. With a younger team one might worry about nocturnal activities, but the veteran Celtics are simply creatures of habit. They just don’t like having their routines messed with.

They turned that bit of conventional wisdom on its head with a thorough dismantling of the Nets in New Jersey, 100-75 as five players scored in double figures and the Celtics held New Jersey to just 38 percent shooting.

The Celtics have now won seven straight games and have the top record in the Eastern Conference at 16-4. These wins will look a lot more important in March when that race really starts to take shape.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT

Bench production: At the beginning of the second quarter, Doc Rivers trotted out this unfamiliar lineup: Avery Bradley, Von Wafer, Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis and Shaquille O’Neal. This was Rivers’ original vision of a second unit with Shaq anchoring the paint.

As it turned out it was Davis who took control from the middle, working rookie Derrick Favors on the block. Davis finished the first half with 12 points and five rebounds, Daniels added eight points and the Celtics outscored New Jersey, 30-12 in the second quarter to take command of the game.

Davis finished with 16 points and nine rebounds in 30 minutes and was +27 in raw plus/minus.

Strong start for Nate: With Rajon Rondo out to rest his sore hamstring (see below), Nate Robinson got the start and got the Celtics off to a fast start with eight points in the first five minutes. Rather than try to be Rondo, Robinson did what he did best — which also included launching 3’s early in the shot clock and on the fast break.

That’s all part of the package for Robinson and it’s worth noting that Rivers encourages him to play that way. But Robinson didn’t just look for his shot. He also dished out six assists to go with six rebounds in what might have been his best game of the season.

Board work: The Celtics dominated the glass, outrebounding the Nets 49-36. Kevin Garnett led the way with 14 rebounds in just 26 minutes of work. He now has 11 double-digit rebounding games, equal the amount he had all of last season.

TWO THINGS THAT WENT WRONG

Rajon Rondo misses another game: Apparently, the hamstring is still an issue for Rondo. He was a late scratch on Sunday and has now missed four of the Celtics 20 games. The only remedy for a hamstring injury is rest and the Celtics have a few days off before playing Denver Wednesday at TD Garden.

The good news is that they have found ways to win games without Rondo in the lineup (they have now three of those four). The bad news is that it looks like Rondo will be dealing with something for most of the season. There is no question about Rondo’s pain tolerance, but it will be pushed in ways it never has been before.

Injuries (again): Jermaine O’Neal told reporters in New Jersey that he will begin workouts next week and then hopes to practice with the team the following week. If, and it still seems like a big if, they can have O’Neal back by the new year it would be a huge boost for the Celtics.

Their depth is painfully thin right now and one more frontcourt injury could have a disastrous effect on what has been a fantastic start to the season. Shaq missed the second half with a sore right calf. The Celtics didn’t need him Sunday, but they are walking a very thin line up front.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Nets,
Preview: Bulls at Celtics 12.03.10 at 11:18 am ET
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In due time the Chicago Bulls may very well emerge as one of the prime contenders in the Eastern Conference. All of the pieces are there to matchup with the Celtics, Magic (and yes) the Heat.

At 9-7, the Bulls record doesn’t leap off the page, but consider they recently completed a seven-game road trip (known locally as the circus trip) and although they have gone 4-4 in their last eight games, their losses have come against the Spurs, Nuggets, Lakers and Magic.

They’re not there yet though. Carlos Boozer played his first game of the season Wednesday night and had just five points and two rebounds in 22 minutes. Once he gets acclimated, the Bulls will really begin to shape. One problem that has not been fixed yet, however, is their lack of 3-point shooting beyond Kyle Korver.

The Bulls rank 28th in overall makes from behind the arc and are 24th in accuracy, shooting just 33 percent. Luol Deng is shooting an almost-respectable 35 percent, and Derrick Rose is next at 34 percent. That’s actually a marked improvement from the point guard who is under 30 percent for his career.

Despite their troubles from long-range, the Bulls do many things well and they have all the elements to become an elite defensive team. But it’s hard to break through and become a true contender with such an obvious weakness.

BULLS (9-7, 6-4 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 99.0 (14th)

Defensive Rating: 103.8 (9th)

Pace: 93.5 (12th)

Likely Starters: Derrick Rose, Keith Bogans, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah

Injuries: None.

CELTICS (14-4, 8-2 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 109.2 (9th)

Defensive Rating: 100.8 (2nd)

Pace: 90.7 (23rd)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Nate Robinson (Heel, questionable), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out), Delonte West (wrist, out). Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bulls, Celtics, Preview,
Preview: Blazers at Celtics 12.01.10 at 10:12 am ET
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For all the attention Greg Oden‘s knee injuries have received consider the case of Brandon Roy. Just two seasons ago, Roy averaged 22 points and right around five points and five assists per game for a team that won 54 games. He was a second-team All NBA selection and the general feeling around the league was that he was on the verge of attaining superstar status.

There’s a good chance that version of Roy is gone and never coming back. He avoided having knee surgery, but as the Oregonian’s Jason Quick pointed out, that was only because he has no cartilage left to fix. Roy’s doctors told him he had “arthritic knee,” bone on bone. He’s only 26 years old but he’s already on anti-inflammatory medication and playing under a time limit of 35 minutes a night.

