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Celtics keep on losing, this time falling short against lowly Orlando Magic 01.19.14 at 8:44 pm ET
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In the race to claim one of the NBA’€™s worst records, this would have been a good night for the Celtics. But for those hoping for some wins, the 93-91 loss to the Magic was about as demoralizing a game as this season has presented.

The Celtics lost for the 14th time in their last 16 tries, extending their road losing streak to nine straight.

This one, however, was more than just another defeat. This loss came at the hands of a team seemingly in worse shape than the Celts.

With the victory, the Magic snapped a 10-game losing streak. They had also dropped their last 10 meetings with the Celtics.

Orlando still claims the worst record in the NBA, standing at 11-30, while the Celtics drop to 14-28. Brad Stevens‘€™ club is now tied with Utah and Philadelphia for the league’€™s second worst mark.

The loss was sealed when Orlando’€™s Tobias Harris sunk two free throws after Kris Humphries was whistled for a loose ball foul with 10 seconds remaining.

Avery Bradley lost control of the ball while driving to the hoop as the buzzer sounded, ending the Celtics’€™ final chance.

In his second game back after recovering from knee surgery, Rajon Rondo scored six points in 21 minutes, going 3-of-10 from the field while dishing out four assists.

The Magic finished with five players in double-figures, with former Celtic Glen Davis recording 17 points and seven rebounds. Arron Afflalo led the hosts with 20 points and 13 rebounds.

Celtics guard Jerryd Bayless was forced from the game after spraining his right toe.

Click here for a complete box score.

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Inside the Kendrick Perkins-Dwight Howard matchup 02.05.11 at 5:19 pm ET
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Dwight Howard and Kendrick Perkins have had many memorable matchups (AP).

Kendrick Perkins is renowned as one of the few men in the NBA who can go toe-to-toe with Dwight Howard. It’s a reputation that has grown over the years, ever since their meeting in the 2009 playoffs when Perkins stood tall with a shoulder injury so severe he couldn’t lift his arm over his head.

After missing the first two games against the Magic this season, Perkins is back in action — and the starting lineup — just in time for the rematch with Orlando on Sunday afternoon.

It’s been a fast climb for Perkins, who recorded his first double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds in 32 minutes against the Mavericks on Friday. He’s progressed so quickly that he’s obliterated the minutes restrictions that have been placed on him throughout his comeback.

After the Mavs game, thoughts naturally turned to the showdown with Howard. Perkins artfully streered clear of the questions.

“Don’t know,” he said when asked if he was ready. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

Perkins also called Howard “a great player,” and noted that the Celtics’ team defense is just as important as any one-on-one performance. Perkins is well aware that while his reputation has been enhanced by his individual battles with Howard, he’s also been on the receiving ends of some tough games and the respect is real.

After holding him to 13 points on 3-for-10 shooting in Game 1 of last year’s conference finals, Perkins was told that the local media was calling on Howard to do more in Game 2. His eyes grew wide as he said, “See, what happens is, y’all gas the man up. Then I have to deal with it.” Howard went out and promptly scored 30 points.

In the 2009 series, Howard averaged better than 17 points and 14 rebounds while shooting close to 60 percent. In 2010, Howard averaged 26.3 points and 16 rebounds over the final three games. It’s not that Perkins is a Howard-stopper; it’s more that Perkins is capable of slowing him down, and more importantly, he’s also willing to take him on without the help of double-teams. That, in turn, helps take away the Magic’s ability to get open looks on kickouts off double-teams.

But there’s more to it than that. One of the Celtics’ basic defensive principles is they don’t mind if a superstar player scores a ton of points. Their philosophy is that great players will be great. Their main concern is making it as difficult for them as possible, and if a guy hits a shot with a hand in his face, that’s life. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has also said in the past that he doesn’t care if Howard scores 30 points, because that just means that someone isn’t taking a 3-pointer.

None of that makes it any easier to handle the assignment, however. Perkins likely won’t have Shaquille O’Neal backing him up, as Shaq is dealing with an Achilles injury. That leaves Semih Erden as the nominal backup center, but look for the Celtics to use Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis in spots as well.

