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Lockout links: July 12 07.12.11 at 9:00 pm ET
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Minnesota finally fired coach Kurt Rambis. (AP)

We’re almost two weeks into the NBA lockout and while there’s a whole lot of nothing happening on the labor front — no talks, no proposals, no urgency to get a deal done — the league hasn’t quite gone to sleep. Here’s a look at some of the news that’s been making the rounds while we sit around and wait.

ITEM: Minnesota fires Kurt Rambis

Minnesota finally got around to firing Rambis three weeks after it had been reported that that was the plan all along. It was an embarrassing situation for a franchise that has devolved into train-wreck vaudeville under general manager David Kahn.

Rambis may not have earned a third season after winning just 32 games over two seasons with an ill-fitting triangle offense and not even a hint of defense (his resistance to playing Kevin Love in his first season didn’t help matters either). That’s fine, but the way this played out was unnecessarily silly. (Read this Yahoo report on how Kahn tried to kick Rambis upstairs).

Now the Wolves need a new coach and here’s where it gets interesting. Up and coming assistant J.B. Bickerstaff has reportedly left for Houston, along with former college coach Kelvin Sampson, to join Kevin McHale‘s new coaching staff. But Yahoo reports that Bickerstaff’s father, veteran coach Bernie Bickerstaff, is in the mix.

Also mentioned is University of Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, which is curious, and (shocker!) Don Nelson would be interested in coming out of retirement for a shot at the job. The jokes just write themselves.

Under normal circumstances, the Timberwolves would be an attractive opening as they have nowhere to go but up and a bevy of talented players including Love, rookie Derrick Williams and the mysterious Ricky Rubio. But then you remember that Kahn is calling the shots.

What was it that Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said as the lockout commenced?

“We need a sustainable business model that allows all 30 teams to be able to compete for a championship, fairly compensates our players, and provides teams, if well-managed, with an opportunity to be profitable.”

If well-managed. Right. Read the rest of this entry »

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Doc Rivers: No superstar let-down this time for Celtics 12.09.10 at 2:06 am ET
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BOSTON — Celtics coach Doc Rivers held off on telling his team that Carmelo Anthony wouldn’t be playing against them on Wednesday night due to right knee inflammation. It worked.

“Yeah, they knew I was lying because I told them that Lawrence [Frank] didn’t know,” Rivers said after watching his team dispatch of the Nuggets without Melo, 105-89. “We went through the whole defensive added. Hey listen, the last time we used – it didn’t work. So we tried something different. And, listen, the last time he didn’t play I think they scored 135 points. That was the other thing we told them. So I just thought we came out very professional and ready.”

The Celtics shot a scorching 68 percent in the first quarter, making 13-of-19 from the field, on their way to building a 19-point lead.

“I think coach really made a point of that,” Paul Pierce said of Rivers’ Melo message before the game. “He really didn’t want to tell us that Carmelo wasn’t playing, I think he waited to the very last second cause he went over the game plan, so we took that to heart and went out there and just tried to establish ourselves in the first quarter. I think like Kevin said we’re on a roll defensively and that’s what were trying to do to start the game”

It was 30-11 with 2:47 left in the first quarter before the Nuggets closed to within 14, 35-21, heading into the second quarter.

Why the lesson? The Celtics’ only home court loss came to Oklahoma City on Nov. 19, as the Thunder played without superstar Kevin Durant.

What makes Rivers a great coach is he always seems to provide the right inspiration and lesson at the right time. Rivers knew the Nuggets lost 24 hours earlier in Charlotte, in a heart-breaker, 100-98. Anthony played 39 minutes and scored 22 points. His knee acted up and the NBA’s 10th-leading scorer (22.8 points/game) was unavailable in Boston.

“When you lose a star like that, it’s tough on the other team,” Rivers said. “They played last night, you lose Carmelo, and that’s a tough night for you. And the fact that for three of the four quarters, we were really good.”

Ray Allen scored 18 of his game-high 28 points in the first half and Pierce and Kevin Garnett each added 17 as the Celtics won their eighth straight Wednesday at TD Garden.

Message delivered and well received.

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Delonte West knew the ‘basketball gods’ would be unkind 11.19.10 at 11:46 pm ET
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In just his second game back, Delonte West took a leadership role after a surprising 89-84 home-court loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were playing without injured superstar Kevin Durant.

“This team didn’t even have to play with desperation to beat us tonight,” West said of the Thunder. “That’s one of our biggest concerns this year, being complacent, doing what we did tonight.”

