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Game 49: Mavericks at Celtics 02.04.11 at 11:19 am ET
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The Dallas Mavericks have been doing this for a long time. They have been a playoff team every year for the last decade, the second-longest current streak after San Antonio. Their run coincided with the emerge of Dirk Nowitzki as a big-time player and over the years he has remained the one constant.

Steve Nash gave way to Jason Kidd. Michael Finley and Josh Howard were eventually replaced by Jason Terry and Shawn Marion. Through it all, Nowitzki has remained, and despite his MVP season, he remains one of the NBA’s underappreciated superstars.

Nowitzki is having another phenomenal season, perhaps his best since his MVP days. His impact can be seen through his +/- numbers where the Mavericks are more than 22 points better with him on the floor, the highest margin in the league, according to Basketball Value. His impact was even more obvious when he missed nine games and the Mavs went 2-7 during that stretch.

They have since won seven of their last eight and are re-establishing themselves as one of the Western Conference’s prime contenders along with the Spurs and Lakers.

“You can make a strong argument for him for MVP,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “Him and Derrick Rose and LeBron [James]. He’s having a heck of a year.”

As great as Nowitzki has been, the biggest change has come from the Mavs’ never-ending search for the right complimentary players to put around him. That would be Tyson Chandler.

“He’s the biggest change on their team,” Rivers said. “Chandler has made them a defensive team. They have an anchor now. Just think, they have [Brendan] Haywood coming off the bench. That’s a big, deep basketball team.”

Chandler gives them 10 points and nine rebounds per game, while shooting 66 percent from the floor on a limited arsenal of dunks and put-backs. But it’s his defensive presence that has been the biggest factor, especially in their zone defense.

The Mavs are ninth in defensive rating, up from 12th the season before and 17th the year before that. Additionally, they only give up 20 shots a game at the rim — the second lowest total in the league after Orlando where Dwight Howard patrols the paint.

This may be the same old Nowitzki, but it’s not the same old Mavs.

MAVERICKS (33-15, 7-3 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 108.1 (Points scored per 100 possessions, 11th)

Defensive Rating: 104.8 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 9th)

Pace: 90.2 (Possessions per game, 23rd)

Likely Starters: Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, Dirk Nowitzki, Brian Cardinal, Tyson Chandler

Injuries: Caron Butler (Knee, out), Roddy Beaubois (Foot, out), Peja Stojakovic (Knee, out)

CELTICS (37-11, 8-2 LAST 10)

Offensive Rating: 108.1 (12th)

Defensive Rating: 100.1 (2nd)

Pace: 90.8 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, TBD

Injuries: Shaquille O’Neal (Hip, Achilles, Questionable), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out) Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Celtics, Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks, Preview
Preview Game 48: Winning the trip 02.01.11 at 10:49 am ET
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And now for the inevitable letdown. The Celtics proved their point Sunday afternoon in Los Angles with their emphatic win over the Lakers. Tuesday night in Sacramento figures to be a whole different kind of challenge.

The Celtics have already had a successful west coast trip in many respects. They did what they had to do in splitting their first two games — their trouble in back-to-backs notwithstanding — and their win over the Lakers will resonate. Still, a loss to the Kings would be a serious downer after all the strides this team has made.

It would be unwise for the Celtics to take them lightly because the Kings are playing good basketball right now. They won at Portland and followed that up by beating the Lakers in L.A. and knocking off the Hornets at home. The Celtics rolled the Kings back in Boston, but that was without Tyreke Evans. The Kings remain a young, unpredictable squad who will get on the offensive glass and try to play up-tempo.

This is all about business for the Celtics tonight, and if they care of it, they’ll come back to Boston with momentum heading into a huge 10-day stretch that will have them play the Mavericks, Magic, Lakers and Heat.

CELTICS (36-11, 8-2 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 108.3 (Points per 100 possessions, 11th)

Defensive Rating: 100.3 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 2nd)

Pace: 90.7 (22nd)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Glen Davis (Hamstring, probable), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out).

