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No passing fancy: C’s determined to show NBA ‘what basketball is like’ 01.22.11 at 11:35 am ET
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In a stat sheet filled with superlatives, the thing that shone for the Celtics like a neon sign could be found several columns over and several rows deep.

The Celtics had 31 assists on 37 baskets in Friday’s 110-86 dismantling of the Jazz at TD Garden to improve to an Eastern Conference-best 33-9. The most impressive part of the performance was that it wasn’t all Rajon Rondo. Yes, the Celtics point guard led the way with 12 dimes, but Marquis Daniels had six, Ray Allen had four and Kevin Garnett had three. Of the 11 players who dressed, only Paul Pierce and Semih Erden failed to register at least one helper.

From the opening tip, the Celtics were determined to spread the wealth. Shaquille O’Neal drew people to him in the paint as he usually does then found Pierce to his left on a cut to the basket for a lay-up 35 seconds in. The Celtics were off to the races.

That would be the first of 31 times one Celtic teammate found another for a field goal.

“It’s just a product of our work,” Pierce said. “Everyday we come in here and that’s what we work on. We work on making the passes, running our offense. Believing in one another, not caring who gets the credit. When you have a selfless group like this, that’s what happens.”

The Jazz did their best early to keep up but as a team built on strength and power, the Celtics seemed determined to take advantage of that. Let KG explain:

“Typical stuff. We know a lot of the offense goes through their bigs,” Garnett began. “They lay a lot of high post, lot of movement. Everybody knows Jerry Sloan’s system, he has been here for 30 years, 25-plus years. They are a physical team. We knew that we had to come out and not only meet their bigs’ physicality, but to be aggressive ourselves.

“I thought for the most part, we moved the ball. The things we worked on in practice the other day definitely showed and good showing by us. I liked the way we were forceful, physical. I thought we were firm. Again we moved the ball, everything we worked on and everything we have practiced up until this point was exemplified tonight.”

Utah Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan pushed every button he could but the Celtics were too much for his team, which came in tied for first with Oklahoma City in the Northwest Division.

“Well they showed us what basketball is like tonight,” Sloan said. “They came out and they played a terrific game, they took us out of our offense, we couldn’t do anything of what we were trying to do. I thought they were terrific passing the ball, and they made us turn the ball over way too many times, 21 turnovers for 26 points, it’s tough to beat anybody when you have that happen.

“But give them credit for how they came out and got after us. They were good in their offense getting the kind of shots they wanted and the kind that they can make. Doc was pretty generous not keeping his players out there, letting us breathe a little bit I guess.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Celtics, jerry sloan, Kevin Garnett
Shaquille O’Neal battling sore right hip, might miss next 2 games 01.21.11 at 11:02 pm ET
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Doc Rivers said Shaquille O’Neal likely will miss the next two games for the Celtics after suffering what was termed a sore right hip in the first half of Friday’s win over the Jazz at TD Garden. O’Neal – who did not make the trip to Washington with the team – played just six minutes, 19 seconds before being subbed by Semih Erden, who scored a season-high 14 points off the bench in 30 minutes.

“We’re going to need him probably the next couple of games,” Rivers said of Erden. “We’re probably not going to take [O'Neal] on the trip. I think it’s his hip. Something locked up. We’ll just have to see how long that will be.”

Initially, the team announced the injury as a sore right leg. O’Neal slipped on the ice outside the Waltham practice facility and missed practice on Sunday. Rivers said he didn’t think the injury was related to that or his dive into the stands after fouling Raja Bell on a lay-up four minutes into the game.

“He told me three minutes into the game,” Rivers said. “He walked over to me and said, ‘Hey, I don’t know how long I can go. I’m feeling pretty bad. And I said, ‘You want me to take you out?’ And he said, ‘No, let me go and see how long I can go.”

The Celtics left after Friday’s game for a Saturday night date in Washington against the Wizards. O’Neal is also likely to miss next Tuesday’s game against Cleveland at TD Garden.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Celtics, Doc Rivers, NBA
Fast Break: Celtics play taps on the Jazz at 9:58 pm ET
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The Celtics played nine home games over the last three weeks and after their 110-86 beatdown of the Utah Jazz Friday night, they won eight and lost one. They played some memorable games during that stretch, including wins over San Antonio and Orlando, as well as some ugly grind-it-out affairs.

They capped it off with a double-digit win over one of the best teams in the Western Conference, which puts an exclamation point on this recent stretch that also saw them return to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Life is good for the Celtics right now.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Ball movement: The Celtics were out of rhythm Wednesday in their win over Detroit and execution was a point of emphasis for them at practice on Thursday. It was clear right from the start that it wouldn’t be a problem on this night. The Celtics had assists on all five of their early baskets and kept it up, finishing with 31 assists on 37 made shots.

Rajon Rondo had 12 assists, but everyone was involved. One late-game sequence saw the ball hop from Marquis Daniels to Nate Robinson to Von Wafer before finally ending with a dish to Semih Erden for a jam.

The return of the sixth man: Glen Davis opened up Thursday about the pressure he put on himself while he was a member of the starting lineup. It seems that being one of the best sixth men in the game is a role that’s growing on him. Davis was at his absolute best Friday, scoring 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting with seven rebounds. He scored inside and out and outworked the Utah bigs for loose balls. This is his role and he’s one of the best in the league at it.

