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Here come the Cavs 12.30.09 at 1:50 pm ET
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A small detail from Tuesday night’s NBA games. The Cleveland Cavaliers slipped past the Celtics by a half game for the best record in the Eastern Conference. At 23-7 the Celts are still up a game in the loss column (Cleveland’s 25-8) and hold a few percentage points if you want to get technical about it.

This isn’t about that. This is about how the Cavs are hitting their stride. Earlier in the season, when Cleveland was losing three of its first six, there were questions about how well Shaquille O’Neal was really going to fit alongside LeBron James, and if Delonte West could get his life back together, let alone his game.

Safe to say they’ve figured it out. The Cavs have won 10 of their last 11 with a road loss to the Mavs serving as the spoiler and it’s not just that they’ve been winning. They’ve been destroying teams. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Cavaliers, Celtics, LeBron James,
Preview: Celtics-Suns at 10:59 am ET
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It’s funny what a couple of losses can do to a team. Just last weekend everyone was hailing the Celtics resiliency and toughness after they found a way to beat the Magic in Orlando. Now, they’re careless and sloppy and not quite as dominant as everyone thought. Or maybe, they just miss Paul Pierce, especially late in games.

The C’s play the Suns Wednesday night and it’s a matchup that should have been circled back when the schedule came out because it’s two good teams who play an entertaining, but completely different, brand of basketball. If the Celtics lose, which they might, it would be three straight defeats and the ship will be sinking. Or something.

Do they need to tighten up? Absolutely. Do they need to play better? Sure. Are they headed for an inevitable playoff fall after a couple of lackluster games on the road in late December? Um, no. For one night, forget about the playoffs. Forget about wherever this team is eventually heading and just enjoy the hoops.

CELTICS (23-7, 7-3 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.5

Points Allowed: 91.9

Differential: +8.7 (First)

Offensive Efficiency: 108.9 (10th)

Defensive Efficiency: 99.5 (First)

Pace: 92.0 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Tony Allen, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Paul Pierce (knee), Marquis Daniels (wrist), Glen Davis (ankle)

SUNS (20-12, 5-5 last 10)

Points Per Game: 109.8

Points Allowed: 106.0

Differential: +3.8 (Ninth)

Offensive Efficiency: 114.6 (First)

Defensive Efficiency: 110.6 (27th)

Pace: 95.8 (Fourth)

Likely Starters: Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Amar’e Stoudemire, Channing Frye

Injuries: None.

Key Matchup: Nash vs. Rondo

Nash won a couple of MVP’s earlier this decade that in retrospect most feel he probably shouldn’t have won. That’s not a knock on Nash who has been one of the game’s great guards of this or any other era, just the reality of suspect MVP voting. What’s interesting, however, is that Nash may be having an even better season than his MVP years. He ranks first in every assist category in the league, and in free throw shooting. He is the top-ranked guard in True Shooting Percentage and Effective Field Goal Percentage and owns the best Offensive Efficiency Rating in the NBA. He’s the key to everything the Suns do and represents yet another test for Rondo.

Celtics in a Paragraph: The Celtics turn the ball over a lot. They average a little more than 15 per game, which puts them in the lower half of the NBA. It’s even worse when you factor in pace where they rank near the very bottom of the league. More than a quarter of their possessions end in turnovers, which puts their 26-turnover performance in a 100-possession game against the Warriors in a little better perspective. That said, turnovers have always been an issue for the Celtics in this era. They had been doing a better job managing them this season, but even a little slippage in this area turns an issue into a full-blown problem.

Suns in a Paragraph: In the past 10 games the Suns have defeated the Lakers, Spurs and Magic and lost to the Blazers, Nuggets and Cavs. They remain a very good team in a hyper-competitive conference that is good enough to beat anyone, but probably not good enough to get to the Finals. That’s a shame for anyone who loves watching well-executed fast-break basketball. Until they break through, their style will always be suspect, but when the Suns did try to play a more conventional game they were not only boring, they were mediocre. For a league that prides itself on its creativity, the NBA can be surprisingly conservative.

