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Irish Coffee: Late Night with Shaquille O’Neal 01.05.11 at 10:24 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Shaquille O’Neal entered the “Late Show with David Letterman” set wearing a hooded sportcoat, so it was pretty much a success right off the bat. After explaining how he got a cut on his head — banging his dome on a doorway while answering Letterman’s call — he touched on the following subjects:

  • On whether Boston fans love him now: “They do.”
  • On choosing Boston over New York: “I could’ve played in New York for more dough. … I thought we had a better shot at a championship.”
  • On whether he’s ever feared a player: “Never.”
  • On who he’d start a team with: “Historically, I’d probably go with Bill Russell.”
  • On nobody liking the Lakers: “I don’t.”
  • On LeBron James: “He’s a young guy. He’s a fabulous player. … I wish him well. Not too much luck, but I wish him well.”
  • On Pat Riley: [sips water]
  • On Phil Jackson: [claps] “Great guy.”
  • On whether anyone could win 11 titles with his Bulls and Lakers: “I would say yes.”
  • On Kobe Bryant: “Fabulous player. Probably the best player in the league right now.”
  • On Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: “I spent eight years in L.A. and probably only talked to him twice. He’s one of the greatest centers ever.”
  • On Steve Nash: “Great player. Great assist player. Love playing with him.”
  • On Kevin Garnett: “The funniest guy in Boston. He is.”
  • On Charles Barkley: “Probably one of the greatest power forwards to play. He’s a funny guy. He’s going to say what’s on his mind.”

PREVIEWING CELTICS AND SPURS

ESPN.com’s Peter May pieced together an all-encompassing preview of Wednesday night’s matchup between the Celtics and Spurs. Highlights:

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NBA Power Rankings, 12/30 12.30.10 at 1:00 pm ET
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1. San Antonio (27-4): At some point, you’ve just got to hand it to the Spurs. Like the Celtics, they did lose to the Magic in Orlando this week, but they just keep winning games — against good opponents, like the Lakers. Like their leader, Tim Duncan, they’ve quietly dominated this NBA season.

2. Dallas (24-6): How in the hell did the same Mavericks team that has beaten the Thunder, Spurs, Jazz, Heat and Magic on the road lose to the Raptors by eight at home? Just for that, they can’t be any higher than No. 2 — even if Dirk Nowitzki is contending for his second MVP honor. Although, Thursday night’s showdown with the Spurs could change all that.

3. Boston (24-6): The Celtics have lost twice since Thanksgiving — on the road, on Christmas and on a back-to-back — so you can’t beat them up too bad. Despite their recent 14-game winning streak, they’re just not the same efficient team without Rajon Rondo mixing the drink offensively and Kevin Garnett stirring it defensively. Their returns could boost them back to No. 1.

4. Miami (25-9): The Heat are on fire. They’ve won 16-of-17 (no thanks to Mike Miller), including six games against .500-plus teams and their Christmas Day win over the Lakers. Yet, they’ve lost 3-of-4 to the only teams they really need to worry about this season: The Celtics and Magic.

5. Oklahoma City (22-11): Over the last month, Kevin Durant has reinserted himself into the MVP conversation (along with teammate Russell Westbrook). In December, Durant has averaged 29.2 points, 6.2 boards, 3.5 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals while shooting 51.4 percent. Not bad. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, NBA, power rankings
NBA Power Rankings, 12/16 12.16.10 at 5:41 pm ET
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With all the injuries to the Celtics as the NBA storms into the second quarter of its 82-game season, what better time than now to sort through the injury lists of the league’s 30 teams — ranked from first to worst?

One quick observation before delving into this week’s Power Rankings: Perhaps the Eastern Conference, from top to bottom, isn’t THAT much worse than the West. Just as the top five teams in the East could give anybody out West a run for their money, the bottom three teams in the Western Conference (the Kings, Clips & T-Wolves) are just as bad — if not worse — than their counterparts back East.

