|NBA Power Rankings, 1/20||01.20.11 at 1:00 pm ET|
So much for the Year of the Streak, huh? After the Celtics, Mavericks, Spurs, Heat, Lakers and Hornets ripped off significant winning streaks earlier this season, everybody’s settling into midseason NBA mode (aka, “no heavy lifting”) — which makes sorting out the Power Rankings all that much more difficult.
In my mind, there are four heavy favorites to reach the two conference finals: Celtics vs. Heat, and Lakers vs. Spurs. And four other contenders: Bulls, Magic, Thunder and Jazz. Outside of that, it’s a matter of filling out the playoff picture now that we’re at the midway point, and that’s not a pretty picture at the bottom of the East. Here goes …
1. San Antonio (36-6): The Spurs are 22-2 at home and riding a 16-game winning streak at the AT&T Center. Only the Lakers are within 8.5 games of San Antonio for the West’s No. 1 seed, and even they’re six games back. If the Spurs manage to snag homecourt advantage, L.A.’s reign could be over sooner than expected. And Shaq won’t be the only guy playing for a fifth ring this spring; Tim Duncan will be, too.
2. Boston (32-9): The Celtics are 13-5 against teams with records above .500. They’ve beaten the Heat, Bulls, Magic, Spurs and Thunder already, and they play the Jazz (Friday) and Lakers (Jan. 30) over the next 10 days, so they could easily reclaim the top spot. That’s a remarkable feat for a team that’s never been fully healthy.
3. LA Lakers (31-13): The Lakers are now top-10 in points scored, points allowed, rebounds and assists, which is pretty good. They had won 8-of-9 before losing in Dallas on Wednesday night, which is also pretty good. And Lamar Odom granted Playboy an interview about basketball and marriage, which is beyond good.
4. Miami (30-13): You can’t really let the Heat slip too far down the rankings, despite their season-high four-game losing streak, considering LeBron James missed two of those contests and Chris Bosh missed another. Still, it’s midway through the season, and Miami still doesn’t have a defined rotation. That’s a problem.
5. Oklahoma City (27-15): Would you rather have the Miami Thrice on your team or the Kevin Durant–Russell Westbrook–Jeff Green triumvirate? The former, but the latter’s not far behind (Miami Thrice: 69.3 ppg, 13.3 apg; OKC Three: 65.9 ppg, 13.4 apg). Considering their respective salaries next season (Miami Thrice: $47.6 million; OKC Three: $24.6 million), it’s almost a toss-up as to who’s in better position for the future.
6. Chicago (28-14): This season, especially lately, Derrick Rose is getting a LOT of love. Charles Barkley called him the NBA’s best point guard. Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie gave him their midseason Most Improved Player award. There’s even some MVP chatter. Should he be crowned before he’s even won a playoff series?
7. Orlando (27-15): It’s funny how Otis Smith decided to pick this week — after losing 3-of-4, including one to the Celtics — to essentially call the C’s a bunch of posers. Because, you know, Hedo Turkoglu and J.J. Redick are essentially Randy Couture and Mickey Ward. What’s that saying about glass houses?
8. Utah (27-15): The Celtics are welcoming the Jazz to Boston on Friday, and let’s hope a stomach bug doesn’t keep Deron Williams from playing. Boston fans have already missed Durant and Carmelo Anthony in their teams’ only trips to the hub. Missing a battle between Williams and Rajon Rondo would be a shame.
9. Atlanta (28-15): It’ll be interesting to see how much attention Jamal Crawford will get in free agency after this season. Even though he’s the returning Sixth Man of the Year, he’s not a guy I’d really want on my team. Same goes for a lot of guys on the Hawks, except for Al Horford.
10. New Orleans (27-16): Welcome back to the top 10, Chris Paul. A six-game winning streak — including wins over the Magic and Nuggets — will do that for you. The Hornets accomplished it with defense, allowing fewer than 90 points in four of those six contests.
11. Dallas (27-14): After Dirk Nowitzki missed nine games, he returned against the Grizzlies, only to be tossed by the referees midway through the third quarter. And then the Mavericks lost their sixth straight to the lowly Pistons. Good times. Mark Cuban was probably sticking forks in light sockets before they beat the Lakers.