What to watch For: Phoenix has four players that have already launched at least 100 3-pointers this season: Nash, Richardson, Frye and former Boston College star, Jared Dudley. Each of them shoot a high percentage, and as a team the Suns are shooting over 42 percent from 3-point range. Not coincidentally, Phoenix owns the best offensive efficiency rating in basketball. The Celtics are the top rated defense in terms of efficiency, so something has to give.

In their first meeting, Phoenix was able to spread the floor with high pick and rolls and with Nash running it there are no good options for defending it. The pressure will be on Rondo to fight through screens and provide pressure on the ball and the Celtics bigs to not leave Frye open for pick and pop jumpers.

Read More: Celtics, Preview, Suns,
Fast Break: Celtics-Warriors 12.29.09 at 1:18 am ET
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Playing the Warriors can sometimes be as much an exercise in restraint as anything else. There are so many open shots and available fast break opportunities that it can be incredibly enticing to settle for the first good thing that presents itself. The Celtics, who play such a tightly controlled form of basketball, were easy marks most of the night, especially after dominating the first quarter.

In retrospect, the first 12 minutes may have been the Celtics’ undoing in a 103-99 loss. (Recap.) Playing one of their best quarters of the season, the Celtics destroyed Golden State and took a 35-22 lead. But while those easy looks remained there all night, the Celtics never settled down and played their game, with 24 turnovers one of the results.

Instead, they played way too fast and way too much like the Warriors wanted them to play at right around 100 possessions. The Celtics average a tick over 91.This is the second time they have succumbed to the temptations of playing run and gun. The Phoenix Suns performed a similar helter-skelter number on the Celtics earlier in the season, although that game was played at a pedestrian pace compared to Monday night’s sprint.

Player of the Game: Rajon Rondo. It’s getting repetitive, but Rondo is the engine and the catalyst that makes the Celtics offense go. The Warriors went with various modifications of the “leave Rondo alone in the halfcourt” defense. Taking a page from the Knicks playbook (via Jared Jeffries), they sometimes utilized 6-foot-10 Anthony Randolph playing way off Rondo and inviting him to shoot. Most of the time, Monta Ellis just sagged off him and hung back in the paint. The result was a 30-point, 15-assist effort for Rondo, who will continue to see gimmick defenses the rest of the season. Better that he sees them now.

Turning Point: In the second quarter, C.J. Watson had six steals and seemed to live in the Celtics passing lanes. He, along with Ronny Turiaf, completely changed the momentum and helped the Warriors get back in the game.

* This was a night when the Celtics dearly missed Paul Pierce. As much as Rondo controls the offense, Pierce acts as the calming influence. Halfcourt calm was in short supply against Golden State.

* In a game that featured a lot of physical play, and some uneven whistles, Glen Davis got hammered going up for a shot and appeared to be in pain when he came off the floor in the fourth quarter. The initial diagnosis was a sprained ankle and he did not return. His comeback was put on an accelerated timetable for this trip and it remains to be seen if he was actually physically ready to return to the court.

* Doc Rivers played a limited rotation and Ray Allen logged 44 minutes. That’s entirely too many, but with the Warriors’ small lineups, it did make sense. Allen’s increased minutes are yet another function of Pierce’s injury.

* Give the Warriors credit for executing correctly in the final seconds. With a three-point lead and five seconds remaining, Golden State intentionally fouled Allen rather then let him attempt a 3-pointer. It remains a mystery why more teams don’t do that automatically.

Read More: Celtics, cj watson, Fast Break, Rajon Rondo
Preview: Celtics-Warriors 12.28.09 at 10:20 am ET
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Strange things have been known to happen to the Celtics in the city by the bay. Just last year, Stephen Jackson shot the C’s right out of the building in an amazing display that had to be seen to be believed. Of course Captain Jack is no longer with Don Nelson’s F Troop, having sulked/forced his way out of town. Perhaps Jackson is smarter and savvier then he is often given credit for.