KINGS (12-33, 4-6 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 102.9 (25th)

Defensive Rating: 107.9 (16th)

Pace: 93.6 (9th)

Likely Starters: Beno Udrih, Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi, Carl Landry, DeMarcus Cousins

Injuries: Jason Thompson (Ankle, doubtful), Francisco Garcia (Calf, questionable) Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Celtics, Kings, Preview,
Preview: Celtics at Trail Blazers, Game 45 01.27.11 at 11:18 am ET
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You just can’t kill the Portland Trail Blazers. Greg Oden is out for the season, again, after knee surgery. Marcus Camby is out for three weeks after knee surgery. Brandon Roy had surgery on both his knees. On and on it goes for the most star-crossed franchise in the NBA who may never approach the greatness that was forecast for them following the 2009 season.

Yet, here they are again, clinging to the eighth spot in the Western Conference having won five of their last six games. Much of the credit for Portland’s still viable status belongs to forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who has taken on a larger burden without Roy in the Blazers deliberate offense and scoring more inside.

Aldridge, Andre Miller, Wes Matthews and Nic Batum form the thrown-together core of this Blazers team and that’s enough talent to make them a tough out any night of the week.

The Celtics come to town tonight for the start of a four-game west coast trip and in many way, this is the pivotal game of the trip. They have a back-to-back with Phoenix Friday night and then the showdown with the Lakers on Sunday. The last thing the Celtics want is a losing streak heading into L.A.

CELTICS (34-10, 7-3 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 109.1 (Points scored per 100 possessions, 10th)

Defensive Rating: 100.6 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 2nd)

Pace: 90.6 (Possessions per game, 22nd)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Semih Erden

Injuries: Shaquille O’Neal (Hip, questionable), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out).

TRAIL BLAZERS (25-21, 6-4 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 107.3 (14th)

Defensive Rating: 106.6 (15th)

Pace: 88.8 (30th)

Likely Starters: Andre Miller, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Pryzbilla

Injuries: Marcus Camby (Knee, out), Greg Oden (Knee, out), Brandon Roy (Knee, out), Elliot Williams (Knee, out), Aldridge (Hip, probable), Matthews (Hip, questionable). Read the rest of this entry »

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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 »

Read More: Celtics, Magic, Preview,
Preview: Kings at Celtics, Game 38 01.12.11 at 11:13 am ET
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Doc Rivers wasn’t happy with his starters Monday night in a loss to the Rockets, so he beat them up in practice on Tuesday. Rivers wanted a live, physical full-court practice with lots of rebounding work, which is part of the reason he elected to hold Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins out of the session.

Rivers is worried that his team is getting too complacent. “We’ve won games where I didn’t think we were mentally ready to play the game, but we were mentally tough enough to fight through it and win the game,” Rivers said. “But we’ve also lost some games where we haven’t had that mental toughness.”

What concerned him most against Houston was that his team took too many shortcuts. They switched screens when they didn’t have to. They looked for the home run play when an easier one would have sufficed.

“We just got to stay on it,” Rivers said. “We are a veteran team that knows there’s another level that we can play at and we play at it at times. So we just got to stay on top of it.” The blame, he said, rested mainly with the starters.

Rivers is taking a calculated gamble that he can get his team back on track by whipping them into shape and refocusing their attention. You may recall that similar motivational tactics had no effect on last season’s Celtics. That, along with the injuries, made them an incredibly frustrating team throughout January, February and March.

This year, Rivers has said, is different. It has to be. On the same night they lost to the Rockets, the Miami Heat slipped passed the Celtics for the best record in the Eastern Conference. “I know they’re playing well, honest to gosh, I could care less,” Rivers said. “I am only concerned with our team.”

And he is concerned. Transition defense, pick and roll coverage, offensive execution, all these things must be corrected sooner rather than later and it needs to start tonight against the Kings.

KINGS (8-27, 3-7 last 10 games)

Offensive Rating: 102.7 (Points per 100 possessions, 24th)

Defensive Rating: 108.9 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 23rd)

Pace: 93.8 (Possessions per game, 9th)

Likely Starters: Beno Udrih, Luther Head, Francisco Garcia, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins

Injuries: Tyreke Evans (Ankle, questionable)

CELTICS (28-9, 5-5 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 108.3 (10th)

Defensive Rating: 100.4 (2nd)

Pace: 90.7 (23rd)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Glen Davis, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Kevin Garnett (Calf, doubtful), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out) Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Celtics, Preview, sacramento kings,
Preview: Spurs at Celtics 01.05.11 at 12:03 pm ET
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With a little more than three minutes left, and his team down 11 points in New York, San Antonio Gregg Popovich pulled his starters Tuesday night, effectively signaling, no mas. This was interesting for two reasons. First, NBA teams just don’t do that, especially not in New York where the media scrutiny shines the brightest, and second, the Spurs play the Celtics tonight.

