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NBA Power Rankings, 1/25 01.25.12 at 2:28 pm ET
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We’re exactly one month into the season and the NBA Power Rankings picture isn’t exactly crystal clear. Are the Sixers and Nuggets legit title contenders? What about the Nuggets? Are the Celtics and Lakers really borderline playoff teams? Will the Wizards and Hornets win 10 games?  Is Shaquille O’Neal the worst analyst in history? When will The Legend of Mutombo’s Gold be optioned for the film rights? Even at the quarter-mark, so many questions still remain in this shortened NBA season. Let’s attempt to answer a few of them.

1. Oklahoma City (14-3): How the Thunder lost to the Wizards is a mystery on par with Area 51. Outside of that hiccup, Kevin Durant (MVP anyone?) & Co. continue to roll — through the Grizzlies, Knicks, Celtics and just about everybody else. Not only are they good, they’re healthy. Even Kendrick Perkins has started all 17 games. The next two weeks will tell us a lot about OKC — with games at the Clippers, Mavericks, Spurs and Blazers — but something tells me they’ll be Ok, see.

2. Chicago (16-3): No Derrick Rose, no problem. The Bulls are 4-1 in his absence, albeit against the dregs of the league. Meanwhile, Joakim Noah (16 and 10 on Monday) and Richard Hamilton (consecutive 20-point nights) are returning to form. But Rose remains the biggest question mark of the season, as his toe injury is expected to linger through the spring — and @derrickrosestoe is sure to pick up more than seven followers.

3. Miami (12-5): The Heat are 4-4 in their last eight games, but during that stretch they defeated the Spurs, Lakers and 76ers in five nights — without Dwyane Wade (ankle), another massive question mark looming over this NBA season. Remarkably, Erik Spoelstra‘s crew is 0-4 in Wade’s last four appearances. Without him, LeBron James is reverting to MVP form, as much as it pains me to say it, especially after he tweeted: “R.I.P Joe Pa! Met him before while I was out at Nike campus. He was great man!!” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat
For starters, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett need to get it going 01.14.12 at 9:19 am ET
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The “Big 3″ of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett have been the backbone of the Celtics title runs in the last four seasons, winning it all in 2008, coming within a Game 7 of another in 2010 and getting to the second round of the playoffs in ’09 and last spring.

All three admitted Friday night after losing to the younger, more energetic Bulls, if they don’t help get the team off to better starts in games, they’re going nowhere.

“It’s up to the starters, and myself, to play better basketball at the start of games,” Pierce said. ‘€œI think we started to play better defense, and move the ball a lot better, but the bottom line is we can’€™t dig ourselves these holes in the first quarter. It seems like it’€™s getting repetitive every game, the starters need to do a better job with getting better starts. The last couple of games we’€™ve gotten off to poor starts and half to scratch and claw our way back and exert so much energy that by the time we catch up with them our guys are tired and can’€™t get over the hump.

‘€œI have to play better for us to win ball games and I realize that. Right now we’€™re going through a little lull, and we’€™ve just got to get through it.’€

Pierce, Allen and Garnett combined to shoot 6-for-18 in the first half Friday, as the Celtics fell behind by 19 points at halftime.

“It’s very concerning,” Allen said. “Look at the stats for tonight, in the second, third and fourth, we picked up our scoring. It’s the five starters, we have to have better starts.”

“Slow start, they came out firing on all cylinders and created a hole for ourselves early,” Garnett said. “For any team, you can’t really do that. Second half was obviously a better effort. Somehow, someway we’ve got to figure out starting games with a lot more energy. You’re probably getting tired of hearing that and it’s repetitive but it’s something we have to act on and do. This ain’t perfect and we’re going to continue to work.

Garnett started the game by missing his first six shots, including 0-of-5 in the first half.

“Frustration starts with the man in the mirror,” Garnett said. “I definitely have to do better, I’m going to do better, watch tons of film and just continue to better myself and that’s all I can do. I’ll continue to encourage teammates and continue to be the glue, or one of the pieces of the glue and just stay supportive. You don’t win anything in the first month, I do know that.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Kevin Garnett, NBA
NBA Offseason Review: Central Division 12.23.11 at 10:00 am ET
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Given the drama (and comedy) that was the NBA lockout, the ensuing free agency frenzy and the vetoed trade by a commissioner of a group of owners who was acting as the general manager of an individual team that is owned by that same group of owners, it’s easy to get confused about who landed where. This is the fifth of six daily division-by-division reviews leading up to opening day.