Make no mistake: Perkins loves the challenge. He’s faced down the Lakers frontline and the Mavericks’ Tyson Chandler, but this will be his biggest test to date, as it always is.

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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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Fast Break: The end of the streak 12.25.10 at 5:29 pm ET
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The end of the Celtics 14-game winning streak came inauspiciously. For 45 minutes, they had controlled their matchup with the Orlando Magic, and then in the final three minutes and 20 seconds, everything fell apart in an 86-78 loss. The Celtics were outscored 15-1 over that span as the absence of Rajon Rondo finally caught up to them.

Nate Robinson shot 2-for-15, Ray Allen shot 3-for-13, and Paul Pierce once again had to direct the offense instead of working into the flow. The Celtics have felt for weeks that they weren’t playing their best basketball, but still they found ways to win. It was only a matter of time until that run ended, but it was still something of a shock that it fell apart so quickly in game they seemingly had in their back pocket.

WHAT WENT WRONG

The limits of Nate Robinson as a point guard: It’s been said again and again that Robinson is not a true point guard, and he’s not. The Celtics have tried to figure out a way to play with Robinson in place of Rondo that allows him to be him, and also allows them to continue to function as a pass-first, unselfish unit.

But in order for that to work, Robinson has to make shots. The Magic laid off Robinson and let him fire away from the perimeter. He was 0-for-5 in the first half and 1-for-10 before he knocked down a wide-open 3-pointer. When Robinson did go to the bench, the Celtics went with Avery Bradley, which was more about defense than running the team.

The Celtics not only don’t have a point guard right now, they don’t have a backup either. That is took this long to catch up to them is a testament to all the other things they’ve done well, but it was only a matter of time.

J.J. Redick is Ray Allen’s Kyrptonite: Once again Allen had a dreadful time shooting the ball against Orlando, and once again Redick was with him every step of the way. It’s been like this since the 2009 playoffs and it’s well past time to give the former Duke sharpshooter his due. He’s become much more than just a jumpshooter, unfortunately for Allen.

Jermaine O’Neal will need some time: O’Neal’s return came at the perfect time with Semih Erden feeling ill, but it was clear watching him play that he’s going to need a few games (at least) to get his conditioning back. There’s no sugar-coating this: Jermaine O’Neal has been a huge disappointment so far this season.

However, there is ample time for him to save his career and salvage his reputation in Boston. If the Celtics are going to do what they want to do this season, they will need him and in order to get there he’s just going to have to burn minutes.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Even without Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics still had the right gameplan for Dwight Howard: Without Perk, the Celtics went on the offense to defend Howard. They did this by pounding the ball in to Shaquille O’Neal early in the game in the hopes of getting Howard in foul trouble. It worked as Howard picked up his second late in the first quarter and was in foul trouble again early in the third quarter.

Howard continued to be his own worst enemy, getting called for a 10-second violation on a free throw attempt and compounding that by getting a technical foul. He didn’t score his first basket until a minute into the fourth quarter. The Magic’s trades were all about helping Howard, but if he is going to ascend to true MVP-level, he still has to learn to help himself against teams like the Celtics.

Defense, defense, defense: The Magic shot less than 40 percent and Howard never got going. This loss was all about the offense. The defense was once again, dominant.

Paul Pierce as point forward: For one half anyway, Pierce was the best point guard on the floor, scoring 16 points and dishing out four assists as the Celtics took control. The Celtics are asking a lot from Pierce, and this time they may have asked too much because he wasn’t able to build on his first-half performance.

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Preview: Celtics at Orlando, Game 28 12.24.10 at 5:33 pm ET
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For the last three years, the Celtics have kept one eye the Magic and the other on the Lakers. Truth be told, the Celtics always saw Orlando as their prime challenger in the Eastern Conference and that bore out in two rugged playoff series.

The 2009 Celtics took the Magic to seven games without Kevin Garnett. They were undone ultimately by Garnett’s injury, but also by a lack of size up front behind Kendrick Perkins. So, they went out and signed Rasheed Wallace. Say what you want about Sheed’s time in Boston, but he was a difference-maker last year against Orlando when the Celtics won in six games.

