|Are the Magic a threat?||01.23.09 at 12:01 am ET|
The Orlando Magic had the best record in the East, so it was only fair to say they were the best team. At least that was the credit the Boston Celtics were giving them before Thursday’s match up. But of the 41 games the Magic had played entering the game, only one had been against the Celtics. It was a loss.
The Magic have said they wanted to beat the best to be the best. In the last two seasons they lost to the Detroit Pistons early in the playoffs. Now the Celtics are the measuring stick in the East and after Thursday’s 90-80 loss to the defending champs (RECAP HERE), the Magic have failed to stack up twice.
It’s true the Magic haven’t received all the recognition they deserve nearly halfway through the season. Despite winning 16 of their last 19 games, they have flown relatively low under the radar and the talk of the East is still LeBron James vs. the Celtics. But there is a reason for that. Even with one of the most dominating big men in the game, the Magic do not have what it takes to unseat the Celtics in the postseason.
There is no denying the power and talent of Dwight Howard. He is a beast on the glass and can body through the paint with authority. But the reality is Howard is 23, only three months older than Rajon Rondo. The Celtics point guard has three proven veterans to turn to whereas the veterans on the Magic turn to Howard.
On Thursday the Celtics held Howard scoreless for the entire second and third quarters. In that time he picked up four fouls and had to limit his defensive intensity late in the fourth before fouling out with 2:30 to go. The glaring question is, can Howard lead a team in a seven-game series?
Point Guard Play
Jameer Nelson is having a breakthrough year, averaging 17 points up from 11 last season, and is finally emerging as the point guard the Magic have been anticipating since 2004. However surging performances aren’t always consistent. It’s been said that as Rondo goes, so go the Celtics. The same can be said for Nelson and the Magic.
Rajon Rondo (through 44 games)
Wins: 11.9 PPG, 54.8% FG, 8.2 APG, 5.1 RPG, 2.5 PF
Losses: 7.0 PPG, 32.4% FG, 7.3 APG, 4.1 RPG, 3.0 PF
Jameer Nelson (through 36 games)
Wins: 18.1 PPG, 54.4% FG, 52.1% 3PG, 5.7 APG, 2.9 PF
Losses: 12.9 PPG, 37.4% FG, 19.4% 3PG, 4.0 APG, 4.1 PF
The Magic are the best three-point shooting team in the league. They hit an NBA-record 23 treys this month against the Sacramento Kings and entered Thursday’s game shooting 53.9% 3PG in their last five match ups. At some point, though, legs get tired and the finesse can fade, especially in a six or seven-game series.
The Magic’s leading three-point shooter Rashard Lewis may be dangerous from inside and out, but he wasn’t a threat when he only shot one-for-four from long range against the Celtics. The team as a whole shot 7-for-22, which was actually worse than the Celtics 0-for-6 performance. The Cs compensated for their slump by going inside. The Magic, on the other hand, lived and died by the deep three.
The Celtics weren’t wrong for giving the Magic credit. They are one of the hottest teams in the league centered around one of the most exciting players to watch. But the season isn’t even halfway over and the Magic are not prepped for a title run just yet. They wanted to beat the best in the playoffs to be the best, but the first step is beating the best in the regular season.
|Cousy’s All-Star history||01.21.09 at 8:57 am ET|
On Thursday the 2009 NBA All-Star teams will be revealed. While a lack of fan votes has put Rajon Rondo’s selection in question, it was 55 years ago today that another Celtics PG made his mark on the game. On January 21, 1954, Bob Cousy scored 10 of his 20 points in overtime to lead the East to a 98-93 win. It was the first overtime in All-Star history. Cousy won All-Star MVP honors and appeared in 13 All-Star Games over his career.
The 2009 All-Star teams will be announced on TNT prior to the Celtics-Magic game.
|Sounds of the game… Celtics 104, Suns 87||01.20.09 at 1:48 am ET|
For the Celtics, Monday night was an embarrassment of riches. For the Phoenix Suns, it was just an embarrassment.
Rajon Rondo had perennial All-World point guard Steve Nash for lunch, scoring 23 points while dishing out seven assists and grabbing five rebounds in three quarters. Nash was held to 12 points and eight meaningless assists.
Kevin Garnett and Brian Scalabrine feasted on Shaq Diesel, who couldn’t believe his teammates didn’t bother showing up.
The Celtics forced 15 first half turnovers, matching the same number of field goals the Suns managed in the same 24 minutes.
Maybe the Celtics were inspired by the fact that they will be traveling to Washington early Tuesday for the historical inauguration of Barack Obama. Whatever the reason, the Celtics made the Suns look like the Arizona Cardinals when they visited Foxboro in December.
But, as the Cardinals showed, regular season games sometimes don’t mean much, just don’t tell Shaq that.
|Rondo makes Suns pay||01.19.09 at 11:52 pm ET|
On Draft Night 2006, the Phoenix Suns selected Rajon Rondo with the 21st pick and traded him to the Boston Celtics. It was a move to stay under the salary cap, avoid the luxury tax, and free up money for future acquisitions. Three years later, nearly $75 million in payroll could not stop him.
“The challenge is what everybody’s challenge is with him – keeping him in front,” said Suns head coach Terry Porter following the Celtics 104-87 victory. “He does a great job of penetrating, getting to the paint, and causing havoc that way.”
This season Rondo is set to earn $1.3 million, a bargain by NBA standards and nearly one-tenth of Steve Nash’s salary. On Monday night he proved he was worth every penny the Suns did not pay for him. Rondo posted 23 points, seven assists, and five rebounds, six more than Amar’e Stoudemire (RECAP HERE).
“There were a lot of fast break opportunities for me,” he said after the game. “They missed shots, that was key for us all night long. We got stops on defense and that allowed me to push it up on the break and get easy looks at the basket.”