The Celtics fell behind by as many as 10 in the third quarter before making a late charge and drawing to within one, 85-84, on West’s two free throws with 1:16 left in the fourth.

“It’s not like we put up a fight,” West said. “We just left it out on the table. Seemed like the whole game we were seaching for a challenge. It’s not like we put up a fight. We just left it out on the table. Seemed like the whole game we were seaching for a challenge. It was almost like in the third quarter we were like, ‘Ok, down 10. Let’s go.’ Basketball gods don’t reward you like that.”

The Celtics made just 2-of-12 shots in the final period and failed to score a field goal in the final 10:35 of the game, getting a jumper from Nate Robinson for their final field goal of the night.

West might get to show even more leadership on Sunday in Toronto when the Celtics take on the Raptors, possibly without Rajon Rondo, who strained his left hamstring with six minutes left in the fourth quarter of Friday’s game and is day-to-day.

Rondo will get treatment on Saturday and see how he feels.

“If he’s unable to go, I’ll be ready to do what I do best,” said West, who missed a potential game-tying three-pointer from the right baseline with 10 seconds left. “I prepare myself well and if my number is called I’ll be ready to go. Just like tonight, I prepare myself to shoot those type of shots. The ball didn’t bounce the way I wanted it to but I’m very confident in what I do.”

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Fast break: Thunder snap Celtics home run at 9:55 pm ET
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The Celtics came out flat Friday night and it cost them against the Kevin Durant-less Oklahoma City Thunder. Russell Westbrook scored 31 points and dished out six assists as the Thunder became the first visiting team in six tries to beat the Celtics on the parquet this season, 89-84.

It was an ugly finish as neither team converted a field goal in the last nine minutes, 20 seconds.

Durant sprained his ankle on Wednesday night and did not play.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT WRONG:

Lack of energy. Whether it was a understandable letdown from not having to gear up for Durant or losing Kevin Garnett for most of the first quarter after taking an elbow in the back of the head, the Celtics looked lethargic out of the gate. Though he played the first three minutes and hit his only field goal attempt,  It showed practically from the onset of the game as the Celtics were getting beaten to loose balls and not rotating on defense, allowing the Thunder to find the open man.

No rebounding presence. The Celtics were beaten on the glass, 20-11, in the first half. Shaquille O’Neal collected four rebounds in the first half, but that led the team. Garnett – perhaps due to his early inactivity – couldn’t get going on the boards. With the lack of rebounding came foul trouble. Rondo picked up his fifth personal foul with just over six minutes left in the fourth while Shaq picked up two quick fouls to begin the second half. In all, the Celtics were whistled for 11 fouls in the third and the Thunder just five. Oklahoma City capitalized at the stripe, hitting 13-of-16 in the quarter to extend their lead to 77-69 heading into the final quarter.

Ray Allen had an off night: The Celtics couldn’t seem to get their sharp-shooter into a rhythm for any extended stretch. With the Thunder up, 71-63, Paul Pierce woke up the crowd with a bucket and Allen followed with a mid-range jumper from the free throw line-extended and the crowd sense a rally. But he remained in single-figures in the scoring column as the Thunder threw all types of defensive switches at the Celtics all night. Allen finished with eight points.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT:

Tis just as good to give than receive: The Celtics had 17 assists at halftime on 21 baskets and finished with 20 on 33 buckets in the game. Like with the Patriots and Tom Brady, as long as Rajon Rondo is the quarterback of the offense, the Celtics should be in good shape. Rondo was held to seven assists.

Shaq playing big in the paint. This is exactly what the Celtics got him for when they signed him for a ’730-day contract’ in the summer. He played 16 of the 24 minutes in the first half. He also threw his considerable weight around, like when he nearly body-slammed Russell Westbrook to the court on a drive down what appeared to be an open lane. Shaq was whistled for a flagrant against Westbrook with 4:30 left in the fourth quarter and Westbrook hit a key free throw to extend the lead to five.  Again, that’s exactly what they wanted from Shaq – a mean presence in the middle that the Celtics desperately wanted for this season.

As a result, the Celtics again dominated the paint, 44-16.

Winning the turnover battle: It’s ironic that the one thing that seemed to be the Achilles’ heel of the Celtics in their 9-2 start was the one thing they corrected on Friday night. They committed 15 turnovers while the Thunder committed 20 – leading to 20 Boston points.