12. Denver (24-17): I hate the fact that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov called off the ‘Melo trade discussion for two reasons: 1) he robbed us of a meeting between them and Jay-Z, which may have been the greatest meeting of all-time; and 2) now we have to listen to another few weeks of people speculating where he’ll go.
13. New York (22-19): How does the NBA’s top scoring team produce 83 points at home against the Kings? Seriously. It’s the Kings!?!? Since winning 13-of-14 from mid-November to mid-December, the Knicks are 6-10. There’s a lot less optimism around them since they played the C’s tough and were in the ‘Melo sweepstakes.
14. Portland (23-20): Another Trail Blazers player (Marcus Camby) injured his knee. In other news: The sky is blue. At this point, should opposing teams just rest their stars when they visit, for fear that their knees might disintegrate into the Portland air?
15. Houston (20-23): Rockets GM Daryl Morey is on Twitter and gives insightful comments about his team, like: “Our shot making disguised issues in our transition offense.” Can we lobby to get Danny Ainge on Twitter?
16. Memphis (19-23): When Zach Randolph is the one saying, “We’ve got to get some heart,” you’ve got problems. The Grizzlies still have an outside shot at a playoff berth, but Randolph’s words aren’t a good sign.
17. Phoenix (19-21): The only two players that have scored 20,000 points, are eligible for the Hall of Fame and haven’t been inducted are Mitch Richmond and Tom Chambers. Now that Vince Carter has joined the 20,000-point club, will he be the third to fall short of the Hall?
18. Indiana (16-23): Pacers wing Mike Dunleavey has been in the league since 2002 and never sniffed the playoffs, but this could be his year — even if Indiana doesn’t make the postseason. The Pacers are shopping him, and he’d be a nice pickup for any team looking to deepen their rotation.
19. LA Clippers (16-25): When Blake Griffin scored 47 points on 24 shots, he became just the 13th player in the last 20 seasons to score such a high figure on so few shots. TrueHoop did a nice job of breaking it down.
20. Golden State (18-23): According to the Contra Costa Times, over the last 13 games, Dorell Wright has averaged 20.4 points and 5.2 rebounds. Think the Miami Heat could use him in their rotation now?
21. Philadelphia (17-24): The 76ers might be the most confusing team in the NBA. They’ll lose to the Raptors twice in one week, and then play the Celtics tough. They’ll lose to the Bulls by 45 points one night, and then beat them by six another. Chalk that up to youth and the fact Andre Iguadola is their leader.
22. Milwaukee (15-24): A back injury has flared up for Bucks center Andrew Bogut. You wonder if the issue is something that will plague him for a while, considering that nasty fall he took last April. You know what they say: the bigger they are, the harder they fall … and the tougher it is to come back from it.
24. Detroit (15-27): Good thing the Pistons benched Richard Hamilton against the Celtics amid the trade rumors that would’ve sent him to New Jersey as part of a three-team ‘Melo trade — now that there’s no way the Nets are going to take on Rip’s contract without landing the big fish, too.
25. Washington (12-28): I saw this headline: “Lewis provides a steady influence for young Wizards.” Are we talking about Rashard Lewis? Well, I guess the headline didn’t distinguish whether it was a good or bad influence.
26. Toronto (13-29): The Raptors and Cavaliers have a combined 21 wins after the departures of Bosh and James. The Heat have 30 victories. Those guys were kind of important to their teams. Just a little.
27. New Jersey (11-31): Is anybody shocked by the fact that Prokhorov is pursuing Andrei Kirilenko. Next up: Timofey Mozgov. Let’s just hope they don’t turn out to be like Angelina Jolie‘s character in “Salt”.
28. Minnesota (10-33): I had to steal this line from Canis Hoopus: “Wesley Johnson: DNP (coach’s decision); Jonny Flynn: 15 minutes, 2 points; Ricky Rubio: tanning. What an awesome use of top lotto picks.”
29. Sacramento (9-31): The Maloofs could move to Anaheim. Sounds like a bad CBS comedy. Unfortunately, it could be a reality for Sacramento fans. If there are any of those.
