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Preview: Celtics at Grizzlies 11.13.10 at 10:00 am ET
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In advance of Saturday night’s game between the Celtics (7-2) and Grizzlies (4-5) in Memphis (8 p.m.), we caught up with Chip Crain at the “3 Shades of Blue” blog. He answered our six most pressing questions on a young Grizzlies team …

Memphis Grizzlies' Marc Gasol (33), of Spain, O.J. Mayo (32), and Zach Randolph, back, show their frustration after a turnover during the first overtime of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns Friday, Nov. 5, 2010. The Suns defeated the Grizzlies 123-118 in double overtime.

Marc Gasol (33), O.J. Mayo (32) and Zach Randolph look to improve upon a 40-42 season a year ago. (AP)

1. The Grizzlies took a big step forward as a team last year. Do you expect them to take another one this season?

Well, we can always hope that the maturation of the team alone will be enough to get them over the hump, but honestly that’s about all the team has.

Will it be improved? Yes, I think they will. Will it be enough? It doesn’t look like it to me.

The problem with the Grizzlies is not their starting five but the bench. They simply  are too inexperienced off the bench, even with Tony Allen in the fold. Xavier Henry, Darrell Arthur and even Hasheem Thabeet have shown some promise, but they aren’t ready to contribute, which puts too much of a strain on the starters to see it lasting for 82 games.

2. What’s the general feeling on Rudy Gay in Memphis? Does his new contract affect the way fans feel about him?

People complained about Rudy Gay‘s contract when he signed it, but no one is complaining now. Rudy has always had a ton of talent, but for the first time he seems to be applying it to more than just scoring.

Rudy is somewhat popular in Memphis — more than Pau Gasol was when he was here but less than Zach Randolph is now.

3. Has the play of Marc Gasol helped fans get over the Pau Gasol trade? Or is there still bitterness?

Yes and no. Marc Gasol‘s play has won over many fans, but people still believe that the Grizzlies could have gotten more. After all, no one would trade Pau for Marc straight up. The Grizzlies got Javaris Crtittenton (out of the league), the draft pick that brought in Darrell Arthur and the draft pick that became Greivis Vasquez in the deal, so talent-wise the city is still sore about the trade.

However, that trade also allowed the Grizzlies to acquire Zach Randolph with the cap space, so Arthur, Randolph, Vasquez and Marc in return for Pau was a great trade in Memphians eyes.

Of course, it’s still a sore subject for the fans of teams that thought their team would have won the title if the Lakers hadn’t gotten Pau.

4. Chris Wallace became a bit of a punchline in Boston after his deal for Vin Baker. How do Grizzlies fans feel about him?

Chris Wallace is very fortunate. His owner has made so many blunders no one has really focused on the poor decisions Wallace has made. Everyone points at Michael Heisley making the calls and forgets who’s whispering in his ear.

Thabeet was a horrible pick that Wallace was against (if you believe the rumors) but Heisley insisted on. That got Wallace off the hook. The problem is that DeMarre Carroll was Wallace’s pick, and he didn’t get his third-year option picked up. Wallace passed on DeJuan Blair three times, and now the team is thin at power forward.

Arthur’s fast start this season has made people forget what a disappointment he’s been his first two seasons, and Conley’s fast start has helped him avoid criticism on that deal. The Kevin Love for O.J. Mayo trade has been a financial noose around the team’s neck as well, with the Grizzlies still owing Marco Jaric money while he babysits Adriana Lima‘s child. Mayo straight up for Love would be questionable now, and with the bad contracts the Grizzlies ate to acquire Mayo it looks really bad to me.

5. What’s a realistic expectation for Tony Allen this year?

I see his upside as starting shooting guard to allow Mayo to move to the bench as the designated scorer, while Allen becomes the defensive stopper in the starting rotation. The downside is he loses his playing time to Henry and Sam Young, and he joins the list of questionable Wallace moves I just mentioned.

Realistically, he should be one of the guys off the bench who contributes on some nights and never gets into games on other nights.  

6. Is Hasheem Thabeet a bust, or is there still hope?

There is always hope, but the buzzards are circling just the same.