NBA Offseason Review: Pacific Division
NBA Offseason Review: Northwest Division
NBA Offseason Review: Southwest Division
NBA Offseason Review: Southeast Division

INDIANA PACERS

2010-11 record: 37-45
2010-11 standing: 2nd in Central Division
NBA draft picks: None
Key additions: David West (free agent); Louis Amundson (trade); George Hill (trade)
Key substractions: Josh McRoberts (free agent); Brandon Rush (trade); Mike Dunleavy (FA); T.J. Ford (FA)
2011-12 starters: PG Darren Collison; SG Paul George; SF Danny Granger; PG David West; C Roy Hibbert
2011-12 wins over/under (sportsbook.com): 31.5
2011-12 prediction: 36-30

CHICAGO BULLS

2010-11 record: 62-20
2010-11 standing: Won Central Division
NBA draft picks: 23. Nikola Mirotic; 30. Jimmy Butler
Key additions: Richard Hamilton (buyout)
Key substractions: Keith Bogans (waived); Kurt Thomas (free agent)
2011-12 starters: PG Derrick Rose; SG Hamilton; SF Luol Deng; PF Carlos Boozer; C Joakim Noah
2011-12 wins over/under (sportsbook.com): 46.5
2011-12 prediction: 49-17

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Read More: Central Division, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons
NBA Power Rankings 4/15 04.14.11 at 7:30 pm ET
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1. Chicago (62-20): Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau told ESPN.com Derrick Rose “will continue to get better throughout his career.” That’s a ridiculously scary thought, considering he’s a lock for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. But the real question remains, Can Rose capture NBA Finals MVP? Only five other guys under 6-foot-4 have captured that honor in NBA history: Tony Parker (2007), Chauncey Billups (’04), Isiah Thomas (’90), Joe Dumars (’89) and Jerry West (’69).

2. San Antonio (61-21): I’m not sure if Dr. Jack Ramsay prescribed himself some medical marijuana or what, but he picked Spurs guard Manu Ginobili as his MVP. I’d be surprised if Ginobili is named First Team All-NBA. Take nothing away from what the Spurs have accomplished, including a 2-1 record against the Lakers with Ginobili, Parker and Tim Duncan in the lineup.

3. LA Lakers (57-25): After losing five straight games, the Lakers got a bit of their swagger back. If you think about it, all signs point to the fact that they’re already in playoff form: They beat the Spurs in the penultimate game of the regular season, Phil Jackson is getting fined for his comments, Andrew Bynum‘s health is in question, Kobe Bryant is screaming homophobic slurs at referees and Lamar Odom wants to quit.

4. Miami (58-24): Just as Gloria James may not have thrown the first punch at a Florida valet, LeBron James & Co. didn’t deliver the first, second or third blow against the Celtics. But the Heat landed the biggest punch in the fight on Sunday, handing the Celtics their worst loss of the year during a game in which Mike Bibby actually played Rajon Rondo to a standstill.

5. Boston (56-26): Who holds the key to the Celtics’ figurative playoff switch? I’m guessing it’s not Danny Ainge. And they better hope it’s not Shaquille O’Neal. Is it Rondo? Kevin Garnett? Maybe it’s Paul Pierce, who told Mut & Merloni on Thursday, “I flipped the switch when I woke up this morning.” Whoever it is, Doc Rivers should remind him to keep it on Sunday.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA
NBA Power Rankings, 4/8 04.08.11 at 6:41 pm ET
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1. Chicago (58-20): The good news: With their 16-point victory against the Celtics on Thursday night, the Bulls emphatically proved they have the best player in the NBA, the best coach in the NBA and, most importantly, the best team in the NBA. The bad news: They also ensured that Chicago fans will be forced to awkwardly walk past a weird half-bust/half-statue thing of Scottie Pippen.

2. LA Lakers (55-23): In a fantastic profile of Lakers coach Phil Jackson, we learned three important facts: 1) He really is retiring at season’s end; 2) Upon meeting Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant told his idol, “I can take you 1-on-1″; and 3) A full-bearded man should never wear shorts this short. If two three-peats with Kobe and the Lakers to go along with the six titles with Jordan and the Bulls would be a perfect symmetry to Jackson’s career, how much sweeter would a Celtics title be for Boston fans?

3. Boston (54-24): The Bulls embarrassed the Celtics Thursday night, but the C’s are still 8-3 against the top-five NBA teams, 6-1 against their potential first-round opponents (76ers and Knicks) and 3-0 against their probable second-round opponent (Heat). As Paul Flannery noted, the Celtics also lost to the Cavaliers by 29 in the home stretch of the 2009-10 regular season. If that’s not cause for optimism, then maybe Rick Pitino was right about the negativity in this town.

4. San Antonio (60-19): Are the Spurs the team that started the season 57-13 or the squad that lost six straight from March 25 to Arpil 1? Does anybody still have confidence that San Antonio can knock off the Lakers in the Western Conference finals? Will Eva Longoria get a cut of Tony Parker‘s playoff share as part of their divorce? So many questions still for this team.

