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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.

Oklahoma City Thunder1. 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.

Chicago Bulls2. 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.

Miami Heat3. 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
Irish Coffee: Dwight Howard ‘looks up to a team like Boston’ 01.24.12 at 2:23 pm ET
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If Magic All-NBA center Dwight Howard ever considered Boston as a free agent destination this summer, current Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal didn’t exactly roll out the welcome mat.

In the third quarter of Monday night’s Celtics victory, as Howard attempted to establish position in the paint and bumped O’Neal on the block, the latter stuck his finger in the former’s face and voiced his displeasure. The two bigs at dichotomous points in their careers were separated by teammates and each assessed technicals.

“That’s kind of crossing the line when somebody puts their hand in your face,” said Howard (18 points, 14 rebounds), who had four of his team’s NBA record low 16 field goals in the 87-56 loss. “I just put his hand out of my face. I didn’t run up on him. It’s basketball. We’re not MMA fighters. I don’t know why I got a tech, but I’m cool.”

O’Neal (6), Greg Stiemsma (5), Brandon Bass (4) and Kevin Garnett (2) combined for 17 personal fouls, sending Howard to the line 18 times (he made 10) in an attempt to minimize his sizable impact.

“You’re at his mercy to be honest,” said Garnett, who totaled 14 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and two blocks. “You have to do what we call dirty work early, which is to try to take him off his sweet spots, contest his shots. He’s strong, he’s very powerful and explosive. You’re at his mercy, man, seriously. I’m not about to sit up here in front of the cameras and give y’all defensive schemes and secrets, but different ways you play different guys.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett
Fast Break: Magic pull disappearing act vs. Celtics 01.23.12 at 10:09 pm ET
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Maybe this is the win this Celtics team needed. It was hard to see this one coming, especially with five Celtics regulars sidelined by injury against a Magic team that won 11 of its first 15 games, but the C’s put together their best stretch of basketball in a 87-56 welcome home victory against Glen Davis & Co. at the Garden on Monday.

Paul Pierce (19 points, 7 assists) once again led the offensive charge, with a little help from friends Kevin Garnett (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Brandon Bass (19 points, 8 rebounds). Meanwhile, starting in place of the injured Rajon Rondo, guard Avery Bradley (3 steals) wreaked havoc on the defensive end to help the C’s (7-9) hold Orlando to 16-of-65 shooting (24.6%) — the best defensive effort of this Big Three era.

Davis scored just six points (2-9 FG) but grabbed 11 rebounds, and Dwight Howard led the Magic’s anemic offensive effort with 18 points (4-15 FG) and 14 boards.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Defending their life: Led by defensive-minded starters Garnett and Bradley, the Celtics put together their best defensive game of the season. They held the Magic to just 11-of-38 shooting (28.9%) before the break, and actually improved upon that in the second half (5-27; 18.5%). The C’s recorded six blocks (shockingly, none by rejection artist Greg Stiemsma) and six steals by halftime, building an early lead — something that escaped them through their 6-9 start.

Familiar foes: Lost in the drama surrounding Big Baby’s return to the Garden was the fact Bass was also facing his former team, as the two former LSU teammates were traded for each other after the lockout. One of few healthy bodies coming off the bench, Bass reached double digits by halftime and gave the C’s a much-needed boost against his old teammates.

Avery Bradley, defensive stopper: The Celtics sophomore guard gave veteran Magic point guard Jameer Nelson problems all night long, picking his pocket twice, forcing a jump ball and altering his shot — all in the third quarter. Given his third consecutive start in Rondo’s absence, this stretch might be just what the Doc ordered in building Bradley’s confidence and expediting his development in what some believed could be a breakout season for the young guard.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Dwight Howard, NBA
Avery Bradley’s successful first NBA start 01.21.12 at 1:44 am ET
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In the first quarter of Friday night’s loss against the Suns, Avery Bradley picked off a pass at midcourt and converted an easy layup. In the fourth quarter, Bradley lunged after a loose ball underneath Boston’s basket, saving a possession that led to a score.

That’s his job: Provide energy and defense.

Injuries to Rajon Rondo and Keyon Dooling gave Bradley an opportunity to make his first start in the NBA. The experience was valuable.

“It builds my confidence a lot,” said Bradley.  “Every game I play I know what Doc [Rivers] and my teammates expect from me — to bring that energy every time I step on the floor.”

He was tasked with defending two-time league MVP Steve Nash. Bradley felt his best chance to combat the 37-year-old was to antagonize him with aggressive defense.

“I tried to get him tired,” Bradley said. “[I] picked him up full court to let him know I was going to bother him the whole game.”

