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Big Baby gets ‘paroled’ 03.18.09 at 7:31 pm ET
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Glen Davis was asked about seven different ways if he was returning from his ankle injury because of all the other injuries that the team has suffered recently, but he wouldn’t bite. “I’m coming back because I can play,” he said.

But then somebody asked him what it was going to feel like to get back out on the court. “It’s like jail,” he said. “I’m ready to get out. Let me out! I’m ready for parole.”

His return is a big relief for Doc Rivers who admitted he had no idea what he can expect from Baby tonight. “We haven’t seen him play,” Rivers said. “So I’m going to start him.” Then the coach laughed . What else could he do?

Baby is off to strong start tonight with four points and three rebounds through the first nine minutes, but the most important number for him is one, as in fouls. With only three big men in uniform (Davis, Kendrick Perkins and Mikki Moore) none of them can afford to be in any kind of foul trouble.

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Rivers concedes conference race at 7:15 pm ET
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There are 14 games left in the Celtics regular season, and while it is not within the realm of the likely that they will catch Cleveland in the Eastern Conference race, it is also not outside the realm of the possible that it could happen. Still, it was a little jarring to hear Doc Rivers say, unprompted, that, “we’re not going to catch Cleveland,” as he did before Wednesday night’s tip with Miami.

It was less than two weeks ago, after all, when the Celtics put on such a galvanizing show in beating the Cavs. But then Rajon Rondo got hurt, Big Baby got hurt, Leon Powe got hurt and finally Ray Allen got hurt. “We’ve earned the record that we have,” Rivers said. “We’re not going to catch Cleveland but we have a chance to hold on to that second spot.”

That’s all it is now, a chance. The C’s entered play tonight a half game ahead of Orlando and tied in the loss column for second place, a development that has been as a quick as it has been inevitable. The starting five last night included a player who joined the team at the beginning of the month, two guys who have missed time with injuries and Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins. The bench is even more bare as it has Eddie House and Mikki Moore and three guys who don’t play much, if at all.

Not that it’s going to get better anytime soon. Kevin Garnett is not a sure thing to return this weekend by any stretch of the imagination and Allen is “day to day.” Whether Big Baby has anything to give also remains to be seen.

“If we can get through this week somehow and be in striking distance of the second seed,” Rivers said. “That would be great.”

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Trags Take… A method to the madness 03.16.09 at 2:02 pm ET
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It is a scientific fact.

The middle of March has become the least productive time of year in corporate America. Even in these times of economic volatility and stress where’s there’s more pressure to produce, you can almost bet that every office has a pool of predictions as to who is going to advance in the NCAA Men’s Division I basketball championship.

And you can bet people are emailing, facebooking, texting and generally trash-talking each other’s teams, star players and of course, picks.

I might as well get in on the act. So here goes.

Five teams I love in this tournament:

1. Louisville. Rick Pitino knows what this time of year is about. His team was a machine at the Big East Tournament. They won 19 of 21 games this year in the best basketball conference in the country. Any questions?

2. Memphis. Yes they play in the Memphis Athletic Conference, also known as Conference USA, where they have won an amazing 61 straight games. Only Kentucky’s string of 64 versus SEC teams between 1945-50 is better. And they are on a 25-game winning streak. They ARE athletic enough to knock of No. 1 UConn in the West, if of course, they hit those pesky free throws.

3. North Carolina. Assuming Ty Lawson’s toe isn’t an issue, there’s ZERO reason to think he and Tyler Hansbrough won’t lead the Heels back to the Final Four in Detroit.

4. Villanova. These Wildcats are eight deep and it’s a quality eight. That is vital at tournament time because if one or two stars are off, someone needs to pick up the slack. As long as Scottie Reynolds doesn’t go 1-on-5 too often, they should advance to Boston.

5. Xavier. This team lost Josh Duncan, Drew Lavender and Stanley Burrell and everyone figured a step back was in order. All they did was reload with C.J. Anderson, B.J. Raymond and Derrick Brown. One of the most athletic teams in the tournament.