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Irish Coffee: Top 5 LeBron James parodies 11.12.10 at 11:59 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

If you haven’t heard by now, Paul Pierce mocked LeBron James‘ “Decision” on Twitter last night, saying, “It’s been a pleasure to bring my talents to south beach now on to Memphis.” Inspired by The Truth, this Friday version of Irish Coffee gives you the top five parodies of Lebron’s ridiculous offseason antics …

1. LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade form “New World Order”

2. Steve Carell reveals his “The Office” decision

3. Cleveland fans mock LeBron’s Nike commercial

4. Hitler from “Inglourious Basterds” reacts to  LeBron’s decision

5. “South Park” spoofs LeBron’s Nike commercial

REACTIONS FROM MIAMI

I love it when not-so-great sports cities are thrust into the limelight. Everybody gets a little too big for their britches, as it pertains to their place in the sports universe — kinda like when the “Jersey Shore” folks became overnight sensations.

Miami Heat forward LeBron James argues after he was called for fouling Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010, in Miami. The Celtics defeated the Heat 112-107.

LeBron James and the Heat have a long way to go to compete with the Celtics and Lakers. (AP)

Take this, for example, from the Miami Herald on Friday morning:

“Miami vs. Boston could someday be up there with Knicks-Heat, Bulls-Knicks, Pistons-Bulls, Spurs-Mavericks, perhaps even – with a lot of seasoning — Lakers-Celtics.”

Um, no it couldn’t. The Lakers-Celtics rivalry has 60 years of tradition behind it. Those two teams have more championships (33) than the number of years Miami has been in the league (22).

Actually, I take that back, if the Heat win the next 16 championships, then yes, Celtics-Heat could become like Celtics-Lakers. Sorry.

Then, I noticed this throwaway line at the end of another Miami Herald article:

About the only player who responded exactly how we would’ve expected was captain Udonis Haslem.

 Wait, what?!?! Udonis Haslem is their captain? Shouldn’t Wade be the captain? Does this mean that not one of the Big Three is a true leader? I’m confused.

MONDO RONDO

Two fomer Celtics beat writers — Jackie MacMullan and Marc Spears — took on the topic of Rajon Rondo. First, from Jackie Mac:

Rondo: “But if they put LeBron on me, who guards Paul? Who guards Ray?”

This is precisely why I don’t subscribe to the belief that Miami doesn’t need a point guard, because LeBron and Wade can assume the offensive load. That raises two questions for me: 1) If that’s the case, why have a point guard like Carlos Arroyo or Mario Chalmers on the floor? and 2) Who assumes the defensive load, because those guys can’t guard the point and the 2 or 3?

From the same article, Doc Rivers explains the difference in Rondo from last season to this one:

“Last year, or even the year before they would just get a rebound and throw it to the nearest guy. We’re telling everyone to get the ball to Rondo and let him do what he does. The trust they have in him is unbelievable.”

And Erik Spoelstra calls Rondo the best passer in the league:

“Rondo is as a unique a point guard as has been in this league for a long time. He’s so fast. He gets the overwhelming majority of his plays in random, unscripted situations. It’s his creativity and speed that separates him. You are talking about the best passer, arguably, in the game. If you try to body up and play him at half court, you are playing with fire.”

My interpretation from what these coaches told Jackie Mac? Rondo’s extraordinarily high assist totals might not slow down. If the Celtics are getting the ball into his hands more often in transition (i.e., unscripted situations), that explains the significant rise in assists.

Is it realistic to expect Rondo’s increase in assists to persist? Marc Spears asked the source:

“Last year, seven and eight assists were good for me,” Rondo said. “Now, people are expecting me to get 15 or 16 every night. I don’t know if it’s realistic, but I’m going to continue to try as long as guys make shots.”

DO THE CELTICS GET FAVORABLE CALLS?

Some guy over at the Bleacher Report decided to express his frustration about how he believes the Celtics get far too many calls, leading to their success.

Ah, not to excrement on your point, but I think the discrepancies in free throws in the Celtics’ last two games (13 fewer attempts against the Mavericks and 16 fewer against the Heat) — not to mention the 2010 NBA Finals (the C’s shot 57 fewer free throws in the series) — beg to differ.