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Irish Coffee: Delonte West discusses Kevin Durant 11.18.10 at 11:23 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

One day, Delonte West is the talk of the town, returning to a Celtics uniform three years after being traded and 10 additional games after being suspended. The next day? He’s just another member of a championship contender.

And that’s the way he likes it.

“Now you guys can go back to bothering them and leaving me alone,” West told reporters after Wednesday night’s 114-83 victory over the Washington Wizards.

Now, he’s left to do his thing, which Wednesday night was knocking down 5-of-7 shots for 12 points to go along with five rebounds, four assists, one steal and a block — a little bit of everything.

“Once I left here, in my journey in the league, I’ve matured as a player,” added West. “I’ve come into my own a little bit. I’m just really scratching my potential, as far as playmaking. Right now, I’m embracing my role as a bench player. I don’t want to say Sixth Man. You have a team like this, the whole bench is the Sixth Man.

“I know what I can do. I know I can play at a high level, so it helps the team when I can come off the bench and bring that high level of play out there.”

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant goes up for a dunk against the Portland Trail Blazers in the third quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Friday, Nov. 12, 2010. Oklahoma City won 110-108.

The Celtics welcome Kevin Durant and the Thunder to town on Friday night. (AP)

With his Celtics debut behind him, West can answer the day-to-day questions, like what he thinks of Kevin Durant, his former teammate on the Seattle SuperSonics.

“Y’all seen him,” West told WEEI.com. “I watched him grow up in D.C. He by far scores the easiest [in the NBA]. You watched him in college. I watched him on the playgrounds in D.C. On the outside, he could shoot the ball from anywhere. He’s so smooth with it.

“We’re from the same area. We keep track of each other. I got a chance to play with him a little bit in Seattle, give him some pointers and root him on. The sky’s the limit for the guy.”

West and Durant both grew up in Maryland, outside of Washington D.C. On Friday night, they’ll be reunited when the Celtics host Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder. And West knows from experience — defending Durant is no easy task.

“You’ve got to give him a little bit of everything [defensively],” said West. “Put a hand in his face and hope he misses. Guys like that, there’s really no defense for him. He’s either going to make it or he’s going to miss. That’s the kind of player he is. Once he steps across half-court, he’s dangerous.”

As West proved on Wednesday night, he can be dangerous on the court, too.

THE OBLIGATORY SHAQ UPDATE

A 2010-11 Celtics victory just wouldn’t be the same without a postgame interview with Shaquille O’Neal. Heres’ a few highlights:

  • On Delonte West: “He’s a great player. He played well. I had the opportunity to play with him last year. Great player and a great guy. He can be a sparkplug sometimes. You guys think he’s crazy, but he’s not. Not at all. I can handle him. We always have conversations about the game. He’s very smart. He’s just misunderstood sometimes.” (Mike Petraglia has more.)
  • On the C’s interior dominance: “I’m going to have the advantage on every center that we play. … It’s paying off very nicely. Once we get Jermaine [O'Neal]and Kendrick [Perkins] back, it’s going to be really, really nice – really, really difficult for teams to match up.”
  • On his chemistry with Rondo: “Rondo’s a great passer. He gets me the ball. I do what I’ve been doing for 18 years. … It’s not really something you need to work on with him. He’s just a great player. He reads the court very well. … Two great players just working together. He passes it to me, and I put it in the basket.”
  • On Rondo’s alley-oop to Kevin Garnett: “[Garnett] understands how the defense is playing, and he actually orchestrated that play. He said, ‘This dude’s overplaying me; this dude’s disrespecting me.’ He’s great like that.”
  • On what he told Semih Erden: “I told him to be mean out there, be aggressive. Semih’s a nice guy. … I told him to go out and play and dominate.”

REACTIONS FROM D.C.

As you can imagine, Wednesday night’s 31-point blowout by the Celtics against the John Wall-less Wizards didn’t sit well with anybody on Washington’s side …

  • Head coach Flip Saunders (courtesy of the Washington Post): “It was like men playing against boys. I told our guys, they just reached right into our chest and tore our heart out, and just took away our will.”
  • Gilbert Arenas: “This is one of them games, where you’re on the playground and you beat somebody up – and the real bully comes and beats you up. They are built for a championship. We’re rebuilding. Until we feel we’re on that level, we have a long way to go. The two championship-caliber teams that we’ve played, we got blown out.”
  • Nick Young: “They’re an all-star team. … Obviously, they know how to win.”