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, NBA
Paul Pierce: ‘Of course’ I still want to retire a Celtic at 12:59 am ET
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This isn’t the first time Celtics captain Paul Pierce‘s name has emerged in trade discussion. Prior to the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007, rumors consistently swirled that team president Danny Ainge would deal his star and enter full-blown rebuild mode. Flash forward five years, same story.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been down that road,” said Pierce, addressing the issue for the first time after the Celtics suffered their sixth loss in seven games, 79-71 at home to the Suns, “but I don’t think about it actually.”

In the midst of a 5-9 start and the first real signs that this might truly be the end of another Big Three era in Boston, Yahoo! Sports reported earlier this week that several contending teams made inquiries about Pierce’s potential availability before the March 15 trade deadline. Then CBSSports.com reported Friday that Ainge may be willing to wait 10 or more games before deciding to deal one of his three stars.

“It’s just obvious,” Ainge told WEEI’s Big Show on Thursday. “Of course if we get the opportunity to make a trade that will help our team, we’ll do it. I guess I was stating obvious answers and it became like a really big story. We’ve all known there’s a window for this group, so we’re constantly evaluating that and been evaluating it for the last couple of years. I don’t have anything on the books. I don’t have have anything imminent. There’s nothing out there that I’m actively doing. I’m being patient with this group of guys.”

As Pierce said, this isn’t his first rodeo. He’s seen teammates from Antoine Walker to Kendrick Perkins come and go. “I understand,” he said. “What the Celtics have done for me in my career, I’m more than happy. They’ve kept me this long, and I’ve been able to play in a lot of good situations. You’ve got to understand the business.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Kevin Garnett, NBA
Fast Break: Suns rise, Celtics fall … again 01.20.12 at 9:56 pm ET
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Friday night’s Celtics game against the Suns at the Garden was a familiar story: Get off to a slow start, fall behind by double digits, make it close and fall behind again after exerting too much energy playing from behind all night.

The final result: A 79-71 Phoenix victory in Boston.

Ray Allen led the Celtics with 14 points. Paul Pierce (12), Brandon Bass (11), Kevin Garnett (10) and Avery Bradley all reached double figures, but the C’s (5-9) lost their sixth game in seven tries.

Suns center Marcin Gortat totaled 24 points (14 in the first quarter) and 12 rebounds to lead the Suns (6-9). Steve Nash added 11 points and nine assists.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Pole position: Gortat scored almost as many points in the first quarter (14) as the Celtics (15) — on just as many field goals (7) and eight fewer shots (19-11). If Jermaine O’Neal wants to be judged on his defense, let’s just say it wasn’t so good early, and the Celtics were forced to play catch-up all night once again.

Poor paint job: The Celtics simply had nobody capable of getting to the rim and scoring. Their guards weren’t deft enough to get to the hoop, and their bigs weren’t athletic enough to get their shot off cleanly. On multiple occasions, Paul Pierce worked his way into the paint, only to be contested by a quicker defender who could simply jump higher.

Rondo a no go: Let’s face it: At this point, Rondo is the Celtics offense. Without him orchestrating and finding Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on the wings or Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass for open jumpers, everything else falls apart. Even with Rondo, the Celtics offense hasn’t exactly looked pretty this season. Without him, it’s downright ugly. The Celtics succeeded in keeping their turnover total high (18), leading to 20 Phoenix points.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Marcin Gortat, NBA
Irish Coffee: Austin Rivers ‘would be great for’ Celtics, says Doc 01.19.12 at 12:51 pm ET
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At the tail end of Doc Rivers‘ weekly interview on WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan Morning Show (click here to listen in full), the Celtics coach opened up about the possibility of coaching his son Austin Rivers in the NBA.

“I would love the opportunity, I guess,” said Rivers. “It would be uncomfortable. I just think that would be a strange thing to do. Having that said that, I wouldn’t mind. He can score, and I think that would be great for us.”

The best prep guard in the country as a high school senior last winter, Austin Rivers averages a team-leading 13.8 points per game for No. 4 ranked Duke this season, shooting 43.6 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from beyond the arc. Once projected as a surefire lottery pick, his stock has slipped to No. 21 on ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford‘s Top 100 NBA prospects list. So, what must improve for him to have an impact at the next level?

“Just his whole game,” said the elder Rivers, who despite running practices for their teams once or twice has never coached his four kids. “I think he can score in this league right now. I don’t think he could have any problem with that. I think defensively — just the knowledge on the weak side of the ball — is where he would have to improve.”

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Read More: Austin Rivers, Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers
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