|NBA Power Rankings, 1/20||01.20.11 at 1:00 pm ET|
So much for the Year of the Streak, huh? After the Celtics, Mavericks, Spurs, Heat, Lakers and Hornets ripped off significant winning streaks earlier this season, everybody’s settling into midseason NBA mode (aka, “no heavy lifting”) — which makes sorting out the Power Rankings all that much more difficult.
In my mind, there are four heavy favorites to reach the two conference finals: Celtics vs. Heat, and Lakers vs. Spurs. And four other contenders: Bulls, Magic, Thunder and Jazz. Outside of that, it’s a matter of filling out the playoff picture now that we’re at the midway point, and that’s not a pretty picture at the bottom of the East. Here goes …
1. San Antonio (36-6): The Spurs are 22-2 at home and riding a 16-game winning streak at the AT&T Center. Only the Lakers are within 8.5 games of San Antonio for the West’s No. 1 seed, and even they’re six games back. If the Spurs manage to snag homecourt advantage, L.A.’s reign could be over sooner than expected. And Shaq won’t be the only guy playing for a fifth ring this spring; Tim Duncan will be, too.
2. Boston (32-9): The Celtics are 13-5 against teams with records above .500. They’ve beaten the Heat, Bulls, Magic, Spurs and Thunder already, and they play the Jazz (Friday) and Lakers (Jan. 30) over the next 10 days, so they could easily reclaim the top spot. That’s a remarkable feat for a team that’s never been fully healthy.
3. LA Lakers (31-13): The Lakers are now top-10 in points scored, points allowed, rebounds and assists, which is pretty good. They had won 8-of-9 before losing in Dallas on Wednesday night, which is also pretty good. And Lamar Odom granted Playboy an interview about basketball and marriage, which is beyond good.
4. Miami (30-13): You can’t really let the Heat slip too far down the rankings, despite their season-high four-game losing streak, considering LeBron James missed two of those contests and Chris Bosh missed another. Still, it’s midway through the season, and Miami still doesn’t have a defined rotation. That’s a problem.
5. Oklahoma City (27-15): Would you rather have the Miami Thrice on your team or the Kevin Durant–Russell Westbrook–Jeff Green triumvirate? The former, but the latter’s not far behind (Miami Thrice: 69.3 ppg, 13.3 apg; OKC Three: 65.9 ppg, 13.4 apg). Considering their respective salaries next season (Miami Thrice: $47.6 million; OKC Three: $24.6 million), it’s almost a toss-up as to who’s in better position for the future.
6. Chicago (28-14): This season, especially lately, Derrick Rose is getting a LOT of love. Charles Barkley called him the NBA’s best point guard. Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie gave him their midseason Most Improved Player award. There’s even some MVP chatter. Should he be crowned before he’s even won a playoff series?
7. Orlando (27-15): It’s funny how Otis Smith decided to pick this week — after losing 3-of-4, including one to the Celtics — to essentially call the C’s a bunch of posers. Because, you know, Hedo Turkoglu and J.J. Redick are essentially Randy Couture and Mickey Ward. What’s that saying about glass houses?
8. Utah (27-15): The Celtics are welcoming the Jazz to Boston on Friday, and let’s hope a stomach bug doesn’t keep Deron Williams from playing. Boston fans have already missed Durant and Carmelo Anthony in their teams’ only trips to the hub. Missing a battle between Williams and Rajon Rondo would be a shame.
9. Atlanta (28-15): It’ll be interesting to see how much attention Jamal Crawford will get in free agency after this season. Even though he’s the returning Sixth Man of the Year, he’s not a guy I’d really want on my team. Same goes for a lot of guys on the Hawks, except for Al Horford.
10. New Orleans (27-16): Welcome back to the top 10, Chris Paul. A six-game winning streak — including wins over the Magic and Nuggets — will do that for you. The Hornets accomplished it with defense, allowing fewer than 90 points in four of those six contests.
11. Dallas (27-14): After Dirk Nowitzki missed nine games, he returned against the Grizzlies, only to be tossed by the referees midway through the third quarter. And then the Mavericks lost their sixth straight to the lowly Pistons. Good times. Mark Cuban was probably sticking forks in light sockets before they beat the Lakers.