WHITE HOUSE HONORS BILL RUSSELL

The White House announced that Bill Russell is one of 15 people who will receive the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom, “the nation’s highest civilian honor.”

Bill Russell“Bill Russell is the former Boston Celtics’ captain who almost single-handedly redefined the game of basketball. Russell led the Celtics to a virtually unparalleled string of 11 championships in 13 years and was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player five times. The first African American to coach in the NBA — indeed he was the first to coach a major sport at the professional level in the United States — Russell is also an impassioned advocate of human rights. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and has been a consistent advocate of equality.”

Russell will be the first former NBA player to receive the honor, and based on his contributions to civil rights alone — regardless of the fact that he’s the greatest winner in the history of sports — there’s no question he deserves it. The only question is, right now, could Russell still beat President Obama 1-on-1? I say definitely.

MORE RONDO FOR MVP DISCUSSION

The Sporting News is the latest publication to consider Rondo a contender for the 2010-11 NBA MVP honor. The most interesting tidbit to come from their take is the fact that Garnett believes Rondo can keep up his current rate of 14.9 assists per game — which would eclipse John Stockton‘s NBA record of 14.5 set in 1989-90.

“Why not?” Garnett said. “Who says that he can’t? Let’s see. It’s all about the flow. It’s all about guys hitting shots. He’s in a real good groove. He knows when to attack. He’s picking and choosing when to do certain things. He’s mixing it up really well. He’s keeping defenses off balance. Who says he can’t?”

Well, if the Celtics keep shooting 65 percent from the floor as they did Wednesday night against the Wizards, there’s no reason he can’t.

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

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Fast Break: Celtics silence Thunder 11.07.10 at 10:25 pm ET
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Paul Pierce gets a handle on the ball as the Celtics got past the Thunder Sunday night (AP)

Paul Pierce gets a handle on the ball as the Celtics got past the Thunder Sunday night (AP)

After beating Oklahoma City, 92-83 Sunday night, the Celtics have now won five straight games and six of their first seven, but they have not played a better 24 minutes of basketball than they did in the first half. There’s a decent chance the Celtics won’t play a better 24 minutes all season.

Of course NBA games last longer than 24 minutes and the Thunder made their inevitable run late in the third quarter and into the early stages of the fourth, cutting the Celtics lead to six. But this time it was the bench that saved the day as Glen Davis knocked down a couple of shots.

Ray Allen scored 19 points. Paul Pierce had 17 and Rajon Rondo had a tidy 10 points and 10 assists. The bench outscored OKC’s, 33-12. Add it all up and it equals the Celtics best win of the season.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Turnovers, or more specifically, the lack of turnovers: It’s really a simple equation for the Celtics. When they don’t turn the ball over they are almost impossible to stop because they shoot such a high percentage and almost everyone on the roster is a shooting threat.

The Celtics turned it over only four times in the first and that helped them build a 58-37 lead. They turned it over four times in the third quarter and that’s when OKC made its run. It’s really that simple for the Celtics right now.

The bench: Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels have been constants for the Celtics this season, but they received contributions from everyone in the rotation Sunday. Nate Robinson had nine points including a buzzer-beater 3 to the end the first half and Semih Erden also gave the Celtics quality minutes. They were even better in the second half as they helped stave off a big OKC run.

Ray Allen has his shot back: Did it ever actually leave? A handful of off shooting nights is no reason to panic when it comes to Allen and he showed again Sunday night why he is one of the best in the business.  Allen knocked down 8-of-16 shots and scored 19 points. He also made big shots. He was on the floor with the reserves in the fourth quarter when the Celtics made their last move, proving once again how valuable he is.

WHAT WENT WRONG

The third quarter: It was unlikely the Celtics would be able to keep up their first-half play for 48 minutes, but they started the second half like they were going to try, opening a 71-51 lead. But the Thunder came right back led by Westbrook and Kevin Durant, who scored 14 of his 34 points.

Second half runs are inevitable after a visiting team opens up a big second-half lead, particularly when the opponent is as good as Oklahoma City. What was encouraging for the Celtics was that they held it off and rebuild the lead.

That was really the only thing that didn’t go right. When you beat Oklahoma City by nine points in their building to start a four-game road trip, there’s not much to apologize for.

