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NBA Offseason Review: Southwest Division 12.21.11 at 5:28 pm ET
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Given the drama (and comedy) that was the NBA lockout, the ensuing free agency frenzy and the vetoed trade by a commissioner of a group of owners who was acting as the general manager of an individual team that is owned by that same group of owners, it’s easy to get confused about who landed where. This is the third of six daily division-by-division reviews leading up to opening day.

NBA Offseason Review: Pacific Division
NBA Offseason Review: Northwest Division

HOUSTON ROCKETS

2010-11 record: 43-39
2010-11 standing: 5th in Southwest Division
NBA draft picks: 14. Marcus Morris; 20. Donatas Motiejunas; 38. Chandler Parsons
Key additions: Samuel Dalembert (free agent); Jonny Flynn (trade); Jeremy Lin (FA)
Key substractions: Yao Ming (retired); Chuck Hayes (free agent); Brad Miller (trade)
2011-12 starters: PG Kyle Lowry; SG Kevin Martin; SF Chase Budinger; PF Luis Scola; C Dalembert
2011-12 wins over/under (sportsbook.com): 34.5
2011-12 prediction: 35-31

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

2010-11 record: 46-36
2010-11 standing: 4th in Southwest Division; lost Western Conference semifinals to Thunder, 4-3
NBA draft picks: 49. Josh Selby
Key additions: Brian Skinner (free agent); Jeremy Pargo (FA)
Key substractions: Shane Battier (free agent); Leon Powe (FA)
2011-12 starters: PG Mike Conley; SG O.J. Mayo; SF Rudy Gay; PF Zach Randolph; C Marc Gasol
2011-12 wins over/under (sportsbook.com): 36.5
2011-12 prediction: 38-28

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Read More: Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, NBA
Three-Pointer: Rajon Rondo and ‘coach’s porn’ 04.01.11 at 12:34 am ET
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What a difference a game makes.

The Celtics had been reeling, losing seven of their last 12 games and nearly falling to third place behind the Bulls and Heat in the Eastern Conference — inspiring concerns about everything from the physical health of both O’Neals to the mental health of their start point guard.

But the Celtics also hadn’t played a contender in the last 12 games, or since Feb. 13 for that matter. The Celtics have proven themselves plenty over the last four seasons — as NBA champions in 2008 and as underdog runners-up in 2010 — but entering Thursday night’s game in San Antonio they found themselves needing to prove themselves once again.

After the trade of Kendrick Perkins and following a 5-7 record with the East’s No. 1 seed on the line, can the Celtics still compete with the NBA’s best? After a 107-97 victory against the league-leading Spurs (57-18) on the road without a healthy center, the answer was clear. (The complete game recap can be found here.)

Among the Spurs, Lakers, Mavericks, Bulls and Heat, only Chicago can match the Celtics’ performance against the NBA elite. Here are their records in games against each other:

  • Celtics: 8-4
  • Bulls: 8-4
  • Spurs: 7-6
  • Mavericks: 6-6
  • Lakers: 4-7
  • Heat: 3-9

The Celtics now boast a .667 winning percentage against the league’s five other major NBA title contenders, and two of their four losses to those teams came against a Mavericks team that the C’s likely won’t face again, even if they were to return to the NBA Finals.

There’s plenty of points to take from Thursday night’s Celtics victory. Here are three of them:

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Read More: Boston Celtics, nenad krstic, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen
Fast Break: Rajon Rondo, Celtics kick Spurs 03.31.11 at 10:38 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo recorded 22 points and 14 assists (to go along with zero turnovers), leading the Celtics in an inspired 107-97 victory over the Spurs in San Antonio on Thursday night.

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett also eclipsed 20 points and Glen Davis netted 16 points off the bench for the Celtics (52-22). While Jermaine O’Neal returned after nearly three months to score five points in 11 minutes, Celtics starting center Nenad Krstic left the game with a “right knee injury” and did not return.

Tony Parker and Tim Duncan reached the 20-point mark as the Spurs (57-18) dropped their fifth straight.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Pierce and Rondo asserting themselves: Pierce scored 12 first-quarter points to keep the Celtics competitive despite allowing 33 first-quarter points, and Rondo sparked a 14-3 run to close the third quarter as the C’s established a 77-70 lead entering the fourth quarter. In all, Pierce and Rondo took 36 shots, making 19 of them. Rondo was so good, even his jump shots were falling, causing the Spurs coaching staff to toss their hands up in disgust.

Buckling down on defense: After the Spurs made 12-of-24 shots and scored 33 points in the first quarter, the Celtics held them to 15-of-44 shooting and 37 points over the next two quarters. Entering the game as the league’s sixth-leading scoring team, the Spurs controlled the (quick) pace in the early going, but the Celtics put a stop to that in the second quarter.