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

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Irish Coffee: Kendrick Perkins’ NBA secrets 11.11.10 at 10:22 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Celtics center Kendrick Perkins may be out for the first few months because of his ACL injury, but that doesn’t mean he can’t offer advice on how to guard the NBA‘s elite post players, like the Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh.

In a recent Dime Magazine article, Perkins discussed his strategy …

“Very skilled face-up guy, but he’s not a physical player. I try to push him off the block and play him physical. He’s gonna score a few, but you can’t get frustrated by that. Just stay focused. You’d rather him hit you for 18 points than for 40 points.”

Given the physical play of Kevin Garnett, perhaps that’s why he was able to hold Bosh to eight points on 3-of-11 shooting in their first meeting this season. Yet another matchup to watch tonight (we covered Rondo vs. Arroyo on Tuesday).

Perkins also discussed his game plan against Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Yao Ming, former teammate Al Jefferson and current teammate Shaquille O’Neal

“I’ve been playing against Old Shaq, so I don’t know what it was like when he was younger. He’s kinda like Dwight [Howard], but not as athletic. He can’t really finish over the top no more, so you just keep a body between him and the rim.”

Throughout the discussion, Perkins is brutally honest, saying of Jefferson, “I don’t think he’s a great passer.” Great, great stuff.

The same author is also responsible for the magazine’s power rankings. Somehow, the Heat (No. 3) are ranked three slots higher than the Celtics (No. 6), despite the C’s better record and head-to-head victory. Hmmm …

Boston Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, right, and Cleveland Cavaliers center Shaquille O'Neal, left, push off each other on a rebound during the first half of Game 4 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Sunday, May 9, 2010, in Boston.

Shaquille O'Neal (left) and Kendrick Perkins no longer have to battle on the court. (AP)

SHAQ FOOL

The never-ending stream of entertainment that comes from having Shaquille O’Neal in town just keeps flowing.

Shaq and Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina sat down for a Q&A to discuss comedy. Here are a few things we learned …

  • Garnett is the funniest player in the NBA.
  • “Best prank I pulled was on Lou Amundson in Phoenix. I took a Snickers bar, put it in some water to get it real brown and wet and put it in my hand. [When he] came off the bench to go in the game, he had on white shorts, I rubbed it all over his shorts and said ‘good game, bro,’ so when he was running on the court he thought he s#@! himself.”
  • Shaqeeta is done.
  • He wants to become the next “The Rock” in the movie business and star alongside Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.
  • His favorite “Yo Mamma” joke: “Yo Mamma is so nasty her crabs have crabs.”
  • The Big Aristotle is the best name he’s given himself.
  • His top five comedy movies of all-time: “Don’t Be a Menace To South Central While Drinking Juice in the Hood”, “Harlem Nights”, “Life”, “Me, Myself and Irene” and “Step Brothers”.

Shaq did the SI Q&A to promote an online video series for Power Balance where he interviews himself. It’s the funniest thing he’s ever done. Here’s a great exchange …

Shaq1: “So, you and Kobe [Bryant] finally made nice?”
Shaq2: “Who?”
Shaq1: “Did he get you a diamond ring?”
Shaq2: “I don’t accept diamond rings from guys.”
Shaq1: “Well, you should, because then you would have five rings, too, stupid.”

I also enjoyed Shaq asking himself, “What page were you on of the ‘Kazaam’ script when you called your agent and said, ‘I’m in’?” Hilarious.

O’Neal is also promoting his second annual “Join Shaq, Give Back” holiday campaign. As Shaq-a-Claus, he is encouraging “shoppers to donate new, unwrapped toys and cash in Toys-R-Us and Babies-R-Us stores nationwide and online at ToysRUs.com/ToysforTots.”

“My parents always encouraged me to give back to those less fortunate, and ever since I made it to the NBA, I’ve been visiting Toys-R-Us stores during the holiday season to buy gifts for kids in need,” O’Neal said. “As a father myself, I know firsthand how magical it is for a child to open a gift on Christmas morning.”