Popovich got away with it because he’s Popovich, and because even the most rah-rah fan would have to admit that pulling back on a game that could maybe go either way — but looks doubtful — in early January is not really a bad idea. Plus, it’s the freaking San Antonio Spurs, who won four championships since 1998 without a tenth of the drama normally associated with NBA teams, and who have the best record in the league. If Pop wants to make a statement, who’s going to argue with him?

After the game, Popovich called his team’s effort “pathetic,” and again, he had no arguments from his players who should be in a feisty mood for their one visit to TD Garden. This one doesn’t need any more advance hype — although it would be much better if Kevin Garnett was able to play against Tim Duncan.

The Spurs have the best record in the league (and the league’s best offense), while the Celtics sit at No. 2 with the league’s best defense. In many ways the Celtics are modeled after the Spurs, with Doc Rivers taking many lessons from his days in San Antonio with him to Boston.

This is simply as good as it gets in the NBA.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS (29-5, 8-2 last 10 games)

Offensive Rating: 112.4 (Points per 100 possessions, 1st)

Defensive Rating: 103.7 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 9th)

Pace: 93.3 (Possessions per game, 10th)

Likely Starters: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair, Tim Duncan

Injuries: James Anderson (Foot, out)

CELTICS (26-7, 7-3 last 10 games)

Offensive Rating: 107.6 (11th)

Defensive Rating: 90.8 (1st)

Pace: 90.8 (22nd)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Glen Davis, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Kevin Garnett (Calf, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out).

KEY MATCHUP: Glen Davis vs. DeJuan Blair

Big Baby meet Dajuan Bear, in which 550 pounds, give or take, of bulk do battle on the boards. Blair averages 6.6 rebounds a game in 20 minutes of action. But crunch those numbers further, adjust for pace and time spent on the court and Blair is a more effective offensive rebounder than Kevin Love. Lost in the Love-fest Monday night was the fact that Davis grabbed one solitary rebound. He’ll have to do better tonight.

THREE STORYLINES

1. Can the Celtics defense contain the Spurs?

When we think of the Spurs we don’t often think of offense, but they have the league’s best this season thanks to an insanely efficient attack that features a league-best 40 percent shooting from behind the arc. Manu Ginobli, Richard Jefferson, George Hill and Matt Bonner all have True Shooting percentage over 60 percent and that’s before anyone has to account for Duncan or Tony Parker.

2. Is this an NBA finals preview?

While all the attention in the Western Conference has focused on the Lakers and their various serial dramas, the Spurs have quietly reinvented themselves as the class of the conference. It doesn’t hurt that they have been relatively injury-free or that they have once again unearthed a gem in Gary Neal, who floated around Europe for three years before coming to the NBA. The Spurs are loaded.

3. How healthy is Rajon Rondo?

In his two games since returning from his ankle injury, Rondo has been good, but he hasn’t been Rondo. We have yet to see the explosive athletic ability that is the hallmark of his game and what truly separates him from his contemporaries at the point guard position. He’ll have his hands full with Parker tonight.

Read More: Celtics, Preview, Spurs,
Preview: Timberwolves at Celtics, Game 33 01.03.11 at 11:24 am ET
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The Minnesota Timberwolves are a bad team. This comes as no surprise to even the most casual NBA fan. Since trading Kevin Garnett, the T-Wolves have won 70 games and lost 210. That’s losing three out of every four games for 3+ seasons. They don’t defend, they don’t shoot very well and they turn it over way too much. That’s pretty much the formula for bad in the NBA.

They are also knee-deep in one of the most convoluted rebuilding projects in recent memory.

It started when they traded Garnett, acquiring a package of players that included Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green and Sebastian Telfair. All of those players have been traded (although they did bring Telfair back where he continues to be a mediocre backup). They also got back their first round pick from the Celtics, which turned out to be Jonny Flynn, a shoot-first point guard who can’t shoot, and acquired the Celtics pick, which became Wayne Ellington, a scorer who can’t score.