12. Denver (24-17): I hate the fact that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov called off the ‘Melo trade discussion for two reasons: 1) he robbed us of a meeting between them and Jay-Z, which may have been the greatest meeting of all-time; and 2) now we have to listen to another few weeks of people speculating where he’ll go.
13. New York (22-19): How does the NBA’s top scoring team produce 83 points at home against the Kings? Seriously. It’s the Kings!?!? Since winning 13-of-14 from mid-November to mid-December, the Knicks are 6-10. There’s a lot less optimism around them since they played the C’s tough and were in the ‘Melo sweepstakes.
14. Portland (23-20): Another Trail Blazers player (Marcus Camby) injured his knee. In other news: The sky is blue. At this point, should opposing teams just rest their stars when they visit, for fear that their knees might disintegrate into the Portland air?
15. Houston (20-23): Rockets GM Daryl Morey is on Twitter and gives insightful comments about his team, like: “Our shot making disguised issues in our transition offense.” Can we lobby to get Danny Ainge on Twitter?
16. Memphis (19-23): When Zach Randolph is the one saying, “We’ve got to get some heart,” you’ve got problems. The Grizzlies still have an outside shot at a playoff berth, but Randolph’s words aren’t a good sign.
17. Phoenix (19-21): The only two players that have scored 20,000 points, are eligible for the Hall of Fame and haven’t been inducted are Mitch Richmond and Tom Chambers. Now that Vince Carter has joined the 20,000-point club, will he be the third to fall short of the Hall?
18. Indiana (16-23): Pacers wing Mike Dunleavey has been in the league since 2002 and never sniffed the playoffs, but this could be his year — even if Indiana doesn’t make the postseason. The Pacers are shopping him, and he’d be a nice pickup for any team looking to deepen their rotation.
19. LA Clippers (16-25): When Blake Griffin scored 47 points on 24 shots, he became just the 13th player in the last 20 seasons to score such a high figure on so few shots. TrueHoop did a nice job of breaking it down.
20. Golden State (18-23): According to the Contra Costa Times, over the last 13 games, Dorell Wright has averaged 20.4 points and 5.2 rebounds. Think the Miami Heat could use him in their rotation now?
21. Philadelphia (17-24): The 76ers might be the most confusing team in the NBA. They’ll lose to the Raptors twice in one week, and then play the Celtics tough. They’ll lose to the Bulls by 45 points one night, and then beat them by six another. Chalk that up to youth and the fact Andre Iguadola is their leader.
22. Milwaukee (15-24): A back injury has flared up for Bucks center Andrew Bogut. You wonder if the issue is something that will plague him for a while, considering that nasty fall he took last April. You know what they say: the bigger they are, the harder they fall … and the tougher it is to come back from it.
24. Detroit (15-27): Good thing the Pistons benched Richard Hamilton against the Celtics amid the trade rumors that would’ve sent him to New Jersey as part of a three-team ‘Melo trade — now that there’s no way the Nets are going to take on Rip’s contract without landing the big fish, too.
25. Washington (12-28): I saw this headline: “Lewis provides a steady influence for young Wizards.” Are we talking about Rashard Lewis? Well, I guess the headline didn’t distinguish whether it was a good or bad influence.
26. Toronto (13-29): The Raptors and Cavaliers have a combined 21 wins after the departures of Bosh and James. The Heat have 30 victories. Those guys were kind of important to their teams. Just a little.
27. New Jersey (11-31): Is anybody shocked by the fact that Prokhorov is pursuing Andrei Kirilenko. Next up: Timofey Mozgov. Let’s just hope they don’t turn out to be like Angelina Jolie‘s character in “Salt”.
28. Minnesota (10-33): I had to steal this line from Canis Hoopus: “Wesley Johnson: DNP (coach’s decision); Jonny Flynn: 15 minutes, 2 points; Ricky Rubio: tanning. What an awesome use of top lotto picks.”
29. Sacramento (9-31): The Maloofs could move to Anaheim. Sounds like a bad CBS comedy. Unfortunately, it could be a reality for Sacramento fans. If there are any of those.