The return of Jermaine O’Neal: In limited action, O’Neal played with surprising energy and range of movement, considering he hadn’t seen the court since Jan. 10. He knocked down his only two shots, including an impressive turnaround over Matt Bonner in the first quarter. Should Krstic’s injury be severe, the Celtics will be relying more heavily on O’Neal than they ever expected, and Thursday night’s performance was a positive sign.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Celtics’ bigs problem gets bigger: Just as Jermaine O’Neal got back into the fold, and as Shaquille O’Neal gets closer and closer to his return, Krstic’s leg bent the wrong way in the second quarter. He left the game clutching his right knee. Krstic did not return, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers told TNT sideline reporter David Aldridge, “We don’t know for sure, but it does not look good.” In 2006, Krstic tore his left ACL.

Defending the paint: The Celtics gave up 26 points in the paint in the first half and 50 total. Spurs point guard Tony Parker got to the rim at will early, leading all scorers with 14 points in the opening 24 minutes. His ability to penetrate opened things up for the Spurs inside. Of course, Garnett’s two quick first-quarter fouls left the Celtics without their best interior defender in that span for more minutes than they would have liked.

Second-chance opportunities: The Celtics shot 48 percent in the first half, and the Spurs made just 40 percent of their attempts, yet the two teams were tied at the half. The C’s allowed eight offensive rebounds and 15 second-chance points in the first half alone.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jermaine O'Neal, nenad krstic, Rajon Rondo
Irish Coffee: Jermaine O’Neal’s Celtics impact at 12:02 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

On Feb. 1, when the Celtics began a two-month-plus stretch without either of the O’Neal “brothers,” if you had to put your life savings on which one would return first, how many people would’ve put money on Jermaine O’Neal?

Not many, me included. I know I would’ve put my $47 on Shaquille O’Neal. And, as Dale Arnold might say, if you gave Doc Rivers Sodium Pentothal, he’d probably admit that he would’ve rather had Shaq back first. But that’s not the case.

Jermaine O’Neal is returning to the Celtics lineup for the first time since Jan. 10, when his knee swelled to the point of no return. In 17 games this season, he had averaged 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 18.1 minutes.

So, what, exactly, can we expect from Jermaine O’Neal? If we can agree that all the Celtics need to replace Kendrick Perkins‘ minutes are guys who can defend bigs, rebound the basketball and knock down open shots created by the Big Four, then J.O. can give you plenty. Not as much as Shaq, but it’s something, right?

Let’s start with defense. Here are the points per possession (PPP) and field-goal percentages allowed by Perkins, Shaq, J.O. and Nenad Krstic on man-to-man defense in their limited time as Celtics this season:

  • Kendrick Perkins (7 games): 0.81 PPP on 41.0 percent shooting
  • Shaquille O’Neal (36 games): 0.77 PPP on 37.6 percent shooting
  • Jermaine O’Neal (17 games): 0.76 PPP on 35.2 percent shooting
  • Nenad Krstic (17 games): 0.90 PPP on 44.2 percent shooting

In a limited sample size, Jermaine O’Neal actually gave the Celtics the best defense of all four guys. Even if he can give them 15 minutes a night, that might limit Krstic’s ineffectiveness on the defensive end. When Shaquille O’Neal returns, the C’s should finally have the defensive depth at center that can fill the void left by Perkins.

Now, let’s look at rebounding. Here are the rebounding rates — or the percentage of missed shots corraled by a player in his time on the floor — for those same bigs:

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Jermaine O'Neal, Kendrick Perkins
Irish Coffee: Too many minutes for Celtics to win it? 02.18.11 at 1:06 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

In my mind, seven teams could potentially win the 2011 NBA championship: the Celtics, Spurs, Lakers, Heat, Bulls, Mavericks and Thunder. Four of those teams — the C’s, Spurs, Lakers and Mavericks — have veteran-laden rotations, so which coaches are doing the best job this season of managing the minutes logged on their top players’ aging bodies before the All-Star break?

Let’s look at those four teams’ top six players, their ages and their minutes logged …

Boston Celtics
Average Age: 30.1 years
Average Games Played: 43.5
Average Minutes Per Game: 33.5 (8,746 total)
Percent of Team’s Total Minutes: 67.1

Rajon Rondo (24 years, 361 days): 1,622 minutes; 37.7 minutes per game
Ray Allen (35 years, 213 days): 1,948 min; 36.1 mpg
Paul Pierce (33 years, 128 days): 1,881 min; 34.8 mpg
Kevin Garnett (34 years, 275 days): 1,409 min; 31.3 mpg
Glen Davis (25 years, 48 days): 1,585 min; 29.4 mpg
Kendrick Perkins (26 years, 100 days): 301 min; 27.4 mpg

***

San Antonio Spurs
Average Age: 29.4
Average Games Played: 55.0
Average MPG: 29.0 (9,562 total)
Percent of Team’s Total Minutes: 70.8

Tony Parker (28 years, 277 days): 1,826 min; 32.6 mpg
Richard Jefferson (30 years, 242 days): 1,752 min; 31.3 mpg
Manu Ginobili (33 years, 205 days): 1,738 min; 31.0 mpg
Tim Duncan (34 years, 299 days): 1,609 min; 28.7 mpg
George Hill (24 years, 290 days): 1,393 min; 27.9 mpg
DeJuan Blair (21 years, 302 days): 1,244 min; 22.2 mpg

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Read More: Bill Russell, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA
NBA Power Rankings, 2/3 02.03.11 at 6:14 pm ET
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The Celtics haven’t claimed the top spot in our NBA Power Rankings since Jan. 6, but as Paul Flannery wrote following the C’s 109-96 victory against the Lakers on Sunday, “The Celtics’ performance proved that as of this moment they are the team to beat in the NBA. On their best day, and this may have been it, no one can even come close to matching them.”