So, without further ado …

1. Boston (20-4): While the injuries continue to mount (see: “brothers, O’Neal”not to mention Delonte West and Rajon Rondo), the Celtics continue to pile up victories, as their 11-game winning streak is the best in the NBA. That’s the single scariest thing about this team: They haven’t even played their best basketball.

2. San Antonio (21-3): Unlike the Celtics, the Spurs are healthier than ever, as Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Richard Jefferson and Tim Duncan are all feeling fine. As a result, they’re all playing better, which is why they have the best record in the league. While its nothing major, Parker is listed as day-to-day with a splint on his right middle finger. Wonder how he got that.

3. Dallas (20-5): The Mavericks aren’t really missing the immense production (2.0 personal fouls & 1.5 points per game) of the immortal Rodrigue Beaubois. The health of Tyson Chandler might be the  biggest surprise — and biggest positive — for the Mavs, as he’s truly anchored their defense this season.

4. LA Lakers (19-7): A walking knee injury the past few seasons, Andrew Bynum returned once again from a lengthy sabbatical, totaling seven points, four boards and two blocks in 17 minutes. His presence should help their recent .500 stretch. Now their injuries are limited to Theo Ratliff, who’s been listed since 1983.

5. Miami (19-8): The Heat haven’t skipped a beat since Udonis Haslem suffered a potential season-ending injury on Nov. 20. Now, the only two guys outside of Miami Thrice who were supposed to contribute (the other one: Mike Miller & his thumb) haven’t been a part of their current 10-game win streak. So, are they the team that was 9-8 through 17 games, or the 10-0 team from the last couple weeks?

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NBA Power Rankings, 12/9 12.09.10 at 6:37 pm ET
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1. Boston (17-4): The Celtics have the best top six in the NBA and the best defense in the league. They’re the best shooting team in the league, and they’ve won eight consecutive games despite not having Rajon Rondo at full strength. With five All-Star candidates, they’ve  been the most complete team.

2. San Antonio (18-3): The Spurs won another three games this week, and Manu Ginobili (20.1 points, 5.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds) has played his way into the MVP conversation. Oh, and New Hampshire’s own Matt Bonner is making two 3’s a game while shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc.

3. LA Lakers (16-6): After losing four straight, the Lakers are back on track with three consecutive victories. This whole Andrew Bynum situation is strange. Phil Jackson seems to call him out on a daily basis, but why rush him back? The guy is like Mr. Glass. Don’t you want him healthy for the playoffs?

4. Dallas (17-4): The Mavericks have the longest winning streak in the league at 10 games. Even Ian Mahinmi is contributing double-doubles. Why did this team all of a sudden decide to start playing defense? This team could’ve won multiple titles if they were playing defense like this in the mid-2000s.

5. Orlando (15-6): You can’t really blame the Magic for losing two straight games to Atlanta and Milwaukee. Dwight Howard, J.J. Redick, Mickael Pietrus and Jameer Nelson have all been hit by the flu. With them, they’ve been able to keep pace with the C’s. Without them? Not so much.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA
NBA Power Rankings, 12/2 12.02.10 at 4:57 pm ET
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1. Boston (14-4): The Celtics rank first in the NBA in field goal percentage and assists per game, while ranking fourth in points allowed. They’re in the midst of their second five-game win streak of the season, and their four losses are by an average of just 4.0 points. On Wednesday night, they showed an ability to beat  a good team (the game Trail Blazers) despite playing poorly. All that adds up to one dangerous team.

2. San Antonio (15-3): The Spurs are the biggest surprise of the season, and they’ve done it by reinventing themselves — again. While the dynasty Spurs of yesteryear were more of a slow-’em-down, defensive-minded team, this year’s edition ranks fourth in the NBA in scoring at 106.6 points per game. Maintaining a veteran core, they’ve integrated younger talent like James Anderson, DeJuan Blair, George Hill and Tiago Splitter onto the roster. 