General manager David Kahn didn’t make the Garnett trade, but he did run the draft where he also took Ricky Rubio, who has yet to play a second in the NBA, and yet another point guard in Ty Lawson, who he traded to Denver. Lawson has become an integral part of the Nuggets, the eventual replacement for Chauncey Billups and is a far better prospect than Flynn. (Rubio remains a dream).

This past year, Kahn drafted 23-year-old Wesley Johnson, ancient for a draft prospect, and passed over the talented, but enigmatic, DeMarcus Cousins, who is averaging 11 points and eight rebounds along with his various misdeeds and histrionics. Johnson is a wing player, so naturally Kahn traded for another young wing player in Martell Webster, who thankfully can shoot, but has missed all but nine games with injuries.

For good measure, Kahn gave Darko Millicic a contract extension, leading to this fantastic exchange between Kahn and Chris Webber.

Kahn still wasn’t done. He dumped Jefferson for a player named Kostas Koufos, which made people laugh, but it might have been the best move of his tenure because he shed a big contract on a player with bad knees and opened a spot for Michael Beasley, obtained from the Miami Heat during their contract firesale. Beasley has regained his game after a lost season in Miami and is averaging 22 points and six rebounds a game. Trading Jefferson also allowed Kevin Love to blossom into a full-blown star.

And he signed another point guard in Luke Ridnour, which has turned out to be a good thing because Flynn started the year on the injured list and has struggled in his return.

Against all odds, this bunch has become one of the weirdest, and most fun teams of the lower depths of the NBA. Part of that is Love, who pulled down an amazing 33 boards in a game. Then there’s Beasley, whose hair demands its own reality show, and the fact that they play at the fastest pace in the league. They have become, along with the Warriors and the Blake Griffin-Clippers a League Pass cult favorite. But they’re still a hot mess.

TIMBERWOLVES (9-25, 3-7 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 105.3 (Points per 100 possessions, 18th)

Defensive Rating: 111.3 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 29th)

Pace: 97.6 (Possessions per game, 1st)

Likely Starters: Luke Ridnour, Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Darko Millicic

Injuries: Jonny Flynn (Ankle, questionable), Anthony Tolliver (Knee, out).

CELTICS (25-7,7-3 last 10 games)

Offensive Rating: 107.7 (11th)

Defensive Rating: 98.9 (1st)

Pace: 90.8 (23rd)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Glen Davis, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Kevin Garnett (Calf, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out).

KEY MATCHUP: Glen Davis vs. Kevin Love

In the 2008 draft, then-GM Kevin McHale swapped picks with Memphis to obtain Love for the rights to O.J. Mayo. There was some talk last season that this was yet another Minnesota screw-up, but there’s no question who got the better end of this transaction. Love is one of the best rebounders in the league, maybe the best, and his offensive game is rounding into shape. If there is any justice, the NBA will find a way to put Love on the All-Star team, even in the stacked Western Conference.

All of which is to say that Glen Davis will have his hands full with Love. Davis shook off a rough first half against Toronto to finish with 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. He’ll have to be good for all 36 minutes against Love.

THREE STORYLINES

1. How will Rajon Rondo hold up on the second night of a back-to-back?

Doc Rivers didn’t think Rondo was going to play until about an hour before Sunday’s game, which raises the inevitable question: Was he actually ready to play? Rondo looked predictably rusty, but did flash his athleticism on a couple of plays. He also had his left ankle stepped on inadvertently by Linas Kleiza, which led to some anxious moments.

There’s a game Wednesday against the Spurs, another Friday against Toronto and then a quick trip to Chicago on Saturday so Rondo won’t have much time to recuperate.

2. Will the Celtics be able to slow the Timberwolves down?

Minnesota plays at the fastest tempo in the league, while the Celtics play much slower. There have been times when the Celtics have tried to run with faster teams, and there is no question they enjoy these kinds of games in the regular season. They should be careful not to get too caught up in Minnesota’s pace and let the Timberwolves hang around in the process.

3. How is Paul Pierce?

Pierce rolled his ankle late in the game against the Raptors after a late-game uncontested dunk. The Celtics don’t think it will be serious, but that was before their flight. The last thing they need is a lingering ankle injury affecting Pierce.

Read More: Celtics, Preview, Timberwolves,
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