5. Miami (54-24): After Derrick Rose and the Bulls obliterated the Celtics for their 17th victory in 19 games and the Heat lost to the Cavaliers and Bucks in a span of eight days, don’t hold your breath for a response from anyone who believed LeBron James deserved this season’s MVP honor.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA
Irish Coffee: The Rajon Rondo roller coaster at 12:16 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Make no mistake: The Celtics’ 97-81 loss to the Bulls falls on Rajon Rondo‘s shoulders.

To say he got outplayed by Derrick Rose is like saying the seas got a little choppy during “The Perfect Storm.” Rose obliterated Rondo, tying a neat little bow around his NBA Most Valuable Player trophy and effectively clinching the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed in the process.

The box score tells you plenty. Rose outscored Rondo by 23 points on just six more shots. He got to the free-throw line seven more times (making nine more foul shots). He knocked down as many 3-pointers on Thursday night as Rondo has totaled in his last 33 games. He recorded more steals than the league’s second-best theft. He produced more assists than a guy who had averaged 3.3 more dimes per game. And the most damning statistic: In terms of plus/minus, Rose (+24) owned a 38-point edge over Rondo (-14).

But the box score doesn’t tell the entire story. Offensively, Rose blew by Rondo at will, wreaking havoc on the league’s best defense. Kevin Garnett and another Celtics defender constantly provided help, leaving Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and just about every other Bulls big wide open on the weakside to put back rare Rose misses.

Remember when Rose stormed by Rondo and lost the ball underneath the basket, only to fire the ball out to Luol Deng for a wide open 3-pointer to put the Bulls up, 44-37? Those are the kinds of things that happen when a point guard walks into the lane as easily as my mother walks along Bay Lane. And those are the kinds of things that Rondo failed to do for the Celtics all night.

You wonder why Keith friggin’ Bogans played Ray Allen to a standstill, and then you realize that Rondo failed to create open shots for the game’s greatest shooter. When’s the last time the Big Three were all held to 15 points or fewer? Oh, that’s right, it was an awful 93-77 loss to the Rockets on March 18, when Rondo (4 points, 6 assists) got torched by Kyle Lowry (20 points, 9 assists).

It’s fairly simple: When the Celtics have more assists than their opponent, they’re 50-11; when they don’t, they’re 4-13. And who’s “the head of the monster” who steers the C’s ship, as Allen said on Mut & Merloni? That’s right, Rondo.

If Rondo succeeds, the Celtics succeed. When he produces 10 or more assists, the Celtics are 35-6, and that .854 winning percentage only climbs higher as his assist totals sore. When Rondo gets to 13 assists, the Celtics are 13-2 (an .867 winning percentage). In the 10 games he’s reached 16 assists, the C’s are a perfect 10-0.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose, Kevin Garnett
Irish Coffee: Celtics vs. Bulls tale of the tape 04.07.11 at 2:42 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

In a potential Eastern Conference finals preview on Thursday night, little separates the Celtics and Bulls — head-to-head, offensively or defensively. Chicago (57-20) owns a three-game lead over the C’s (54-23) for the No. 1 seed, but Doc Rivers & Co. have won two of their three head-to-head matchups against their old assistant Tom Thibodeau. In order to determine where the advantages lie, let’s go straight to the tape …

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Celtics vs. Bulls

97.7 … points … 95.7
11.0 … fast break points … 9.3
44.7 … points in the paint … 40.0
37.7-79.0 (47.7) … FGM-A (%) … 34.7-74.0 (46.9)
3.3-10.7 (31.3) … 3PM-A (%) … 4.0-10.7 (37.5)
19.0-23.0 (82.6) … FTM-A (%) … 22.3-29.0 (77.0)
34.0 … rebounds … 41.7
5.0 … o-rebounds … 9.0
29.0 … d-rebounds … 32.7
22.7 … assists … 19.7
10.0 … steals … 5.3
4.0 … blocks … 4.3
10.3 … turnovers … 17.3
22.7 … personal fouls … 20.0

Considering the Celtics were missing Shaquille O’Neal in Game 1, Jermaine O’Neal in Game 2 and Kevin Garnett in Game 3, while the Bulls missed Carlos Boozer in Game 1 and Joakim Noah in Game 3, injuries didn’t play a huge role in the overall production. So, the Celtics’ shooting (points & FG%), passing (assists) and defensive (points/percentages allowed, steals and turnovers) are legitimate, as is the Bulls’ across-the-board rebounding edge.

Now, let’s examine how well the Celtics and Bulls have produced throughout the season:

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose, Kevin Garnett
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