30. Cleveland (8-33): Anderson Verajao out for the season. Mo Williams out for a couple weeks. Believe it or not, those are the Cavalier’s two best players. Now Cleveland fans literally have nothing to root for but a potential No. 1 pick in the lottery. Knowing their luck, though, that won’t happen.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics midseason report card||at 10:53 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
After Wednesday night’s game against the Pistons , the Celtics have played 41 games and are exactly halfway through the NBA regular season. It’s time for a report card (you can check out the first-quarter grades here) …
- Grade: A
- Comments: Among the NBA’s small forwards, Pierce ranks second in free-throw percentage, third in field-goal percentage and ninth in 3-point percentage. That’s efficient. He’s also ran the offense in Rondo’s absence and rebounded in Garnett’s absence. Save for Allen, the Celtics have struggled to stay healthy, but Pierce has played all 41 games, remaining the constant he’s been for this team since his selection in the 1998 draft.
- Grade: A
- Comments: Allen’s numbers are pretty much up across the board from last season, while his field-goal percentage (51.3 percent) and 3-point percentage (46.8!) are the highest of his career. And that’s saying something for a guy who’s 28 treys away from breaking the all-time record. Allen ranks second on the team in minutes and first (unofficially) in clutch shots down the stretch.
- Grade: A–
- Comments: When he’s on the court, he’s an A-plus. Easily the leading candidate for a second Defensive Player of the Year honor in the last four years, Garnett is averaging 15.0 points and 9.3 boards — but those numbers don’t demonstrate the rejuvenation he’s enjoyed, the lift in his legs or the bite to go with his bark. His calf strain struck a scare into Celtics fans, though, and he’ll have to prove he can stay healthy to cement his A.
- Grade: A–
- Comments: Averaging 29.7 minutes in 32 games off the bench, Davis has established himself as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, shooting 48.4 percent from the field and grabbing 5.7 rebounds per game. Averaging 34.6 minutes in nine games as a starter, he’s shot 41.1 percent from the field and grabbed 4.4 boards a game. The former is precisely what the Celtics need. The latter? Not so much.
- Grade: B+
- Comments: Rondo averages a league-leading 13.2 assists per game, and only one other guy (Steve Nash) is averaging double-digits in that category. He’s also second in the league in steals. But to the naked eye he simply hasn’t had the same impact he had in the first few weeks of the season. His turnovers (3.9 per game) are too high, and he’s shooting worse from the free-throw line (46.0) than Allen is from 3-point range.
|Danny Ainge is still counting on Jermaine O’Neal||at 12:19 am ET|
Danny Ainge made this much clear after meeting with Jermaine O’Neal at halftime Wednesday night – he’s not giving up on the center to make an important contribution this season.
Ainge said the 32-year-old O’Neal and the team met and decided not to have the chronic left knee scoped to be “cleaned out.”
Instead, O’Neal will put off having knee surgery and will undergo four weeks of rehab to strengthen the area around the knee.
“We haven’t really known what we are going to do,” Ainge said. “We had a discussion at halftime, Jermaine, and myself, and our medical staff, and have decided that we are not doing surgery. The surgery that we were considering by the way, was just a cleaning out.
Surgery could have kept him out for two months but Ainge said surgery or not, O’Neal would’ve been back this season or in time for the playoffs.
‘That’s always a guess, but probably closer to eight weeks. And you know again, Jermaine had a lot to do with the decision. And Dr. [Brian] McKeon was fine with it, and it’s not an easy decision, and I think that Jermaine feels like he overdid it a little bit. He’s got some bruising from the bone on bone that he has in his knee. He just needs to let that calm down, and build up the strength in it.’
The reason the Celtics and O’Neal are hopeful for a return is the fact that he isn’t dealing with serious ligament or cartilage tears.
“There’s not ligament or cartilage damage that was going to be prepared, it was a cleaning out process,” Ainge said. “We decided against that, we’ll take the next four weeks to do nothing, but work to build up his glutes and quads, with the sole purpose of that. So he’ll be rehabbing to build strength in his leg to get ready for the end of the season.’
The ailing left knee has limited O’Neal to 17 games and 18 minutes per contest this season, during which he is averaging just over five points and 3.8 rebounds.