Since Oct. 31, the program has raised $366,139. Great stuff all-around off the court. Now, if only he could get back on the court.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Fast Break: Nowitzki sinks Celtics 11.08.10 at 11:07 pm ET
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Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) pumps his fist after a basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in Dallas on Monday, Nov. 8, 2010.

Dirk Nowitzki buried a 17-foot jumper with 17 seconds remaining to defeat the Celtics. (AP)

Dirk Nowitzki hit a 17-foot jumper over Glen Davis with 17 seconds remaining, breaking an 87-87 tie and giving the Mavericks an 89-87 victory over the Celtics on Monday night.

Rajon Rondo missed a wide-open 3-pointer to win it, and Kevin Garnett missed a fadeaway jumper to tie it in the final seconds. Paul Pierce scored a team-high 24 points, Garnett added 18 points and 15 rebounds, and Rondo produced 11 points, 15 assists and six rebounds for the C’s, who fell to 6-2.

Nowitzki led the Mavericks (4-2) with 25 points, six rebounds and four assists.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT WRONG

1. First-half defense: You’re probably not going to beat anybody — let alone the Mavericks — when you allow an opponent to shoot 55 percent from the field for the first half. Dallas made 21-of-38 field goals in the opening 24 minutes, building a lead as large as 14, en route to a 10-point halftime lead.

Mavericks big men Tyson Chandler and Nowitzki were the biggest benefactors of the C’s porous defense. Chandler finished 5-for-5 in the first half, scoring all 10 of those points within two feet of the basket. Nowitzki scored nine first-half points on 4-of-7 shooting.

2. Shooting: It’s bad enough when you allow 55 percent shooting, but it hurts twice as much when your own field-goal percentage is hovering around 35 percent for much of the night. A second-half streak only raised the Celtics’ field goal percentage to 41 percent for the night.

Ray Allen (4-of-11), Jermaine O’Neal (1-of-6) and Rondo (5-of-15) all struggled from the field.

3. Losing the free-throw battle: Sure, the Celtics shot 100 percent from the free-throw line, but they only had seven attempts. The C’s got just one free-throw attempt combined from Glen Davis, Jermaine O’Neal, Garnett and Rondo.

Meanwhile, the Mavericks shot 20 free throws, making 17 (85 percent). Nowitzki alone matched the entire Celtics roster from the free-throw line, making all seven of his attempts. For the referees’ sake, it’s a good thing Tommy Heinsohn didn’t make the trip.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT

1. The halftime speech must’ve worked: The Celtics were badly outplayed in the first half and lucky to be trailing by just 10 at the break. The few signs of grit the C’s showed in the opening 24 minutes didn’t pay dividends, as their own shots just weren’t falling.

Well, something clicked, as the Celtics went on a 22-9 run to start the second half, taking a three-point lead on a trey from (who else but) Ray Allen just 8:14 into the third quarter.

2. Team rebounding: Jermaine O’Neal may have left the game at halftime because of his ailing left knee, but the Celtics didn’t miss him. Garnett grabbed a team-high 15 rebounds, while Pierce (7 boards), Rondo (6) and Allen (5) also chipped in on the glass.

In all, the Celtics out-rebounded the Mavericks, 41-38.

3. Semih Erden continues to contribute: In Jermaine O’Neal’s absence, Semih Erden played 11 minutes, scoring six points on 2-of-4 shooting from the field and 2-for-2 shooting from the free-throw line.

Erden has yet to miss a free throw this season, entering Monday night’s game a perfect 7-for-7 from the charity stripe. Perhaps that production can offset any struggles Shaquille O’Neal has at the line this season.

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Kevin Garnett on Charlie Villanueva: ‘He’s a nobody’ 11.06.10 at 1:12 am ET
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Kevin Garnett said he is tired of talking about his run-in with Detroit’s Charlie Villanueva on Tuesday in Boston’s win over the Pistons. Villanueva accused Garnett, via twitter, of calling him a cancer patient during a trash-talking session on the court. Garnett spent Wednesday trying to diffuse the situation, claiming there was a misunderstanding and he simply called the Pistons big man a ‘cancer’ to his team and the NBA.

Friday, Garnett said he’s done talking about it.