For their part, the Magic cut ties with Hedo Turkoglu and brought in Vince Carter to replace him. Carter was supposed to be able to create offense from the wing, especially against a team like the Celtics who were able to play Dwight Howard straight up, effectively negating their double-team kickout for open 3-pointers.

Unfortunately for the Magic, it didn’t work as planned and with the Celtics gathering strength and the Heat on the rise, Orlando general manager Otis Smith elected for the big shake-up, trading Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus, Rashard Lewis, a draft pick and cash in exchange for Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas, Earl Clark and Turkoglu.

The moves leave the Magic with an upgrade at the 2-guard spot (Richardson is simply much better than Carter at this stage of their careers) and woefully thin up front behind Howard. They also brought in two high-stakes gambles in Turkoglu and Arenas, who will either recapture part of their glory days or definitively prove that they are past their primes.

The results so far have been mixed. The Magic dropped games to Atlanta and Dallas, but they recovered in a big way Thursday with a blowout win over the Spurs. “We certainly have a great deal of respect for the old Orlando team,” Danny Ainge told The Big Show on Thursday. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with this new Orlando team. On paper they’re still a great basketball team. I just don’t know what to expect.”

CELTICS (23-4, 10-0 last 10, 14-game winning streak)

Offensive Rating: 109.4 (Points per 100 possessions, 10th)

Defensive Rating: 99.3 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 1st)

Pace: 91.0 (20th)

Likely Starters: Nate Robinson, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal

Rotation: Glen Davis, Marquis Daniels, Semih Erden, Jermaine O’Neal

Injuries: Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, probable), Rajon Rondo (Ankle, doubtful), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out).

MAGIC (17-12, 2-8 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 106.1 (16th)

Defensive Rating: 102.2 (6th)

Pace: 91.4 (19th)

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

Rotation: Gilbert Arenas, J.J. Redick, Ryan Anderson, Quentin Richardson

Injuries: Malik Allen (Ankle, questionable), Daniel Orton (Knee, out). Read the rest of this entry »

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Duhon agrees to deal with Magic 07.06.10 at 11:21 am ET
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One day after agreeing to a deal with free agent Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks lost their starting point guard. Chris Duhon agreed to a four-year, $15 million contract with the Magic, his agent told ESPN.com. Duhon, 27, averaged 7.4 points and 5.6 assists in New York last season, his sixth in the NBA.

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Why Nate Robinson was reason Celtics won 05.29.10 at 1:23 am ET
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Paul Pierce is undeniably the leading spokesman of these Celtics.

When he speaks, everyone who cares about the team listens.

In the moments following Boston’s second Eastern Conference title in three years, he gave credit to one player for helping the Celtics to get over the emotional hump of losing two straight games after having a 3-0 lead against the Magic.

“He really won the game for us,” Pierce told ESPN’s Doris Burke in the midst of a parquet celebration following the 96-84 triumph.

Why did the man who scored a game-high 31 points while grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out five assists give so much credit to the man with the new tatoo on his throat? Because without him, the Celtics might have lost their swagger when Rajon Rondo took a hard first-quarter fall to the floor, courtesy Dwight Howard.

“It was huge, it was big,” Robinson said after scoring all 13 of his points in a furious second-quarter spurt. “I am just speechless right now. My teammates, we got the job done today.

“Just do whatever coach asked. He asked me to play as much defense as I could. The best way that I knew how, and the offense is going to come. That’s something that comes naturally, just play the game for what it is and for the love of it. That’s what I went out there and did.”

Robinson, who came to Boston in a much-talked about mid-season trade with the Knicks, didn’t even play in Games 1 and 2 of the series as Rondo was exerting his dominance. Coach Doc Rivers has always told his players to be prepared. Friday’s huge Game 6 stage was Robinson’s chance.

“It was a great opportunity,” Robinson said. “I thank God, I thank Doc, the fans for giving me so much energy and my teammates for believing. They always told me be ready, be ready you never know. Today was that day.

“I mean just the opportunity to play. I got my chance today. I just showed that I could play the game of basketball.”

And now Robinson gets his first chance to play on an even bigger stage: the NBA finals.

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