Five teams I wouldn’t bank on heading to the Motor City:

1. Syracuse. Great story. Seven overtimes. Two Big East Tourney wins, including a victory in arguably the most epic (certainly not greatest) college basketball game of all time. What does that get you? A No. 3 seed in the same South bracket as Oklahoma, North Carolina and Gonzaga and 15 sets of tired legs. Don’t be shocked if No. 14 Stephen F. Austin pulls the upset.

2. Wake Forest. Way too up-and-down from January on. Team looked like they were going to compete for a No. 1 seed and challenge UNC for ACC supremacy when they were ranked No. 1 early on. They lost at home to Virginia Tech when they were top-ranked and haven’t been the same since.

3. Boston College. They have been truly one of the fascinating stories of the college season. Al Skinner may not receive the national coach of the year but NO ONE did more to deserve it. He took a group that was picked to finish in the lower third of the ACC and rallied them to beat unbeaten and No. 1 North Carolina. Yes, we know who they lost to just days later but they also beat Duke and should have beaten them in the ACC tourney. But the fact is, they are bracketed with Michigan State, and Louisville in the Midwest, that is if they get by red-hot USC.

4. Duke. Why the hate for the ACC, Trags? Well, if you watched Duke lose at B.C. and you watched the game on Friday night at the Georgia Dome, you realize how flawed the Blue Devils are. If you don’t let Jon Scheyer kill you, you stand a really good chance of doing what VCU did in 2007.

5. Marquette. Sorry Doc Rivers. Another great early-season story. Then Dominic James broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. Season over. Jerel McNeal is a fabulously talented player, who can score from anywhere on the court and led a ferocious comeback against Villanova in the Big East Tournament. But there aren’t enough big bodies who score to sustain him in this highly intense environment.

Trags Final Four Take:

Louisville over Memphis in one national semifinal.

Villanova over North Carolina in the other.

Trags Final Take:

Louisville over Villanova.

Also of note:

The US Basketball Writers of America announced their All-Americans on Monday:

First Team
DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh, F, 6-7, 265, So., Pittsburgh, Pa.
Stephen Curry, Davidson, G, 6-3, 185, Jr., Charlotte, N.C.
Blake Griffin, Oklahoma, F, 6-10, 251, So., Oklahoma City, Okla.
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina, F, 6-9, 250, Sr., Poplar Bluff, Mo.
James Harden, Arizona State, G, 6-5, 218, So., Los Angeles, Calif.

Second Team

Sherron Collins, Kansas, G, 5-11, 200, Jr., Chicago, Ill.
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame, F, 6-8, 255, Jr., Schererville, Ind.
Jodie Meeks, Kentucky, G, 6-4, 208, Jr., Norcross, Ga.
Jeff Teague, Wake Forest, G, 6-2, 180, So., Indianapolis, Ind.
Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut, C, 7-3, 263, Jr., Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

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A players’ coach… 03.09.09 at 5:47 pm ET
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Doc Rivers quipped after practice on Monday that he just worked up his best sweat since his playing days.

The former NBA point guard wasn’t joking. He just finished running Stephon Marbury through a five-man ghost drill in which Rivers called out various plays, leaving Marbury to run an offense that included the likes of Mikki Moore, Leon Powe, J.R. Giddens, Bill Walker and Gabe Pruitt.

With five players unavailable due to injury and with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen playing 45 minutes apiece the day before, the Celtics were running on a skelton practice with barely enough bodies to make it worthwhile.

Now, while he’ll have the benefit of Pierce and Allen on Wednesday when the team plays next in Miami, Marbury will have to pick up his mastery of the offense if the Celtics are to find their way on offense and not fall behind by 20 like they did on Sunday in the first half against Orlando.

“Steph ran the set, but he didn’t know what to look for or who to look for and then he’s playing at half-speed, because you could feel him thinking out there on the floor,” Rivers said. “That killed him and it killed the team as well. So, it’s just going to take time. What I’m trying to get him to do is not to press or worry about it. The first thing I told him (Sunday) night was don’t worry about, it’s going to come together.”

Even though he was clearly not playing up to the potential that Danny Ainge saw when he signed him two weeks ago, Marbury was hardly crestfallen about his chances to improve. Instead, he exhibited the kind of confidence required from a point guard of a NBA title contender.