“This is a good option,” Ainge added. “I mean, we felt ‘ either way we thought he might be back for the playoffs. If he had it cleaned out or if he didn’t. You know, again, it’s just he’s got a lot of wear-and-tear on the knee. But this is a good option. I think he feels like if he gets himself in better shape and the strength then he’ll be ready to give us an effort that we haven’t seen this year out of him.
“I would say the purpose is to get him ready to play in late-season and postseason play, with no restrictions. I mean his first night there might be, but the purpose is to get him back 100 percent.’
The Celtics signed O’Neal last July to a two-year, $12 million deal, with O’Neal being paid the full midlevel exception of about $5.76 million this season.
|Ray Allen never thinks about the misses, neither do Doc Rivers or his teammates||01.19.11 at 11:38 pm ET|
Ray Allen is a future hall-of-famer so when shots aren’t falling he doesn’t panic. After drilling the game-winning jumper with 24.5 seconds remaining in an 86-82 win over the Pistons, he said that approach helped him again Wednesday night when he missed two fourth-quarter free throws and was just 1-for-7 before hitting the decisive jumper.
With 31.8 seconds remaining, Rajon Rondo grabbed a loose-ball rebound and Doc Rivers called timeout. He drew up a play that had Allen coming off a screen and Paul Pierce, with a game-high 22 points – available as a second-option.
“It was more than him as the option,” Rivers said. “He was the first option on the play. And then Paul was the second, on the flare. Ray just makes shots, you know? He’s one of those guys, he can go 0-for-10; you know the one guy that believes he’s going to make it is Ray. And the second group is our team. When we drew it up, you could tell, they thought it would work and they went with it. It was great.’
“I wasn’t surprised,” Allen said of being given another chance on a pass from Rondo. “Anytime the situation comes down to the end of the game, we’ve been in these situations enough to know that it’s going to be either me, Paul [Pierce], Kevin [Garnett] or Rondo if he gets in the gaps.
“If he didn’t throw it to me, it would’ve went somewhere else and somebody would’ve been able to make the shot. I’ve said this before, I wasn’t shooting the ball particularly well and I didn’t really think I had a great rhythm but I always think the next one is going to go in. So, I was never worried about it.”
The second-most prolific 3-point shooter in NBA history, Allen also wasn’t worried about missing all four of his 3-point shots on the night before getting a chance to drill the game-winner – which ironically was ruled a trey before officials reviewed it during a timeout and changed it to a two-pointer.
“It wasn’t odd at all because I was kind of replaying in my mind the shots I had tonight,” Allen said. “Early, I had two threes and one of them was a ‘911’ shot trying to beat the buzzer. Offensively, we weren’t in a great rhythm , a bad rhythm overall for the team and that translated into how we were playing.”
If Allen had no hesitation about taking the shot, Rivers certainly didn’t. ‘Not with Ray,” Rivers answered without any hesitation. “No, No. Ray is a shooter. Shooters make shots. So, no.’
|Kevin Garnett: ‘These two weeks have been dark days for me’||01.18.11 at 1:09 am ET|
How happy and relieved was Kevin Garnett to be back Monday night?
“I was just called up from the D-League,” he joked.
Playing his first game back from a nine-game absence due to a strained right calf, Garnett scored 19 points in 30 minutes while Paul Pierce converted the go-ahead three-point play with 38.7 seconds remaining to lift the Celtics to a 109-106 win over the Magic Monday night at TD Garden.
Ray Allen had a team-high 26 points and Rajon Rondo had 10 points and 13 assists in a contest that provided a thrilling rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals. No one seemed more excited about the turn of events than the man who was playing his first game of 2011.
“You get out of it what it what you put into it,” Garnett said.”These two weeks have been dark days for me, trying to keep my morale up, be around the guys, travel. But being hurt is not one of my things I like to be a part of. I hate it. I don’t deal with it well.
“But as I get older, along with these knuckleheads here keeping it real light for me, keeping my spirits up, I just worked through it. Tonight, I just felt stronger and I’m going to continue to build on this and not have any mishaps.”
He certainly showed no ill-effects of the strained right calf sustained on Dec. 29 in Detroit. Garnett ran and moved without a limp while starting out very strong. He had six rebounds, two assists and four points in nine minutes of the first quarter. Garnett also stole the ball from Jameer Nelson late to help seal Boston’s 31st win, keeping them on top in the Eastern Conference.