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Irish Coffee: One Reason Ray Allen Will Be Better 10.20.10 at 10:44 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

ESPN analysts Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy piled on the anti-technical foul bandwagon in a conference call to promote the station’s NBA coverage this season. While most of what’s been said on the subject has been redundant over the last week — (a la Van Gundy: “More free throws is never the answer”) — Jackson made an interesting point that could benefit the Celtics:

“If I was a guy like Reggie Miller I’d love the rule because it would add three or four points a night to my scoring total from technical fouls.”

Hmmm … I’m trying to think of a guy like Reggie Miller on the Celtics. Shaquille O’Neal? No. Rajon Rondo? Nope. Oh, I know: Ray Allen. Four current NBA players, including Allen, rank higher on the list of career free-throw percentage leaders than Miller (who is No. 9 at 88.8 percent): 2. Steve Nash (90.3 percent), 3. Peja Stojakovic (89.5), 4. Allen (89.4) and 6. Chauncey Billups (89.2).

Allen averaged 16.3 points per game for the Celtics last season, so an additional four points — which, for the NBA’s sake, better be an excessive estimate — would get him closer to his career average of 20.5 points a game.

The scariest name on that free-throw percentage list: Kevin Durant, whose 88.3 conversion rate ranks No. 11 all-time. Already an NBA MVP favorite, Durant’s 30.1 points per game led the league in scoring last year. An additional few points a game gets Durant that much closer to averaging 35 points. Only two players have done that since 1970: Michael Jordan (37.1 in 1986-87; 35.0 in 1987-88) and Kobe Bryant (35.4 in 2005-06).

NBA PRESEASON PREMONITION

The Sporting News produced the following NBA statistic: “Over the last nine preseasons, 17 teams have finished undefeated or with one loss. Of those 17 teams, 16 wound up in the playoffs. None went on to win a championship and only half survived to the second round, but the fact is, if you play well in October, there’s a good chance you’ll at least be playing in late April.”

Only four NBA teams currently have unbeaten or one-loss preseason records: the Celtics (6-1), Orlando Magic (6-0), Utah Jazz (7-0) and Memphis Grizzlies (7-0). I’m not sure this is good news for the Celtics, who need a monumental breakdown to miss the playoffs. Should they defeat the New Jersey Nets tonight, they would have to buck a recent trend to win the NBA title.

Along the same lines, 82games.com analyzed a five-year window to determine: Does the NBA preseason matter? Looking at records from 2001-02 to 2005-06, there was a corollary: successful preseason teams succeeded in the regular season; likewise, unsuccessful preseason teams failed in the regular season.

The most interesting statistic from the study: teams coming off less-than-30-win seasons that produced successful preseason teams gained an average of 19 wins the following season. The only team that fits that bill this season is the Minnesota Timberwolves, who finished 15-67 last season and are 5-2 this preseason.

Inductees Larry Bird, left, and Earvin "Magic" Johnson shake hands after being inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame Sunday, Nov. 22, 2009, in Kansas City, Mo. Other inductees include Gene Bartow, Walter Byers, Travis Grant, Jud Heathcote, Wayman Tisdale and Bill Wall.

Could Magic Johnson and Larry Bird team up to buy the Pacers? Just a conspiracy theory. (AP)

MAGIC JOHNSON’S DISAPPEARING ACT?

What the heck is Magic Johnson up to? A day after selling his 4.5 ownership stake in the Los Angeles Lakers for an estimated $27 million, Magic reportedly sold his 105 Starbucks franchises for another $100 million, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Magic was rumored to have interest in the sales of the Detroit Pistons and Golden State Warriors, which have since been sold. Back in 2006, when the Seattle SuperSonics were sold for $350 million, five teams were supposedly available for the right price: the Portland Trail Blazers, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Magic and Grizzlies. None of those teams have been sold since.

Conspiracy Theory of the Day: Maybe Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are preparing to buy the Indiana Pacers. Bird did admit back in April that he’s fielded calls from people interested in buying the team. I’m pretty sure Magic has his number.

 Just as long as Magic isn’t planning on investing in another edition of that godawful TV show, “The Magic Hour.”

PERFORMANCE-ENHANCING SHOES

The NBA banned its players from wearing Athletic Propulsion Labs’ $300 Concept 1 shoes. Apparently, the shoes are spring-loaded to increase vertical leap. According to the Associated Press story, 30 percent of NBA players had shown interest in the shoe produced by former USC walk-ons Adam and Ryan Goldston. Any chance the aging legs of Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal were among that 30 percent?

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

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