30. Cleveland (8-33): Anderson Verajao out for the season. Mo Williams out for a couple weeks. Believe it or not, those are the Cavalier’s two best players. Now Cleveland fans literally have nothing to root for but a potential No. 1 pick in the lottery. Knowing their luck, though, that won’t happen.
|The Celtics chances of winning the Eastern Conference||01.19.11 at 10:39 am ET|
It has long been the assumption of most people that the Miami Heat will ultimately win enough games to get the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Heat’s stars are younger, obviously, and there was a feeling that such an accomplishment would “mean” more to them than the Celtics. So, when Miami went 21-1 and passed Boston for the best record in the East on Jan. 9, many assumed that was the beginning of the end for the Celtics hopes at gaining homecourt advantage.
That may be changing.
Miami has now lost four games in a row after last night’s overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks and the Celtics have a four-game edge in the loss column. How much is that worth?
According to Justin Kubatko’s playoff forecasting model on Basketball-Reference.com, it’s actually worth quite a bit. Using Kubatko’s method, the Celtics now have a 72.4 percent chance of gaining the top spot based on 1,000 simulations. That’s up from around 60 percent before Tuesday’s game.
With Kevin Garnett back in the lineup and more help on the way in February from Kendrick Perkins and Delonte West, the Celtics have kept themselves in position to make a run in the second half of the season. They would do well to continue putting pressure on Miami, who play 10 of its 13 games at home in the month of March.
For the Celtics, the question will be how much effort do they want to expend to get the top spot, but the opening is there. (Click here for more on the challenges facing the Celtics in the second half of the season).
|Preview: Magic at Celtics, Game 40||01.17.11 at 1:48 pm ET|
Over the years the Celtics and Magic have had an underrated, but energetic, rivalry. The Magic knocked the Celtics out in the 2009 playoffs and the Celtics returned the favor last season. They have played on Christmas Day two years running and there have been the kind of matchups (Dwight Howard vs. Kendrick Perkins, Rashard Lewis vs. Kevin Garnett) that have marked their games with the sort of in-game strategic maneuvers that hard-core hoops fans enjoy.
That might be why this rivalry exists mainly on the court and not in the press. Doc Rivers was one of the first coaches to catch on that the 2009 Magic had turned a corner and become a legitimate challenger. The respect has worked both ways as each side has recognized the other as their most formidable conference foe.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been some sparks, but it’s been relatively peaceful between the two teams. As opposed to say, the Celtics and Lakers or Magic and Heat.
Perhaps that’s why the Celtics, and presumably Orlando, are not putting much emphasis on the outcome of Monday night game. They both know that while the result may be a significant signpost for where they are right now, there’s a ton of difference when right now is Jan. 17 and later when it really matters.
“The games don’t literally have meaning, but guys get fired up for games like this,” River said Sunday at practice. “I don’t know about our guys, I know the other team does for sure. I like games like this because I think it’s good for us.”
That comment could have been taken as an indirect slap, but the feeling here is that Rivers intended it more for his team. The Celtics have been treading water since late December. To their credit they have done so better than last season when the injuries began to take hold.
Since beating the 76ers on Dec. 22 to run their winning streak to 14 games, the Celtics have gone 7-5. The first loss came against Orlando on Christmas in a game that was ragged to say the least. “That game down there, I don’t think any team was proud of the way they played,” Rivers said. “I thought both teams were proud of the way they competed. It just was not played very well at all.”
Both teams are fighting for position. The Celtics hope to get Garnett back tonight, which would go a long way toward solving their emerging frontcourt depth issue, while the Magic recently lost two straight after running off nine consecutive wins. It’s a big game in that regard as both teams are trying to establish some consistency through the dog days of January.
Offensive Rating: 107.7 (Points per 100 possessions, 12th)
Defensive Rating: 102.0 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 3rd)
Pace: 92.2 (Possessions per game, 18th)
Injuries: Malik Allen (Ankle, out), Daniel Orton (Knee, out), Jason Williams (Foot, out)
Offensive Rating: 108.8 (10th)
Defensive Rating: 100.5 (2nd)
Pace: 90.8 (21st)
Injuries: Garnett (Strained calf, probable), Shaquille O’Neal (Strained adductor, questionable), Marquis Daniels (Back, probable), Semih Erden (Groin, probable), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out) Read the rest of this entry »
|Fast Break: Celtics tame Cats||01.14.11 at 10:02 pm ET|
It’s mid-January in the NBA, which means everyone is either hurt, miserable or both. The Celtics had 10 players dressed and half of them were in some kind of foul trouble at various points in the game.
This was not a night for aesthetically-pleasing basketball, but the Celtics made the plays they needed to make in the fourth quarter and came away with a 99-94 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats.