“He’s a nobody,” Garnett said. “I’m not paying attention to nobodies any more.”

It has been quite the emotional week for Garnett, who also got into a shoving match with Andrew Bogut the next night in a home-court win over Milwaukee.

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Doc Rivers thinks Rajon Rondo has ‘mild’ plantar fascitis at 12:58 am ET
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Celtics coach Doc Rivers said his head trainer Ed Lacerte told him hours before Friday’s tip-off that Rajon Rondo wouldn’t be available to the team in their game against Chicago because of lingering soreness in his left foot.

“[Friday] morning, Eddie told me that Rondo wasn’t playing because of his foot,” Rivers said after Friday’s overtime game in which Rondo played 41 minutes, scored 10 points and dished out 11 assists. “And ten minutes later I go down so we can watch film and Rondo said, ‘I’m playing; I’m fine.’”

Asked if Rondo was dealing with plantar fascitis, Rivers said, “I think that’s what it is, and it’s a mild case but when those get fired up, those are extremely painful.”

But Rivers was impressed with the way Rondo managed himself through pain on Friday.

“Down the stretch, his defense, his hands – the steal on the in-bounds play, the deflection steal at the end of the game on the last shot,” Rivers said. “He was great. I mean, [Derrick] Rose got one drive in the over time and he yells to the bench, ‘My fault!’ He was just – he was locked in tonight. And that’s what we need.

“I told him that before the game, too. I walked right over to him before the tip and said, ‘Hey, listen, if I see anything…’ You could see he was good. The only thing we did and you could tell: we subbed him early. I think with five or six minutes in the first we subbed him. And then we did it again at half time. And overall that may have helped him with his wind.”

Rondo took treatment for 30 minutes after the game and then said he has been dealing with pain in both feet, with more pain in his left foot. He also said he’s been sleeping with both feet elevated to relieve the soreness.

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Tom Thibodeau gets hero’s welcome 11.05.10 at 11:56 pm ET
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Chicago Bulls' head coach Tom Thibodeau yells some instructions during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Nov. 1, 2010, in Chicago. Chicago Bulls beat the Portland Trail Blazers 110-98.

Tom Thibodeau appreciated the warm welcome from the Celtics and their fans. (AP)

During the first timeout of Friday night’s 110-105 overtime victory over the Chicago Bulls, the Celtics played a video tribute to current Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and forward Brian Scalabrine, thanking them for their contributions to the C’s 2008 NBA championship.

Touched by the gesture, Scalabrine raised a hand to the crowd. Meanwhile, Thibodeau stood stoically on the sideline, ready to guide his new team against his former team.

After the game, though, the former Celtics assistant and defensive guru was clearly touched by the gesture.

“It’s great coming back here,” Thibodeau said following his team’s loss. “I wouldn’t be in this position without everything that this organization did for me. From ownership to Danny (Ainge) and, of course, Doc (Rivers), they treated me great. It was a lot of fun.”

It’s not every city that would recognize the contributions of an assistant coach to a team’s success with a pair of standing ovations (one to start the game and one throughout the video), but Thibodeau knows Boston is no ordinary fan base.

“This is a great sports town,” said Thibodeau. “Certainly, the history and the tradition of the Celtics is what makes this organization so special. It’s the fans, the people that run the team, the players. They’re leadership is off the charts. Doc and Danny — you’re not going to find two guys better than that. They’re just top-of-the-line guys. They’re smart. They know what they’re doing.

“The team is special,” he added. “You’ve got an unbelievable group of guys — not only talented, but great competitors. Those guys are going to fight and fight and fight. There’s no quit in that team. To beat them, you’ve got to beat them. They never quit.”

Thibodeau admitted after the game that while his new team may have the potential, the Bulls just don’t have the level of understanding of each other yet that his old team enjoys now.

“They’ve got a lot of weapons, they’re experienced, they know how to work the game and their hard to guard,” said Thibodeau. “I think the thing that often gets overlooked with them is not only their individual greatness but their collective greatness and willingness to hsare with each other. … It puts enormous pressure on your defense. Your defense can’t get set, and that’s something we’re striving for.”

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