Rondo scored more than half of his points in the paint against the Suns $35 million front court of Shaquille O’Neal and Stoudemire. Whereas other teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have collapsed on Rondo, the Suns let him have his way at the hoop.
“He’s improving all the time. He’s emerging as one of the elite guards in the league,” Nash said. “I think regardless of whether he’s shooting the ball well and he needs to improve there, his game has improved. I think it’s made the shooting not as big a question. He’s become a better and better passer. He’s a great athlete who does a lot of things for his team on the floor. He’s emerging as one of the elite guards in the league.”
Even though Rondo says he does not think about being traded, his performance only accentuated the Suns’ Draft Night loss. Over the years they have also drafted and dealt point guards Nate Robinson and Sergio Rodriguez, as well as forward Luol Deng. After missing out on Brandon Rush in the 2008 Draft, the Suns are left with little depth at the one-spot and a point guard who turns 35 next month.
“Well, we’ve had a few draft night trades to stay under the salary cap that were difficult in the big picture,” said Nash. “Our franchise is built on a business model that tries to stay under the cap as much as we can. It’s just how it’s been.”
It’s games like this that could have the Suns wondering what might have been. But for Rondo, it’s just another game.
“I just try to get better every game,” he said. “No one particular night I can try to say my confidence has been boosted, but I just try to stay consistent as possible because there’s a lot of ups and downs in the NBA. I had a good night tonight, shooting the ball but it’s all about the win.”
Three years ago it was all about the money for the Suns. On Monday night it was all about the win for Rondo.
|Sounds of the game… Celtics 118, Nets 86||01.15.09 at 10:37 am ET|
When the Celtics were in the midst of a slump that had them losing seven of nine, captain Paul Pierce said they needed to get their swagger back, especially on defense.
Well they can thank the Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets for helping them to regain some of the confidence that was on display when they opened the season 27-2.
Pierce hit all five of his three-pointers in the third quarter as the Celtics romped to their thrid straight win. This looked more like the romps that were common place in the first two months of the season. The defense forced 20 turnovers and even without Kendrick Perkins, the Green dominated the glass. And on the offensive side, Rajon Rondo, when he wasn’t throwing in half-hooks, dished out 12 assists helping the Celtics ease to their 32nd win, by 32 points.
Next up for the Celtics, after a day off on Thursday and practice on Friday, a rematch with the Nets in New Jersey on Saturday afternoon.
|Rondo: Feels good to win||01.14.09 at 8:34 am ET|
In the latest edition of his Yardbarker.com blog, Rajon Rondo said he is happy to be back on the winning side of things. Back-to-back victories over the Toronto Raptors have the Boston Celtics point guard feeling good again.
I’m glad to say that we have won the last two games (knock on wood). I don’t want to jinx anything, but these past two wins have felt great. It is extremely tough to beat the same team back to back, but I’m glad that we did. Our defense was better and we were able to make shots-two things that we needed. We have another game tomorrow. Hopefully, we will be able to get the W.
Rondo averaged 11.5 points, 9.5 assists, and 5.5 rebounds in the last two wins. He will be tested tonight against the New Jersey Nets standout PG Devin Harris.
|Are the Celtics in trouble?||01.06.09 at 9:45 pm ET|
The Boston Celtics knew there would be a target on their backs this season. But the threats sounded empty after winning 19 straight and blowing out their opponents in embarrassing fashion. Eventually, though, the rest of the league began to fight back. The Los Angeles Lakers were the first to take a stand. The Golden State Warriors followed suit and soon the Portland Trail Blazers, New York Knicks and Charlotte Bobcats wanted in. (CLICK HERE for a recap of Tuesday’s loss to the Bobcats.)
For every game the Celtics win, there is an opponent circling their next meeting. The problem is, the Celtics can’t mark every game as their biggest and defending their title is taking a toll on them. They are 2-5 since losing to the Lakers on Christmas Day and holes in the roster are being exposed. The once unstoppable Rajon Rondo has been contained by big men. The bench that was supposed to compensate for the loss of James Posey has blown numerous leads. Final minutes that used to be garbage time are now seconds of desperation.
December 25, 2008: Lakers 92, Celtics 83
The Celtics made the Lakers look soft last season during the NBA Finals. The Lakers got payback by snapping the Celtics’ 19-game winning streak on Christmas Day, challenging the Celtics to test them again for the title. Phil Jackson inspired other coaches to put their bigs on Rondo, which stifled the Cs soaring offense.
December 26, 2008: Warriors 99, Celtics 89
The Warriors kicked the Celtics while they were down and handed them their second consecutive loss of the season in Oakland. It was a rude awakening that offered a reminder that, no matter what kind of advantage the Celtics have on paper, stats can’t compensate for the motivation of their opponents.
December 30, 2008: Trail Blazers 91, Celtics 86
The Brandon Roy-less Trail Blazers forced the Celtics to make bad plays and dealt Boston its first loss in Portland in four years. The Celtics were outrebounded by 15 in a sloppy defensive effort.
January 4, 2009: Knicks 100, Celtics 88
Thirty points from Al Harrington served as a reminder to the Cs of what a deep bench can do for you. The Celtics were simply outhustled and there was no secret who wanted this win more.
January 6, 2009: Bobcats 114, Celtics 106 (OT)
The Celtics practically welcomed the Bobcats into the paint with open arms early on to jumpstart this loss. They forced far too many shots from long range (6-23 3PG) and did not hit enough from the line (22-30 FT). This game affirmed the concern that the Celtics have work to do.
As long as the Celtics wear the rings, they will also wear a target. It is an inevitable struggle they will have to overcome if they want to face the same curse next season.
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