Here’s how they did it:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Shaquille O’Neal had his most important game of the season: Without Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal, the Celtics were down to Shaq and Semih Erden at center and Glen Davis and Luke Harangody as big forwards.
Shaq played 17 minutes in the first half, mainly because Doc Rivers had no other options and he logged a season-high 35 to go with 23 points and five rebounds. Considering everything that has happened to the Celtics this week in terms of injuries, this was a big-time performance and arguably his best of the season.
Rajon Rondo had the world on a string: There are times when Rondo can be spectacular, and other times when he is spectacularly precise. This game was the latter. Rondo read screens, angles and pick and rolls and dissected the Bobacats with precise passes and smart decisions.
Sometimes Rondo’s stats can be deceiving. His huge assist nights are usually tied to hot shooting nights on the perimeter. Not this night. He had 18 points, 13 assists and six rebounds and earned every one of them.
Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, like clockwork: Paul Pierce and Ray Allen shot a combined 12-for-20 from the floor, including 7-for-12 from 3-point range. For good measure they also made seven of eight free throws and each scored 19 points.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Foul trouble: The Celtics had 10 players available Friday night because of injuries and Avery Bradley’s assignment to the D-League. The one thing they could not afford was to have any kind of foul trouble, especially up front. Oh well. Erden picked up three fouls in three minutes in the second quarter, which meant Shaquille O’Neal had to play 17 first-half minutes.
Pierce picked up his fourth midway through the third quarter and left with 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting and the Celtics up by six. The Bobcats closed the gap with Pierce out of the game, but the Celtics pulled away early in the fourth quarter allowing Pierce to sit until the 4-minute mark of the fourth quarter.
Offensive rebounding: You could see this one coming a mile away. Without Garnett or Jermaine O’Neal, the Celtics frontline is exposed when it comes to rebounding. The Bobcats racked up 13 offensive boards and controlled the glass.
Free throws: The Celtics got to the free throw line only 25 times and most of those came late in the game when the Bobcats were trying to put them there. This isn’t that surprising since they are one of the worst teams in the league at getting to the line. It’s generally a given that their opponent will have more free throws than they will, but the Bobcats shot nine more than the Celtics, and were +8 at the line, which kept them in the game.
|Preview: Kings at Celtics, Game 38||01.12.11 at 11:13 am ET|
Doc Rivers wasn’t happy with his starters Monday night in a loss to the Rockets, so he beat them up in practice on Tuesday. Rivers wanted a live, physical full-court practice with lots of rebounding work, which is part of the reason he elected to hold Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins out of the session.
Rivers is worried that his team is getting too complacent. “We’ve won games where I didn’t think we were mentally ready to play the game, but we were mentally tough enough to fight through it and win the game,” Rivers said. “But we’ve also lost some games where we haven’t had that mental toughness.”
What concerned him most against Houston was that his team took too many shortcuts. They switched screens when they didn’t have to. They looked for the home run play when an easier one would have sufficed.
“We just got to stay on it,” Rivers said. “We are a veteran team that knows there’s another level that we can play at and we play at it at times. So we just got to stay on top of it.” The blame, he said, rested mainly with the starters.
Rivers is taking a calculated gamble that he can get his team back on track by whipping them into shape and refocusing their attention. You may recall that similar motivational tactics had no effect on last season’s Celtics. That, along with the injuries, made them an incredibly frustrating team throughout January, February and March.
This year, Rivers has said, is different. It has to be. On the same night they lost to the Rockets, the Miami Heat slipped passed the Celtics for the best record in the Eastern Conference. “I know they’re playing well, honest to gosh, I could care less,” Rivers said. “I am only concerned with our team.”
And he is concerned. Transition defense, pick and roll coverage, offensive execution, all these things must be corrected sooner rather than later and it needs to start tonight against the Kings.
Offensive Rating: 102.7 (Points per 100 possessions, 24th)
Defensive Rating: 108.9 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 23rd)
Pace: 93.8 (Possessions per game, 9th)
Likely Starters: Beno Udrih, Luther Head, Francisco Garcia, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins
Injuries: Tyreke Evans (Ankle, questionable)
Offensive Rating: 108.3 (10th)
Defensive Rating: 100.4 (2nd)
Pace: 90.7 (23rd)
|What to watch for on the Celtics homestand||01.09.11 at 12:19 am ET|
Last season, while in the midst of a depressing spring swoon, the schedule gods handed the Celtics a gift: six straight games at TD Garden to help them right their sinking ship. There were two problems. First, the Celtics simply weren’t very good at the Garden last season (for whatever reason) and second, they played five playoff teams including the Thunder, Spurs and Cavaliers.