After scoring just six points on Christmas Day, Dwight Howard had one of his strongest games yet against the Celtics, scoring 33 points while grabbing 13 rebounds. But still, the Celtics, thanks to the interior passing of Garnett and Pierce dominated scoring in the paint, 52-26.
Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce were happy to have the noise back. That noise that comes from someone yelling non-stop throughout the game and playing with defensive intensity rarely seen in the history of the NBA.
The Celtics defensive coordinator was back on Monday night against the Magic, and within the first three minutes you could tell a difference in defensive energy as he was calling out plays on the court.
And Rivers didn’t feel the two teams played very good defense in the first 45 minutes, the last three were what mattered in a 109-106 Celtics win Monday night over the team they eliminated in the Eastern Finals last year. So, Garnett yelling out defensive calls and making plays like a steal on Jameer Nelson with 10 seconds remaining to seal the win was music to Rivers’ ears.
‘Listen, they all talk, but no one talks like Kevin,” Rivers said. “He’s the best talker in the league. When you’re talking defense. And I think Perk [Kendrick Perkins] may be the second best. So, it is clear tonight ‘ and I didn’t think we had a great defensive night; I thought we were actually average ‘ but it was clear the communication, especially those last four possessions, you could hear it. He was calling their sets out. He’s a defensive coach on the floor.’
Rivers had no doubt the energy would be there. His stamina and effectiveness were another thing altogether.
‘I knew he’d play with energy,” Rivers said after Garnett scored 19 points and hauled in eight rebounds in 30 intensity-filled minutes. “You could see that. You could see it [Sunday], and I was telling guys that our practice was just crazy with energy. And so, you knew that. I was concerned about his wind; I wasn’t concerned about his health at all.”
One area where it was noticeable that Garnett might have been a little rusty was in the foul column where he came within one of disqualification.
“I knew one of the things we said: he wasn’t playing until he was 100 percent,” Rivers said. “But [Sunday], we went an hour and after about ten minutes he was ‘ he looked like he needed an oxygen tank. And that’s why I took him out early in the first quarter; I thought he was struggling then. And then he came back and he felt great. So, yeah, he surprises you all the time.’
But don’t take Rivers’ word for it. Ask the man whom Garnett was helping to direct on the court, Paul Pierce.
“I mean I said to somebody else that we look like a totally different team,” Pierce said. “Just with Kevin on the court, and also people you can’t replace what Kevin gives to a ball club. He doesn’t always show up with his numbers but his presence and his feel for the game and everything he does for this team goes far beyond the numbers and you see it tonight. We look like a team who is ready, who is energized, who is locked in, and you know that’s the culture he’s brought here since day 1 he’s been here and its infectious. He raises everyone’s play when he’s on the court.’
|Doc Rivers needs more out of Semih Erden||01.15.11 at 2:05 pm ET|
And rookie Semih Erden would’ve led the list of players feeling pretty miserable.
On a night when the depleted front court needed minutes from their Turkish import, Shaquille O’Neal had to play 35 minutes because Erden – still learning the intricacies of the NBA. Rivers was more than aware that Erden was playing one day after missing practice with a pulled groin.
“Semih, we just needed him more on the floor tonight,” Rivers said. “I just kept telling him, just point, and we’ll get you out, and then we’ll bring you back in and do whatever we can, but we need you tonight. And they went small and we did a great job of not forcing it to them, but letting it come to them in the flow without taking us out of our flow.”
Rivers would not give the rookie a free pass just because of the injury.
“I don’t ask,” Rivers said. “If a guy’s playing, he’s healthy. Listen, they don’t care on the other team.If you’re going to be out on the floor, I don’t want to hear about it and neither does the other team. That’s how we always function, and our guys know that.”
Rondo fell just four rebounds shy of another triple-double while Shaq scored a game-high 23 points in the Celtics’ 99-94 win over the Bobcats Friday night at TD Garden. The Celtics were very effective from long distance, draining 8-of-19 from beyond the arc.
The Celtics joined the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat as 30-game winners, improving to 30-9 on the season and 2-1 on their six-game homestand. They are off until Monday night when they host Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in the possible return of Kevin Garnett to the Celtics lineup.
And, if called upon, Rivers hopes Erden does his level best to stay on the court.
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