This isn’t potential we’re talking about, like with Oden. This is a great player on the brink of becoming something truly special. Roy is still good, but like the Blazers as a whole there’s a sense of missed opportunity and bad luck.

Roy played 33 minutes in a loss to the Sixers Tuesday night, and the Blazers scored just 11 points in the fourth quarter, which has been a disturbing trend. They held a team meeting after a loss to New Jersey Sunday night and they have lost four games in a row.

The Celtics may be catching them at the right time or they may be dealing with a desperate team. It would be dangerous to take Roy, or the Blazers, lightly.

TRAIL BLAZERS (8-9, 3-7 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 106.7 (14)

Defensive Rating: 107.8 (17)

Pace: 88.7 (29)

Likely Starters: Andre Miller, Brandon Roy, Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby

Injuries: Joel Przybila (Doubtful, knee), Greg Oden (Out, knee), Elliot Williams (Out, knee), Sean Marks (Ankle, questionable)

CELTICS (13-4, 7-3 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 108.9 (9)

Defensive Rating: 100.3 (2)

Pace: 90.9 (22)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out) Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Celtics, Preview, Trail Blazers,
Preview: Raptors at Celtics 11.26.10 at 12:52 pm ET
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In the five days since the Celtics were embarrassed in a Sunday afternoon matinee in Toronto, they regained their swagger in Atlanta, gutted out a win over New Jersey and lost one of their most indispensable reserves in Delonte West.

West’s injury casts a pall over the C’s, and there are no easy solutions for them right now. The immediate plan seems to be to stand pat with what they have, which means more playing time for Von Wafer and an accelerated learning curve for rookie Avery Bradley. This also means an increased role for Marquis Daniels, who was just getting comfortable as the backup small forward. he now has to return to being the team’s most versatile reserve.

These are tough times for the Celtics who didn’t begin to suffer team-wide injury breakdowns until after the new year last season. If they can survive this stretch, and continue to win games, it will serve them well in the second half of the season when Doc Rivers will likely ease off on his veterans. That luxury doesn’t exist right now, and so it will be up to Wafer, Daniels and Bradley to fill in the gaps.

The Raptors have won four straight after a dreadful start and serve as a strong test to the Celtics resolve.

RAPTORS (6-9, 5-5 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 106.2 (15)

Defensive Rating: 107.7 (19)

Pace: 94.6 (8)

Likely Starters: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems, Reggie Evans, Andrea Bargnani

Injuries: None

CELTICS (11-4, 7-3 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 108.2 (11)

Defensive Rating: 100.5 (3)

Pace: 90.4 (26)

Likely Starters: Nate Robinson, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Rajon Rondo (Hamstring, questionable), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out) Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Celtics, Preview, Raptors,
Fast Break: Celtics turn the lights out in Georgia 11.22.10 at 9:21 pm ET
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One day after dropping words like “bored,” the Celtics added another word to their lexicon: angry.

Right from the opening tip on Monday, the Celtics seemed determined to not just beat the Hawks, but crush them and in the process atone for their last two games. It was basically over after the Celtics opened up a 16-3 lead, but it would get much worse for the Hawks.

After 12 minutes the Celtics led 39-13 in what will be a candidate for the most perfectly-played quarter of the season. The Celtics 72 percent (18-for-25) and outrebounded the Hawks, 16-3.

Nate Robinson had more assists in the first quarter (five) than the Hawks had baskets (four). The Celtics didn’t let up, another problem area the last few games, and cruised to a 99-76 victory.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Rebounding: After a strong start to this season on the glass, the Celtics have tailed off a bit in the rebounding department. The Thunder feasted on the offensive glass and the Raptors came up with the kind of long, loose-ball rebounds that drive coaches crazy. The Celtics tightened all that up against the Hawks, outrebouding them 16-3 in the first quarter and 26-10 (with one offensive rebound) in the first half.

Physical mismatches: Al Horford is a good player, an All-Star last season and maybe again this season, but he has no chance guarding Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq used his size and also showed some good quickness in dominating this matchup. At the other end of the floor, Robinson ran circles around Mike Bibby, who is basically a stationary jump shooter these days. The one matchup where the Hawks should have been competitive: Kevin Garnett destroyed the younger Josh Smith, holding him without a field goal and just three rebounds.

Robinson continues to impress: Rajon Rondo missed his second straight game with a strained left hamstring, and for the second straight day, Robinson filled in admirably. He recorded his first double-double as a member of the Celtics with 16 points and 10 assists. Regardless of how long Rondo is out, this has been a great opportunity for Robinson to get his game back on track.

Since not much can go wrong in a 23-point win, here’s one more bonus thing that went right for the Celtics

No let-ups: Not that it was much in doubt, but the Hawks did “win” the second quarter, 29-25. The Celtics left no doubt in the third quarter, holding Atlanta to 4-for-21 shooting and beating them with defense. This was the kind of thorough, 48-minute performance that Doc Rivers has been waiting for.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Hawks,
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