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Preview: Celtics at Raptors, Game 32 01.02.11 at 10:23 am ET
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After Sunday’s game with Toronto, the Celtics play nine of their next 10 in Boston. It’s a weird quirk in the schedule that sends them to Canada before their homestand, and it’s either a chance to get things back on the track after losing three of four or a potential landmine that will continue their struggles.

The defensively-challenged Raptors may be just what the Celtics need to snap them out of their offensive malaise. Toronto has won just three times in their last 13 games and, like the Celtics, they are dealing with a number of injuries.

Power forward Reggie Evans has been out since November after breaking his foot. Andrea Bargnani has missed five of the last seven games games with a calf strain. Sonny Weems missed their last game against Houston with back spasms and Jerryd Bayless left the Rockets game after eight minutes with an ankle sprain.

The injuries have given rookie Ed Davis a chance to play meaningful minutes and he responded with 17 points and 12 rebounds in a win over the Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavericks, but the Raptors are in rough shape.

The Celtics may get Rajon Rondo back, but that is uncertain at best. Still, they have plenty of healthy talent to deal with Toronto, provided they are in the right mental shape.

[Boston at Toronto, Sunday, Jan. 2, 6 p.m. TV: CSN. Radio coverage on WEEI begins at 5;30 p.m.]

CELTICS (24-7, 7-3 last 10 games)

Offensive Rating: 107.9 (Points per 100 possessions, 11th)

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

Pace: 90.8 (Possessions per game, 23rd)

Likely Starters: Nate Robinson, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Glen Davis, Shaquille O’Neal

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

RAPTORS (11-21, 3-7 last 10 games)

Offensive Rating: 106.5 (14th)

Defensive Rating: 110.6 (27th)

Pace: 94.7 (6th)

Likely Starters: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Linas Kleiza, Joey Dorsey, Amir Johnson

Injuries: Andrea Bargnani (Calf, questionable), Jerryd Bayless (Ankle, questionable), Sonny Weems (Back, questionable), Peja Stojakovic (Knee, out), Reggie Evans (Foot, out).

KEY MATCHUP: Ray Allen vs. DeMar DeRozan

In his second season, DeRozan has upped his scoring average from 8.6 to 13.8 points per game, which looks nice but is mostly the result of playing more minutes. Overall, DeRozan hasn’t made a huge jump but he has shown flashes of brilliance such as his 23-point outburst against the Lakers and a 37-point performance against Houston in Toronto’s last game.

If Bargnani can’t play, DeRozan becomes the focal point of Toronto’s attack. Allen has kept him in check in their two previous meetings this season holding him to just 14 points on 4-for-11 shooting.

THREE PLOT POINTS

1. Can the Celtics bounce back?

They have played some ugly basketball over the last few weeks, even before they started losing games. Better ball movement would be a nice start as the Celtics have gone from a fluid, spread-the-wealth team to a one-pass-and-shoot squad. That has been most evident in the 3-point shooting where the Celtics have made 40 percent or better of their attempts just twice since Rondo went out of the lineup.

2. How much will Jermaine O’Neal have after playing 33 minutes Friday?

Doc Rivers never intended to play O’Neal that much in just his fourth game back after missing 19 games with a knee injury, but Rivers stuck with him for 16 straight minutes to close the game. It was O’Neal’s best performance of the season, and while his offense will come around in time, he showed the kind of rebounding and shot-blocking presence that the Celtics have been waiting for.

3. Will Rondo play?

Rondo tried to give it a a go against the Hornets Friday, but after warming up before the game he felt like he wasn’t back to full speed yet. Rondo desperately wants to get back on the court, but after the game, he sounded resigned to the possibility that it may take him a little longer to return to the lineup.

Considering the state of the Raptors, the Celtics may not need him Sunday. Either way, Rondo won’t play until he is ready and that is the correct decision, no matter how many games the Celtics have to struggle through this winter.

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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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Preview: Philadelphia at Boston, Game 27 12.22.10 at 10:35 am ET
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Up until Tuesday night, the Philadelphia 76ers were cruising right along with a nice little winning run at their backs. They had gone 8-3 in their last 11 games and taken four of the last five. Then, the Bulls happened. The Sixers lost by an astounding 45 points and allowed the Bulls to shoot 65 percent.

In Kate Fagan’s piece in the Inquirer, Andre Iguodala said it was a wake-up call, while coach Doug Collins called it one of those nights. Both of them have a point.

The truth is, the Sixers are not a bad basketball team. They might even wind up being quite good by the end of the season. For now, they have rebounded from a terrible start to become merely decent, which in the top-heavy Eastern Conference is good enough to be in the hunt for a playoff spot.