The Celtics actually did all right for themselves, splitting those six games and winning an emotional game over the Cavs on Easter Sunday that served as a rallying point when they ultimately faced them in the playoffs. But there were also some ugly setbacks, such as a 21-point loss to San Antonio and the memorable Kevin Durant gets calls like Michael Bleeping Jordan game (in the words of Kevin Garnett).
Ultimately their six-game homestand was neither defining nor damning. It simply was another signpost in the Celtics up and down 2010.
This season, however, the expectations are much different. The Celtics are rolling (or were rolling until the Bulls wiped them out Saturday night in an ugly, defensive game) and they are playing much better at the Garden where their 16-2 record is tops in the Eastern Conference and tied for first in the loss column with the Spurs, who are 19-2 at home.
The Celtics will also get the benefit of playing four teams who are under .500. They get the Rockets, Kings and Bobcats this week and the Pistons in between visits from Orlando and Utah next week and it’s a golden opportunity for the Celtics to continue to pad their record. Even with Saturday night’s loss to the Bulls, at 28-8 the Celtics still hold a one-game lead on Miami for the best conference record and are four games ahead of Chicago and Orlando in the loss column for second.
Here are five things to look for on this homestand: Read the rest of this entry »
|Fast Break: Bulls bury Celtics||01.08.11 at 10:42 pm ET|
The NBA schedule is sometimes a cruel beast. Take the Celtics and Bulls, put them in a vacuum and the result is usually a fantastic game. But put them on a Saturday night with both teams on the second end of back-to-backs and you get a slow, ugly contest, like the one these two teams played.
The Celtics were able to hang in until the bitter end, mostly thanks to 21 Chicago turnovers, but the combination of Derrick Rose (36 points) and Carlos Boozer (22) was too much to overcome in a 90-79 loss that snapped Boston’s four-game winning streak. (Recap.)
Credit Tom Thibodeau‘s defense, which held the Celtics to 38 percent shooting and kept them out of the paint all night. Not many teams can make the Celtics look as bad as they did Saturday night, but Thibodeau knows them as well as anyone and he has Chicago ranked second (behind the Celtics) in defensive efficiency.
The Celtics return home for a six-game homestand against only two teams with winning records: Utah and Orlando. They are also expected to get Kevin Garnett back, possibly as early as Monday.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Rebounding: In case there was still any confusion about how the Celtics feel about offensive rebounds, Doc Rivers said it as plainly as he could Friday night.
“I don’t care about offensive rebounds,” the coach said. “I care about defensive rebounds.”
In that case, the first half was very discouraging as the Bulls grabbed eight offensive rebounds. It didn’t get any better in the second half as the Celtics got pounded on the boards. They gave up 11 offensive boards and lost the overall battle, 48-27.
Derrick Rose at the free throw line: Derrick Rose established a new career-high in free throw attempts and makes midway through the third quarter. He went on to make 15-of-19 as he wore the Celtics out with the pick-and-roll. The Bulls wound up only being +7 at the line, despite taking 13 more shots (35-22).
Bench production: Or the lack, thereof. Outside of Jermaine O’Neal who had six points and three rebounds, the Celtics reserves combined to shoot 1-for-7 with three rebounds and four assists. Once again, the Celtics offense without Rajon Rondo on the floor was disjointed and out of sync.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Paul Pierce and Ray Allen: The two veterans basically are the Celtics offense right now with Garnett out, so it’s a good thing that they are both playing at a high level. They combined for 40 points, or more than half the Celtics’ total. Along with Rondo, they shot 20-for-43. The rest of the team? A horrific 8-for-31.
Turnovers: Yes, this is the right column. The Bulls turned it over 21 times compared to the Celtics’ eight times. The Celtics recorded 12 steals, which helped, but this was the only thing that kept the Celtics in the game.
Rajon Rondo was decent: Rondo had a solid line with 13 points, five rebounds, five steals and eight assists, but he was also responsible (along with the big men) for Rose’s big night.
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