With a third of the roster on the injured list, what’s left in Golden State is an odd collection of talent, mismatched in every which way and also said to be very available to anyone who would like anything from a long-range gunner (Anthony Morrow) to a 6-10 ball of weirdness (Anthony Randolph) and everything in between.

The Warriors problems don’t really interest the Celtics all that much who have given away their cushion on this west coast swing with their shoddy late-game performance against the Clippers Sunday night. It is impossible to take the Warriors seriously, but their enigmatic makeup marks them as seriously dangerous. Sometimes.

CELTICS (23-6, 8-2 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.6

Points Allowed: 91.5

Differential: +9.1 (First)

Offensive Efficiency: 109.6 (Sixth)

Defensive Efficiency: 99.3 (First)

Pace: 91.8 (23rd)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Tony Allen, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Paul Pierce (knee surgery), Marquis Daniels (thumb surgery)

WARRIORS (8-21, 2-8, last 10)

Points Per Game: 107.2

Points Allowed: 112.3

Differential: -5.1 (26th)

Offensive Efficiency: 105.4 (19th)

Defensive Efficiency: 110.4 (26th)

Pace: 101. 4 (First)

Likely Starters: Monta Ellis, Steph Curry, Anthony Morrow, Corey Maggette, Anthony Randolph

Injuries: Kelenna Azubuike (knee surgery), Raja Bell (wrist surgery), Andris Biedrinis (ab strain), Mikki Moore (heel surgery), Brandan Wright (shoulder surgery) Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Celtics, Preview, Warriors,
Fast Break: Celtics-Magic 12.25.09 at 5:23 pm ET
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If Magic coach Stan Van Gundy has his way, the NBA would make like the rest of the world and take Christmas Day off. He has a point, but for the last two decades Dec. 25 has become the NBA’s early-season showcase event and there’s no chance of that changing anytime soon.The way his team played against the Celtics, he may get his wish.

Without Paul Pierce, the Celtics played a different brand of basketball than has been their norm this season. There was very little flash and not much in the way of offensive efficiency. Instead the Celtics played gritty, grind-it-out halfcourt hoops with a heavy emphasis on defense. It was playoff-style basketball, if not playoff-style execution. The Magic, meanwhile, played like they would have rather been knocking back some eggnog with the family.

It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t anything that the NBA would want to put in its highlight packages, but for the Celtics this 86-77 win was their biggest of the season. The Magic have owned this matchup recently, but with Kevin Garnett back to check Rashard Lewis and Rajon Rondo playing far more aggressively than he has against Orlando, the Celtics were able to escape with the victory.

Player of the Game: Rajon Rondo. Every time you think you have Rondo figured out, he does something to make you think otherwise. He has been one the game’s best distributors as a point guard, but he has struggled against Orlando. The Magic didn’t even pretend to guard Rondo on the perimeter. They ducked under screens and gave him a 10-foot cushion at the top of the key.

So, Rondo adjusted. Instead of looking to set up his teammates he attacked the basket throughout the first half. The result was a 13-point, zero-assist half. Rondo then completely reversed course and racked up eight assists in the second half. He dictated the outcome instead of allowing the Magic to take him out of the game.

Turning Point: With Garnett out of the game the Magic were able to attack the offensive glass in the fourth quarter. In one sequence they had four shots at the basket from deep inside the paint. Finally, Rasheed Wallace was able to tap the ball out to Rondo, who found Tony Allen on the break for a vicious dunk. It was a huge four-point swing.

* Glen Davis was limited to a few minutes in the first half, mainly because of foul trouble. He’s not in game shape yet, but he was able to soak up a few minutes and allowed Doc Rivers to rest Kevin Garnett and keep him on his regular rotation.