This has been quite a turnaround since starting the season by winning three of their first 16 games. It’s not hard to see Collins’ imprint all over this team. The key has been defense where the Sixers rank fifth (down from second after Tuesday’s debacle) in effective field goal percentage defense, a stat which accounts for the difference between two and 3-point shots.

The Sixers are not a very good offensive team, but they don’t turn the ball over and there is evidence that they are playing smarter: Thaddeus Young has almost completely cut out his penchant for taking (and missing) 3-pointers, for example.

In addition, Collins seems to have defined roles for his collection of young talent. He turned the team over to second-year point guard Jrue Holiday, who is learning on the job but showing good signs of development, and moved Lou Williams to the bench, where he can create offense for the second unit and provide a nice reserve combination along with Young.

Collins also took No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner out of the starting lineup, where he was horribly overmatched, and replaced him with Jodie Meeks, a 3-point shooter. The Sixers responded by going 6-2 and Meeks immediately went on a tremendous hot streak making, making 15-of-23 from beyond the arc, but he has since cooled hitting just four of his last 25 attempts.

But by far the biggest change for the Sixers has come from Elton Brand. He may never justify the ridiculous five-year, $80 million contract Ed Stefanski gave him after missing almost an entire season because of an Achilles injury — oddly enough, Brand proceeded to miss 53 games in the first of his new deal — but he has played well this season, averaging better than 15 points and eight rebounds a game.

That’s a far cry from Brand’s salad days with the Clippers where he put up almost 25 points and 10 rebounds in 2006, but five years ago Kevin Garnett was still in Minnesota and Ray Allen was still a Sonic. There were still Sonics, period. Times change.

The Sixers are still in the discovery stage. To Iguodala’s point, they managed to beat a handful of decent, but not great, teams during their streak in Portland, New Orleans and the trade-depleted Orlando Magic. Their losses came by eight points against the Lakers, one point against the Celtics and five at Atlanta, so they were playing competitively against the better teams. But mainly they’ve fattened up on so-so competition.

Still, Collins said when he took the job that his goal was to get the Sixers heading in the right direction and he is off to a solid start. Read the rest of this entry »

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Preview: Celtics at Knicks 12.15.10 at 9:28 am ET
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Just so we’re clear: This is not a rivalry, but it is a big game. The Celtics have won 10 straight games and are back atop the Eastern Conference. The Knicks have won eight straight and 13 of their last 14 and are looking like the best New york team in a decade.

While the Celtics downplayed the significance Tuesday at practice, the Knicks Raymond Felton was more outspoken. The truth is, this is a huge game for the Knicks. This is the game that will either validate their early-season success or take them back to reality. They know that and so do the Celtics, which should make for one heck of a show at the world’s most famous arena.

“Whenever the Knicks are playing well and there’s energy in the building it’s good for everybody,” Doc Rivers said. “I loved it as an opponent. I loved it when I was playing there. It’s the only building alive still, as far as the old buildings. It has that energy.”

What makes this matchup so compelling is that the Knicks and Celtics are practically diametrically opposed in terms of philosophy. The Celtics preach defense, while the Knicks try to win with offense. Boston takes the fewest 3-pointers in the league and New York takes the most. The Celtics move and execute you to death in the halfcourt, while the Knicks try to spread the floor and let their controlled version of chaos reign.

No, this isn’t the Lakers. It’s not the Magic and it’s not the Heat. But it’s New York, Madison Square Garden and the two hottest teams in the league. Throw in the New York-Boston element, make it about an up and coming challenger against an undisputed regional champion and it makes for a uniquely unexpected winter treat on the NBA calendar.

CELTICS (19-4, 10-0 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 109.3 (9th)

Defensive Rating: 98.7 (1st)

Pace: 91.0 (21st)

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

Injuries: Shaquille O’Neal (Calf, shin, questionable), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out).

KNICKS (16-9, 9-1 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 111.6 (4th)

Defensive Rating: 109.6 (23rd)

Pace: 96.4 (Third)

Likely Starters: Ray Felton, Landry Fields, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Amar’e Stoudemire

Injuries: Kalenna Azubuike (Knee, out) Read the rest of this entry »

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Preview: Bulls at Celtics 12.03.10 at 11:18 am ET
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Kevin Garnett and Joakim Noah renew their rivalry tonight (AP).

Kevin Garnett and Joakim Noah renew their rivalry tonight (AP).

In due time the Chicago Bulls may very well emerge as one of the prime contenders in the Eastern Conference. All of the pieces are there to matchup with the Celtics, Magic (and yes) the Heat.

At 9-7, the Bulls record doesn’t leap off the page, but consider they recently completed a seven-game road trip (known locally as the circus trip) and although they have gone 4-4 in their last eight games, their losses have come against the Spurs, Nuggets, Lakers and Magic.