3. LA Lakers (13-6): The Lakers have lost four straight for the first time since acquiring Pau Gasol three years ago. That’s pretty significant. Speaking of Gasol, as a result of Andrew Bynum‘s absence, he’s been logging 39.4 minutes per game this season. What’s more concerning for the Lakers is the fact that they’ve struggled to integrate their newcomers into their defensive schemes — and rank 18th in points allowed as a result.

4. Dallas (14-4): Believe it or not, the Mavericks are actually playing defense. Tyson Chandler has set a tone that’s translated into a third-place ranking in points allowed. And Dirk Nowitzki continues to be an offensive force. He may look like he’s flopping around the court, throwing up rainbows, but he makes 54 percent of them. As a result, the Mavs already have wins over the Nuggets, Celtics, Spurs, Hornets, Hawks and Heat.

5. Orlando (14-4): Having won nine of their last 10 games, the Magic are the hottest team in the NBA. The main reason? Their defense. They allow the fewest points per game of any team in the league. Dwight Howard is making his case for MVP, leading his team in points, rebounds, blocks and steals. Even Rashard Lewis has shown signs of life, as he’s back to shooting 40 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

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NBA Power Rankings, 11/25 11.25.10 at 3:18 pm ET
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Obviously, we’re going to release a Thanksgiving Day version of the NBA Power Rankings, taking a look at what teams should be thankful for one-sixth of the way through the season. So, without further ado, here they are:

1. L.A. Lakers (13-2): The two-time defending champion Lakers can still be thankful for Memphis Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace for deciding to deliver Pau Gasol to them. Statistically, Gasol is the most efficient player in the NBA right now, cementing himself as the best big man in the league.

2. San Antonio (13-1): The Spurs can be thankful that Richard Jefferson is still alive, Tony Parker has a renewed focus solely on basketball and Manu Ginobili is healthy. Surround those guys with the ever-productive Tim Duncan and a nice core of young talent, and you’ve got a championship-contending formula once again.

3. Boston (11-4): The Celtics can be thankful that they didn’t land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft that turned into Greg Oden. As a result, the C’s decided to go another route, trading for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. As an aside, it’s a shame that Delonte West broke his wrist on Wednesday night; after overcoming some personal issues, he was truly embracing this season.

4. New Orleans (11-3): The Hornets can be thankful Chris Paul hasn’t gone completely insane over their inability to surround him with enough talent to contend. I’m not sure how they’re doing it this season, but they’re winning with a group of guys that — outside of David West — aren’t exactly household names. You can’t argue with their success against a tough schedule.

5. Dallas (10-4): The Mavericks can be thankful that Dirk Nowitzki was still available with the ninth pick in the 1998 NBA Draft and that their owner is a bazillionaire who is willing to spend money to surround him with the talent to win 50 games a season year in and year out. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA, power rankings
The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (3 of 7) 10.25.10 at 2:31 pm ET
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NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics.

We’ll move to the Western Conference’s Southwest Division with the third of a seven-part, two-day series (check out Part 1 and Part 2) …


DALLAS MAVERICKS
by Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game

ON THE MAVERICKS: Dallas is still a relevant feature in the Western Conference landscape (they’ll likely be on par with the rest of the conference’s quasi-elite), but their ability to contend leans on a rather substantial “if.” The only way that the Mavericks have access to the same exclusive contender’s club that the Celtics call home is if a certain team on the West Coast experiences some kind of monumental collapse.

The Lakers aren’t just the defending champs. They’re also the most complete team in the league. They won the title last year for a reason, and that reason depends less and less on Kobe Bryant‘s individual brilliance. Naturally, Kobe still matters a great deal to the Lakers’ success, but Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest have never been more relevant.

It’s those players that make L.A. a transcendent team, and it’s those players that make the Lakers into the Western Conference’s seemingly unconquerable threshold. All teams in the West must go through the Lakers, and while the Mavs may have plenty of excellent pieces and a few beneficial matchups, they pale in comparison to L.A.’s grandeur.