There are four other legitimate contenders for the 2011 NBA title — the Spurs, Bulls, Heat and Lakers — and the Celtics have beaten all of them, recording six wins in seven games against those teams. That’s kinda good.

The C’s have now defeated 23 of the 29 other teams in the league. The only two teams they haven’t faced yet are the Clippers and Warriors. They’ve lost their only games against the Mavericks, Suns, Rockets and Hornets so far, but they get their respective shots at revenge on Friday, March 2, March 18 and March 19.

In short, pretty much everybody has praised the Celtics as one of, if not THE best in the league. Kevin Garnett might be one of the most disliked opponents in the league, but the C’s are getting their share of respect. That’s why we’ve decided to highlight the best quotes about the Celtics from opposing coaches and players in this week’s edition of the Power Rankings. Without further ado, here goes …

1. Boston (37-11): I don’t care that the Celtics have lost to the Wizards, Pistons, Raptors and Cavaliers. I don’t care that they scored only 71 points against the Suns. Four of those losses occurred on the road after playing the previous night, and the other came at 1 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. When the Celtics are motivated, they’ve been almost unbeatable. Just ask the Spurs, Lakers and Heat.

2. San Antonio (40-8): Spurs coach Gregg Popovich after losing to the Celtics on Jan. 5, 105-103: “It’s just frustrating that we’re a definite, significant notch below the big boys — of course, Boston being one of the big boys — come playoff time if this continues. You know, Boston is third in field-goal percentage ‘D,’ and first in defensive rebounding. Those are the kind of stats we used to have defensively to do what you need to do to be the last team standing.” (via Sporting News)

3. Chicago (34-14): Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau after losing to the Celtics in overtime on Nov. 5, 110-105: “They’€™ve got a lot of weapons, they’€™re experienced, they know how to work the game and they’re hard to guard. I think the thing that often gets overlooked with them is not only their individual greatness but their collective greatness and willingness to share with each other. ‘€¦ It puts enormous pressure on your defense. Your defense can’€™t get set, and that’€™s something we’€™re striving for.”

4. Miami (34-14): Heat forward LeBron James on Wednesday: “We’re way behind [the Celtics]. Just look at the number of games played, the number of playoff series those guys have had. We’re only a few months in together — 40-something-plus games. I’ve seen the statistics. Boston has like 250-plus games played together. We’re way behind those teams.” (via ESPN.com)

5. LA Lakers (34-15): Lakers coach Phil Jackson: “I personally don’t think [the Heat] can get by Boston. I think Boston is too good a team. I think a team is still going to win.” (via ESPN.com)

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA, power rankings
NBA Power Rankings, 1/27 01.27.11 at 5:38 pm ET
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1. San Antonio (39-7): It seems like every time I look at the NBA standings, the Spurs are 9-1 in their last 10 games. It’s ridiculous. According to John Hollinger’s playoff odds, San Antonio has a 78.1 percent chance of capturing the top seed out West and homecourt throughout the playoffs. Yet, their odds of making the Finals are just 27.3 percent, despite possessing the league’s best home record at 24-2. Strange.

2. Boston (34-10): The Celtics lost another game to a bad team when they fell to the Wizards over the weekend, but we’ll give them a break considering it was once again the result of playing on the road in the second game of a back-to-back following a plane trip. Losses to the Cavaliers, Rockets and Wizards are the only reason the C’s aren’t ranked No. 1, because no team has been better than them — when motivated.

3. LA Lakers (33-13): The silhouette of the NBA’s logo, former Lakers general manager Jerry West eased off his comments that the Lakers are too old to play defense (they’re ranked 10th in points allowed), but he didn’t back down from saying he wouldn’t want to play the Celtics every other night — calling the C’s the favorites over the Lakers to win the NBA title.

4. Miami (31-13): Speaking of predictions involving the Celtics and Lakers, Phil Jackson obviously chimed in, as he doesn’t believe the Heat can get by the Celtics to reach the NBA Finals. Considering the Celtics still own a 2-0 record against Miami (and it wasn’t even that close), how can you argue with Jackson? Especially after you watch some of the poses Chris Bosh gets into during his Maxim shoot.

5. Chicago (31-14): I figured the Bulls could be a top-five team once Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah were both healthy at the same time. It turns out Noah’s presence isn’t necessary for that to happen. Perhaps more important than homecourt advantage in the Celtics’ chase for the No. 1 seed is the fact that — as it stands now — they’d only have to face the Heat or Bulls and not both in the playoffs.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA, power rankings
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