They’re not there yet though. Carlos Boozer played his first game of the season Wednesday night and had just five points and two rebounds in 22 minutes. Once he gets acclimated, the Bulls will really begin to shape. One problem that has not been fixed yet, however, is their lack of 3-point shooting beyond Kyle Korver.

The Bulls rank 28th in overall makes from behind the arc and are 24th in accuracy, shooting just 33 percent. Luol Deng is shooting an almost-respectable 35 percent, and Derrick Rose is next at 34 percent. That’s actually a marked improvement from the point guard who is under 30 percent for his career.

Despite their troubles from long-range, the Bulls do many things well and they have all the elements to become an elite defensive team. But it’s hard to break through and become a true contender with such an obvious weakness.

bulls_logoBULLS (9-7, 6-4 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 99.0 (14th)

Defensive Rating: 103.8 (9th)

Pace: 93.5 (12th)

Likely Starters: Derrick Rose, Keith Bogans, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah

Injuries: None.

celtics_logoCELTICS (14-4, 8-2 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 109.2 (9th)

Defensive Rating: 100.8 (2nd)

Pace: 90.7 (23rd)

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

Injuries: Nate Robinson (Heel, questionable), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out), Delonte West (wrist, out). Read the rest of this entry »

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Preview: Blazers at Celtics 12.01.10 at 10:12 am ET
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ainge_portlandFor all the attention Greg Oden‘s knee injuries have received consider the case of Brandon Roy. Just two seasons ago, Roy averaged 22 points and right around five points and five assists per game for a team that won 54 games. He was a second-team All NBA selection and the general feeling around the league was that he was on the verge of attaining superstar status.

There’s a good chance that version of Roy is gone and never coming back. He avoided having knee surgery, but as the Oregonian’s Jason Quick pointed out, that was only because he has no cartilage left to fix. Roy’s doctors told him he had “arthritic knee,” bone on bone. He’s only 26 years old but he’s already on anti-inflammatory medication and playing under a time limit of 35 minutes a night.

This isn’t potential we’re talking about, like with Oden. This is a great player on the brink of becoming something truly special. Roy is still good, but like the Blazers as a whole there’s a sense of missed opportunity and bad luck.

Roy played 33 minutes in a loss to the Sixers Tuesday night, and the Blazers scored just 11 points in the fourth quarter, which has been a disturbing trend. They held a team meeting after a loss to New Jersey Sunday night and they have lost four games in a row.

The Celtics may be catching them at the right time or they may be dealing with a desperate team. It would be dangerous to take Roy, or the Blazers, lightly.

blazers_logoTRAIL BLAZERS (8-9, 3-7 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 106.7 (14)

Defensive Rating: 107.8 (17)

Pace: 88.7 (29)

Likely Starters: Andre Miller, Brandon Roy, Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby

Injuries: Joel Przybila (Doubtful, knee), Greg Oden (Out, knee), Elliot Williams (Out, knee), Sean Marks (Ankle, questionable)

celtics_logoCELTICS (13-4, 7-3 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 108.9 (9)

Defensive Rating: 100.3 (2)

Pace: 90.9 (22)

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

Injuries: Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out) Read the rest of this entry »

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Preview: Raptors at Celtics 11.26.10 at 12:52 pm ET
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In the five days since the Celtics were embarrassed in a Sunday afternoon matinee in Toronto, they regained their swagger in Atlanta, gutted out a win over New Jersey and lost one of their most indispensable reserves in Delonte West.

West’s injury casts a pall over the C’s, and there are no easy solutions for them right now. The immediate plan seems to be to stand pat with what they have, which means more playing time for Von Wafer and an accelerated learning curve for rookie Avery Bradley. This also means an increased role for Marquis Daniels, who was just getting comfortable as the backup small forward. he now has to return to being the team’s most versatile reserve.

These are tough times for the Celtics who didn’t begin to suffer team-wide injury breakdowns until after the new year last season. If they can survive this stretch, and continue to win games, it will serve them well in the second half of the season when Doc Rivers will likely ease off on his veterans. That luxury doesn’t exist right now, and so it will be up to Wafer, Daniels and Bradley to fill in the gaps.

The Raptors have won four straight after a dreadful start and serve as a strong test to the Celtics resolve.

raps_logoRAPTORS (6-9, 5-5 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 106.2 (15)

Defensive Rating: 107.7 (19)

Pace: 94.6 (8)

Likely Starters: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems, Reggie Evans, Andrea Bargnani

Injuries: None

celtics_logoCELTICS (11-4, 7-3 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 108.2 (11)

Defensive Rating: 100.5 (3)

Pace: 90.4 (26)

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

Injuries: Rajon Rondo (Hamstring, questionable), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out) Read the rest of this entry »

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