It looks to be another successful season for Dallas. They’re shooting for their 11th straight year of 50-plus wins and seem poised to make a deep run into the playoffs. Dirk Nowitzki is still highly productive and efficient; Jason Kidd continues to defy time itself with every jump into the passing lanes and perfectly threaded pass; and the team has some fantastic young pieces in Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones and Ian Mahinmi to complement a deep and impressive cast of veterans (Caron Butler, Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood, Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler).

Put it all together, and Dallas is an awfully impressive team. Just not impressive enough to join the Lakers on their pedestal.

ON THE CELTICS: It’s tough to determine who will sit where at the top of the Eastern Conference seating chart, but the Celtics are undoubtedly among the conference’s elite teams and among the league’s true contenders. Walking into this season with last year’s roster alone would have put them near that distinction, but it’s Boston’s heavily active offseason that makes them an even more intriguing team.

The C’s are stacked at virtually every position, and that depth will certainly come into play as Boston looks to stay competitive throughout the year while still resting their veterans as much as possible. As I mentioned before, it’s still tough to pin Boston to a particular seed in the Eastern Conference race, not only due to the variance of the East’s other contenders but also because Boston’s lackadaisical run through the 2009-10 regular season provides us more reason to question their in-season motivations than ever.

Will the Celtics do more of the same, taking their time while working into a rhythm? Will they now approach the regular season with the same urgency that marked their 2007-08 campaign? No one can say for sure, and I’m not sure there’s necessarily a wrong way for them to go about it. Last year’s method turned out pretty well for Boston, as did the breakneck pace of the 2008 season, and this year should yield more of the same: A successful playoff run after a good regular season, sprint or not.

They’re probably not the best team in the East, but that doesn’t mean they can’t force their way to the Finals through the conference’s equivalent of rock-paper-scissors (Miami-Orlando-Boston). With the right matchup, Boston can be right there in June, and no one should be surprised.


HOUSTON ROCKETS
by Tom Martin, The Dream Shake

ON THE ROCKETS: The Rockets, as usual, are relying on good health to prevail throughout the season, especially once May rolls around. They’ve got plenty of talent, if healthy, to make a run for a Western Conference title. They’re deep, they’re experienced and they’re capable of beating anyone.

It remains to be seen how a balanced team can proceed through the playoffs, but if there’s any team that can make it happen, it’s this squad. Yao Ming will need to be healthy, the defense will need to actually exist (and be top-notch, at that), but it’s possible. Keep an eye on Courtney Lee: He could make a big difference. Predicted record: 51-31.

ON THE CELTICS: Last season, Boston showed everyone why winning in the playoffs is a different art than grueling it out for 82 games. With added veteran presences in Jermaine and Shaquille O’Neal, along with a presumably healthy Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics should be ready and able to make, perhaps, one more title run before age gets the best of everyone. I’ve got Boston in the Finals once again. They’re that dangerous. Predicted record: 52-30.


MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
by Chip Crain, 3 Shades of Blue

ON THE GRIZZLIES: The Grizzlies are the mirror image of the Celtics. They are young and talented with nearly no experience. Built via the draft and a few opportunistic acquisitions by former Celtic GM Chris Wallace, not one player on the team is expected to be over 28 to start the season.

Former Celtic Tony Allen was signed in the offseason to bring experience and defensive intensity to the team. The starting five for Memphis is very strong with all-star Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, but the bench is full of question marks.

If Hasheem Thabeet, Darrell Arthur, Allen, Sam Young, Xavier Henry and Acie Law IV can form a cohesive enough unit to give the starters some rest during games, the Grizzlies should be a strong candidate to return to the playoffs.

If any of the starters gets hurt for an extended period or the bench fails to be able to hold onto leads for the limited minutes they play, then it will be another lottery experience for the fans of the Grizzlies.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics remind me of the expression: “Old age and treachery will beat youth and talent every time.”

The Celtics used this strategy to rest their stars leading up to last season’s playoffs, then unleashed the rested veterans on an unsuspecting conference before finally falling to their archrivals in the finals. The C’s are having to reload this season with some formidable challenges ahead of them.