* You take the good with the bad when it comes to Tony Allen, and he offered a little bit of both starting for Paul Pierce. He went to the basket hard and did what he could on Vince Carter. He also turned into a bit of a ball stopper at times on offense. The good far outweighed the bad, however, and Allen continued his strong play of late with 16 points.

* Kendrick Perkins is one of the few individuals on the planet who can play Dwight Howard straight up. It’s past time that NBA officials recognized that and let him play. Instead, Perkins spent most of the afternoon on the bench in foul trouble. As ragged as the play was at times, the officials helped create the environment.

* The Celtics desperately missed Pierce’s ability to create good shots for himself down the stretch. Without Pierce they lack a closer.

* Garnett took a hard fall late in the game, but it appeared that it didn’t have anything to do with his knee.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Magic,
C’s can’t be Mickey Mouse on this trip 12.23.09 at 1:45 am ET
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Doc Rivers figured his team would be distracted on Tuesday for their game against the nine-win Indiana Pacers.

The Celtics and their families were planning to fly to Orlando on Wednesday morning for a trip to Orlando, two days in advance of their Christmas Day game against the Magic.

Then add to that the fact Kevin Garnett was a late scratch, and the Celtics coach figured the start of the game would be a tough go. He was right. His team basically slept-walked through the first half, falling down 15 points on their home court.

‘€œBasically all I told them at halftime was that our defense was awful and our effort was awful, and our offense was fine,” Rivers said. “We were missing good shots for the most part.  But we couldn’€™t get any early baskets because they scored every time down.  And so it was a walk-up-the-floor game for us and they were running it down our throats.   Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Celtics, Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce,
Celtics-Pacers Preview 12.22.09 at 11:27 am ET
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Way back on Nov. 14, Danhtay Jones had a career night. This came as a bit of a surprise to various members of the Celtics, who were still shaking their collective heads several days after Jones burned them for 25 points in their only road loss of the season. Jones is not known as a scorer in any meaningful way, but at that moment in time he was in the midst of the best offensive month of his career, averaging 17.5 points and shooting over 46 percent from the floor.

Jones has returned to his regular ways in December (8.5 points per, 40 percent shooting), and his Pacers team has crash-landed along with him. It would be wrong to pin all that on him, of course. Jones is a small piece of his team, but it speaks to the danger of over-reacting to one game or one month.

Over the first 16 games of the season Rasheed Wallace took 146 shots and 96 of them were 3-pointers. In other words, two thirds of the shots that Sheed took were from beyond the arc. That would be Jason Kapono territory, but not even Kapono would take that many. Over the last 10 games Wallace has greatly cut back on his 3-point attempts, launching “just” 41 percent of his from 3-point range. The result is a much more efficient second unit that has a certified low-post option at its disposal.

All of which is to say that while it’s folly to place hope in veteran players like Jones becoming something they are not, it is possible to get different results from veteran players like Wallace by simply changing their approach.

CELTICS (21-5, 9-1 last 10)

Points Per Game: 101.5

Points Allowed: 91.9

Differential: 9.5 (First)

Offensive Efficiency: 110.4 (Sixth)

Defensive Efficiency: 100.0 (Second)

Pace: 91.3 (23rd)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Glen Davis (thumb), Marquis Daniels (wrist)

PACERS (9-17, 3-7 last 10)

Points Per Game: 97. 4

Points Allowed: 101.2

Differential: -3.8 (T-24th)

Offensive Efficiency: 1007.7 (26th)

Defensive Efficiency: 104.6 (10th)

Pace: 96.7 (Second)

Likely Starters: Earl Watson, Dahntay Jones, Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy, Roy Hibbert

Injuries: Danny Granger (foot), Travis Diener (toe), Jeff Foster (back)

Key Matchup: Kevin Garnett vs. Troy Murphy Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Celtics, Pacers, Preview,
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