Semih-tough: It’s been an up and down season for Erden, but he shows flashes of becoming more than just a solid role player in this league someday. Erden played 30 minutes and had a season-high 14 points on 5-for-5 shooting and seven rebounds. The Celtics needed him to play minutes after Shaquille O’Neal left the game early in the first quarter and he delivered a great performance.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Shaq Maintenance: The big fella left the game midway through the first quarter and didn’t return. The team announced in the second half that he has a sore right leg. Shaq has been dealing with a number of leg injuries throughout the season, but he has gutted it out and given the Celtics minutes. It’s too early to tell if it’s anything more than that, but the unexpected blowout allowed for some opportunistic rest.

Foul trouble for Deron Williams: The All-Star guard picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and then got his third early in the second. Williams had an all-around awful night, depriving us of an opportunity to see him and Rondo go head-to-head. Williams played on 23 minutes and had five points on 1-for-4 shooting.

FAST BREAK RULE: When you beat a Jerry Sloan-coached team by 20 or more points there are only so many things that can go “wrong.”

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, jazz,
Nate Robinson’s strange season at 7:33 pm ET
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Nate Robinson

One of the keys to having a player like Nate Robinson on a team like the Celtics is allowing him to do what he does best. Robinson is a scorer in a point guard’s body and it’s taken some time for both the player and the team to adjust to each other.

When he first arrived Robinson wanted to prove that he could fit in on an unselfish team, but his ability to create his own shot was exactly the reason they got him. Then there was the defensive end. Doc Rivers wanted him to defend fullcourt and it wasn’t until the playoffs that they got on the same page.

This season has been a different story. Robinson is playing defense. As our friends at Celtics Hub noticed, Robinson is part of the NBA’s best five-man unit in terms of defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) according to Basketball Value. The other four are Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal.

Playing with Garnett will make anyone’s team defensive numbers look better, but Robinson has taken to his role as a fullcourt pest, forcing his opponent to burn shot-clock time to get the ball over halfcourt.

On the other end, Robinson has become the high usage player the team envisioned, but his shot isn’t falling as it has in the past and there are times when perhaps he gets a little too perimeter heavy. Coming into Friday’s game with Utah, Robinson is shooting just 35 percent (21-for-60) in his last 10 games and has taken a rather incredible 55 of those shots from 16 feet and out.

Has he become too jumpshot happy?

“Depends on the shot,” Rivers said. “I’ll leave it there. We want him to make shots. He’s got open shots that he’s not making or making, I’m fine with that. But he does take some you don’t like. Honestly, with Nate I pretty much leave him alone. I’ll tell him after a game but I don’t think you correct a shooter during a game. Usually that’s with your teammates, they’re body language will tell him that that was a horrible shot.”

Asked if he wanted Robinson to try to get to the basket more (he’s taken just two shots at the rim in the last 10 games), Rivers said he’d like him to use more of his mid-range game, which has also been relatively non-existent.

“Not really,” Rivers said. “At his size getting to the basket is very difficult and very difficult for him to finish. I like his in-between game better than I do all the way to the basket.”

All that said Robinson has given the Celtics games and minutes. When Rajon Rondo was out with his various leg ailments, Robinson stepped in and soaked up major minutes. It wasn’t a perfect fit, but he did the job that was asked. The Celtics believe that when Delonte West returns from a broken wrist it will allow Robinson to really flourish. Until then, he is still searching for the elusive happy medium.

Read More: Celtics, Nate Robinson,
NBA Power Rankings, 1/20 01.20.11 at 1:00 pm ET
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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 …


San Antonio Spurs1. 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.

Boston Celtics2. 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.

Los Angeles Lakers3. 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.

Miami Heat4. 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.

Oklahoma City Thunder5. 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.

Chicago Bulls6. 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?

Orlando Magic7. 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?

Utah Jazz8. 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.

Atlanta Hawks9. 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.

New Orleans Hornets10. 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.

Dallas Mavericks11. 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.

Denver Nuggets12. 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.

New York Knicks13. 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.

Portland Trail Blazers14. 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?

Houston Rockets15. 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?

Memphis Grizzles16. 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.

Phoenix Suns17. 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?

Indiana Pacers18. 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.

Los Angeles Clippers19. 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.

Golden State Warriors20. 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?

Philadelphia 76ers21. 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.

Milwaukee Bucks22. 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.

Charlotte Bobcats23. Charlotte (16-24): A Bobcats player was suspended for elbowing Hornets center Emeka Okafor in the head, and it wasn’t Stephen Jackson?!?! That must be a typo.

Detroit Pistons24. 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.

Washington Wizards25. 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.

Toronto Raptors26. 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.

New Jersey Nets27. 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”.

Minnesota Timberwolves28. 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.”

Sacramento Kings29. 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.

Cleveland Cavaliers30. 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.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA
The Celtics chances of winning the Eastern Conference 01.19.11 at 10:39 am ET
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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).

Read More: Celtics, Miami Heat,
Preview: Magic at Celtics, Game 40 01.17.11 at 1:48 pm ET
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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.

MAGIC (26-14, 8-2 last 10)

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)

Likely Starters: Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, Brandon Bass, Dwight Howard

Injuries: Malik Allen (Ankle, out), Daniel Orton (Knee, out), Jason Williams (Foot, out)

CELTICS (30-9, 6-4, LAST 10)

Offensive Rating: 108.8 (10th)

Defensive Rating: 100.5 (2nd)

Pace: 90.8 (21st)

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

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 »

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