Perkins’ injury probably cost the Celtics another NBA title last season and could cost them homecourt advantage in the second round this season. The O’Neals, Shaq and Jermaine, were dominant players in their day, but that day has long past. How this will affect the interior defense is unknown at this time.

The loss of Tony Allen as a defensive stopper on the perimeter doesn’t help, either, but the biggest loss could be Tom Thibodeau. The Celtics also added Delonte West, whose off-court issues have overshadowed his on-court play.

The roster is aging but not dead and will likely be a force in the playoffs as the game slows down to a crawl and experience takes precedence over talent.


NEW ORLEANS HORNETS
by Rohan, Manager, At the Hive

ON THE HORNETS: The Hornets experienced one of the busiest offseasons in franchise history, no question. There was the hiring of a rookie coach, the draft-day trade, the hiring of a rookie general manager, the blockbuster four-team trade, the flirtations with the unveiling of a rookie owner, all overlaid on top of never-ending Chris Paul drama.

And there’s reason to believe they’ve navigated it successfully. The team essentially turned Darren Collison and James Posey‘s terrible contract into Jerryd Bayless and Trevor Ariza (while Collison’s stock is far higher than Bayless’ at this point, the disparity between the two isn’t really that huge).

They brought in competent rebounders — Aaron Gray, Pops Mensah-Bonsu — for Darius Songaila, who, believe it or not, played the second-most minutes at both power forward and center for the 2010 Hornets.

This is by no means an elite team, but via addition by subtraction (Songaila, Posey) and addition by addition (a healthy Chris Paul), it should be a middle-of-the-pack Western team at 45 to 50 wins.

ON THE CELTICS: One of the biggest keys to Boston’s success will be the team’s ability to work the O’Neals (and, to an extent, Delonte West) into the team’s defensive system, without Tom Thibodeau.

Given the ages of the team’s key contributors, the Celtics are going to need a comprehensive 1-12 effort throughout the season. I do like the team’s summer pickups (and it’s important not to overlook the re-signings, either), but whether the various new pieces will fit is another question entirely.

In the end, I think this is a middle-of-the-pack Eastern Conference team. Let’s say 45 to 50 wins — with a chance to turn it on in the playoffs, a la 2010. But at the end of the day, they’ll be a step below both Orlando and Miami.

 
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
by Dale Dye, Pounding the Rock

ON THE SPURS: Hampered by the new rules surrounding technical fouls, Tim Duncan is ejected from the first 10 games of the season. Eventually, he’s able to stay in games by training himself to replace his incredulous expression with his other one.

Manu Ginobili signs a contract with Rogaine, and with his bald spot now completely gone, he grows out his hair again and averages 15 free throws a game as a result.

Tony Parker, playing for a new contract, guns for stats through the first half of the season until finally returning to form after Gregg Popovich threatens to send him down to the D-League.

Richard Jefferson gets engaged and considers joining the cult his fiancée belongs to. After returning from a retreat in Death Valley during the All-Star Break, he says he feels reborn and averages 18 points and nine rebounds for two months, until breaking off the engagement on the eve of the wedding and going into a slump.

Regular season record: 55-27. Third seed in the West.

ON THE CELTICS: In November, Shaq re-changes his nickname from The Big Shamrock to The Big Limerick and is fined $50,000 by the NBA when his first poetical recitation includes an off-color rhyme in the final line. O’Neal responds by mumbling something about artistic license.

December finds Justin Bieber singing the national anthem in the TD Garden on Von Wafer bobblehead giveaway night. The singer dies in the figurine avalanche that ensues.

After a January in which Ray Allen fails to make a single 3-pointer, he proceeds to average .850 behind the arc in February.

In the push to the playoffs, KG and Shaq convince the rest of the team to shave their heads for solidarity, but Delonte West (after spending the entire year growing out his afro) refuses, sending the team into a tailspin that lands them the second seed behind Miami.

Regular season record: 59-23.

Check back tomorrow for Parts 4-7 of this seven-part series: the Eastern Conference’s Central Division.

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