“Yeah, I’m definitely, getting it,” Marbury said. “Today was definitely helpful. As coach said today, learning what we want out of the offense as opposed to just running the sets. As a point guard, you normally know all of the plays, you know where to go and you know what everyone is going to do.”

With Rivers saying on Monday that he foresees Rajon Rondo out for at least the next couple of games with his sprained right ankle, this will be Marbury’s team. Marbury will have a golden opportunity to show that he can pick up the offense in time to be a force for the playoffs.

“For me, asserting myself in the lineups, I need to make sure the guys get the shots who are supposed to get the shots,” Marbury said.

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Passing Chemistry 101 02.27.09 at 10:48 pm ET
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Stephon Marbury wasted no time making his intentions known.

“I’m not looking to improve my game,” he said at his introductory press conference. “I’m coming here to try to help the Celtics win another championship.”

Wearing a Boston Celtics shirt with a handwritten number eight on the shamrock, Marbury addressed the media prior to Friday’s game against the Indiana Pacers. (RECAP HERE) He shrugged off talks of selfishness and expressed his willingness to do whatever is asked of him on the court.

Marbury said all the right things as the newest member of an organization driven by chemistry and teamwork.

“This is a very selfless team,” said Ray Allen. “We don’t care about individual accolades.”

Even though Marbury received a standing ovation in his first game, the skepticism of his team-first attitude is not going to go away overnight. He comes to Boston with the baggage of a tarnished reputation, one that isn’t forgotten by wearing a new uniform. The front office explained to Marbury how the team operates, a discussion which is protocol for every new player.

“We establish what the rules are, how we run things here, and how it’s about the team,” Celtics president Danny Ainge told WEEI’s Big Show. “We’ve established those rules with Steph. (Head coach) Doc (Rivers) and I had a good conversation with him this morning and I’ve had a handful of conversations with Steph about those things even before now, as the Knicks gave us permission to talk.”

Marbury wants to look ahead. And so do the Celtics.

“I’m not afraid of Steph, Doc’s not afraid of Steph, and it really comes down to Doc,” Ainge said. “I think Doc understands Steph and can manage him and that Steph will respect Doc, first and foremost.”

Last season Rivers coached five veteran first-year Celtics to a championship. He knows firsthand that a new environment can turn a vet’s career around.

“That was New York and wherever else. That has nothing to do with today and tomorrow,” Rivers said of concerns about Marbury. “I’ve always had an open mind with everyone who’s come in, and you know, we’ve done pretty well. Our locker room is very strong and we just have good people. And so, no, I’m not that concerned about that at all.”

The players are on board with personnel. After winning a title with a reconstructed team, the Celtics know that a midseason acquistion (think P.J. Brown) can be the missing piece to success.

“You’ve just got to welcome him in, make him feel like he’s at home. Other than that, just do things together off the court,” said Kendrick Perkins. “I think [adding so many new players last season] helped us a lot. We’ve just got to keep getting better and help these guys just keep improving as a team. I think we’ll get better as they get to play more games.”

The key to Marbury’s success with his new team is just that, playing as a team.

“You never know what’s in front of you as far as your basketball career,” he said. “That’s why you just play as hard as you can and do the best that you can.”

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Powe making a comeback 02.12.09 at 12:03 am ET
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It’s not often that an NBA power forward can be compared to a Major League pitcher, but in this case,  Celtics head coach Doc Rivers thought it was fitting. For two seasons, Leon Powe was a relative unknown in the league. A breakout performance in last year’s NBA Finals changed that. Since then, opponents have been paying more attention when scouting the low post player.

With that comes struggles, said Rivers, who has not been overly concerned by Powe’s inconsistency in his third NBA season. The better an opponent knows a player, the more effective they can be in slowing him down. After a cold streak during January in which he went scoreless in three consecutive games, Powe is finding his place again on the court.

“I told myself to be aggressive,” he said. “Sometimes in the past, I wasn’t that aggressive when I got it because I missed a couple shots. So then I stopped being aggressive and became a little passive. Then, the coaches told me the other day, ‘If you’re going to go out there on the floor, just go out there and play and be aggressive.’”

Powe did just that on Wednesday night against the New Orleans Hornets. With Ray Allen sidelined in the first half by a hyperextended thumb, the Celtics needed the bench to step up. Powe offered a fourth quarter surge, scoring seven of his 11 points in just under eight minutes. His hustle at the basket (5-for-6 from the line) helped the Celtics defeat the Hornets, 89-77 (RECAP HERE).

In the first six games of February, Powe is averaging 19.3 minutes, 8.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and shooting 62.1 percent from the field. It’s an improvement after averaging 14.6 minutes, 4.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 38.3 percent from the field in 15 games last month.

“I just wasn’t making my hook shots,” Powe said. “My hook’s been off a little bit from game to game. But I work on it every day and that’s one thing I had to get better. I think that’s why coach said they’ve probably been scouting me harder. But my hook’s been off.”

The Celtics, though, cannot afford for anyone’s shot to be off. In a tight race for homecourt advantage where every game counts, Powe has been watching from the bench while Glen Davis has been getting the minutes. But he doesn’t compare his playing time to Big Baby’s. His best motivation is his next opportunity.

“I’ve just been doing the same exact thing, just trying to work on my game and get my game better,” Powe said. “[I'm working on] stuff on the block, one-on-one on the post moves, and just trying to keep my game in tact while I’m sitting down. Sometimes I get the minutes, sometimes I don’t, and I’ve got to make sure my stuff is sharp.”

Just because he is scouted doesn’t mean he can be stopped.

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Twelve minutes to make it count 02.08.09 at 5:40 pm ET
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Ray Allen knew what to expect days before playing the San Antonio Spurs.

“It comes down to a fourth-quarter battle,” he said on Friday. “They’re not going to come in and make small mistakes. They’re going to operate their offense. Defensively they’re going to know what they’ve got to do.”

Allen was exactly right. On Sunday, the Celtics entered the fourth quarter with a two-point lead and were outscored 31-23 by the Spurs. They lost 105-99 (RECAP HERE). It was the second time in two games the defending champs fell in the final 12 minutes. Last week they started the fourth quarter up by four on the Los Angeles Lakers before losing 110-109 in overtime.

“When you play the top teams in the league it comes down to the little things,” said Paul Pierce. “And I just thought last couple of games at home it was one or two-point games. It’s the little things — defensive transition late in the game, covering for one another, one possession. It’s like the playoffs, one play can kill you. Every possession counts and we got to understand that when we play against the top tier teams like the San Antonio Spurs and the Lakers.”

The Celtics have hit cold streaks in their last two losses. Up six with eight minutes to go against the Lakers, the C’s failed to build on their lead. The Lakers went on an 11-5 run during a five minute stretch to tie it up, eventually winning in OT.

On Sunday the Celtics allowed an 11-4 Spurs run in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter. Later in the game they watched a 93-90 lead slip away to a 101-93 deficit.

“You’ve got to get stops, everybody’s got to be on the same page,” said Kendrick Perkins. “Besides getting stops, on the offense you’ve got to execute, you’ve got to throw the extra pass when guys are open. Usually a team like San Antonio, you can’t beat them with the dribble. You’ve got to beat them with the pass. You can’t turn the ball over at all against San Antonio. So I just thought in stretches we played together and stretches we didn’t move the ball and that was the key.”

The Celtics have allowed a total of 215 points in their last two games at home. It is an overwhelming difference for a team who has held their opponents to just 92 points per game over the season. Nonetheless, head coach Doc Rivers was able to see a silver lining in the losses.

“Well it tells me that we’re really good, because we’ve not played with our A-game, as Tiger Woods would say, I guess,” he said. “And we still had a chance to win both. Both games we had the lead and gave it up. Gave up points, which is not like us. In a sick way I guess I’d rather be down and not be able to score than up and give up baskets, because we’re a defensive team. But we clearly have to improve. Our bench has to be more consistent. They gave up an 8-1 run to start the fourth. You know, that hurts you. It’s tough to recover from that.”

The Celtics will have two days to regroup before facing the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday. They are aware of their mistakes; now it is a matter of fixing them.

“In general, you can’t turn the ball over,” Allen said. “You have to execute on both ends down the floor in the fourth quarter.”

The Celtics know what to expect down the stretch. Lucky for them, there’s another 12 minutes to prove they can take care of business.

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