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NBA Offseason Review: Southeast Division 12.22.11 at 5:23 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 fourth of six daily division-by-division reviews leading up to opening day.

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

MIAMI HEAT

2010-11 record: 58-24
2010-11 standing: Won Southeast Division; lost NBA Finals to Mavericks, 4-2
NBA draft picks: 28. Norris Cole
Key additions: Shane Battier (free agent); Eddy Curry (free agent)
Key substractions: Mike Bibby (free agent); Zydrunas Ilgauskas (retired)
2011-12 starters: PG Mario Chalmers; SG Dwyane Wade; SF LeBron James; PF Chris Bosh; C Joel Anthony
2011-12 wins over/under (sportsbook.com): 49.5
2011-12 prediction: 51-15

WASHINGTON WIZARDS

2010-11 record: 23-59
2010-11 standing: 5th in Southeast Division
NBA draft picks: 6. Jan Vesely; 18. Chris Singleton; 34. Shelvin Mack
Key additions: Ronny Turiaf (trade)
Key substractions:Josh Howard (free agent); Yi Jianlian (FA)
2011-12 starters: PG John Wall; SG Nick Young; SF Rashard Lewis; PF Andray Blatche; C JaVale McGee
2011-12 wins over/under (sportsbook.com): 19.5
2011-12 prediction: 21-45

Read the rest of this entry »

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Fast Break: Celtics lose No. 2 seed, Delonte West 04.11.11 at 10:19 pm ET
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Celtics coach Doc Rivers rested the Big Four to keep them healthy for the playoffs, Delonte West re-injured his right ankle and the Celtics officially dropped to the No. 3 seed in the playoffs after an ugly 95-94 overtime road loss to the Wizards on Monday.

When Wizards center JaVale McGee trampled West at midcourt in the third quarter, the Celtics guard sprained his right ankle again and did not return after producing 11 points and five assists in 23 minutes. Meanwhile, the Celtics (55-26) clinched the No. 3 seed and will face the Knicks in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Resting the starters: Despite owning an identical record to the Lakers and trailing the Heat by one game for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, Celtics coach Doc Rivers elected to start a lineup of Delonte West, Von Wafer, Jeff Green, Glen Davis and Jermaine O’Neal. Rivers said the value of physical and — more importantly — mental rest outweighed foregoing rest to play for potential homecourt advantages against the Lakers and Heat.

Delonte West re-injuring his ankle: West missed 57 of the team’s first 80 games with a 10-game suspension, a broken right wrist and a right ankle sprain that he initially suffered during a late February practice. And now it appears as if he’s going to miss at least one more, as he left Monday night’s game against the Wizards in the third quarter after spraining his right ankle again when McGee ran him over at midcourt. Even after initially returning on March 16, West admitted he had a chipped bone in that same right ankle, which could signal a dependency on Carlos Arroyo at the backup point guard position.

Not so sweet 16-point run: After taking an early 11-point lead in the first quarter, the Celtics gave up a 16-0 run that spanned 5:25 between the first and second quarters while delivering a 28-23 lead to the Wizards. For the most part, Nenad Krstic‘s presence coincided with that run. The C’s led 12-3 when Krstic entered for O’Neal and trailed 25-23 when O’Neal subbed back in. Once Krstic exited, the Celtics finished the first half on a 21-14 run, taking a 44-37 lead into the break and making it a game for the remainder of the night.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

A healthy Jermaine O’Neal: Because of Krstic’s inability to contribute defensively, Rivers was forced to play Jermaine O’Neal more minutes than he had indicated he would prior to the game. And O’Neal responded. He nearly reached a double-double by hafltime and finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks in 36 minutes of action. He entered the game averaging 5.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 17.1 minutes a night.

Jeff Green’s monster night: Insterted back into a role he had become accustomed to with the Thunder, Green started and proved to be the best player on the court for either team. He totaled 20 points — albeit on 8-of-20 shooting — a season-high 15 rebounds, four assists and two steals. Prior to Monday night, Green hadn’t had a 20-point night since March 4 and had not reached double-digits rebounds in a Celtics uniform. The C’s can only hope that he can translate that effort into effectiveness off the bench moving forward.

Replacements starting well: Behind the aggressive play of Jermaine O’Neal, West and Green, the Celtics jumped out to a 23-12 lead. During that stretch, Green scored six points in the first 9:37, West assisted on four of the C’s first nine field goals and O’Neal grabbed four rebounds in his first-quarter minutes. Those four boards gave O’Neal more rebounds in  5:37 against the Wizards than he had totaled in his three previous games combined – against the Heat, Bulls and 76ers.

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Kevin Garnett: ‘Fatigue’s not an option’ 04.09.11 at 12:16 am ET
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On the second night of a back-to-back, following a letdown loss against the Bulls, in the 79th installment of an 82-game season, the Celtics had plenty of excuses to pack it in against the sub-.300 Wizards — a routine they’ve fallen prey to countless times in the past two seasons.

But Kevin Garnett wasn’t making any excuses. Paul Pierce made it clear the Celtics want the No. 2 seed, and their win over the Wizards brought them one step closer to capturing it against the Heat.

“At the end of the day, it’s competitive, and both sides are going to have competitive players who want to win,” said Garnett, who totaled 15 points and 11 rebounds against the Wizards. “It doesn’t matter who we play. You take the court, you suit up, and that’s what you’re expecting. Whether you’re playing lesser teams or below .500 teams or above .500 teams, you’ve got to anticipate that a team is trying to beat you.”

Thursday night, an above .500 team not only tried to beat the Celtics but succeeded with flying colors. And while Pierce quickly downplayed a question about the blowout loss to the Bulls — issuing a curt “We’re past that” response — the defeat has clearly stuck with Garnett.

“We want to keep that fresh in our mind,” said Garnett. “It’s motivating. We played like trash, and they played great. You want that to motivate you. We’ve got a really good Heat team coming up, and we’ll be tested again.”

The Celtics face the Heat on Sunday in a game that could decide the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed, as a C’s win would put them one game up on the Heat with the tiebreaker in hand and two games left.

“We’re just trying to gather some momentum with these games that we have left and be aggressive,” added Garnett. “[Friday], after the performance of [Thursday], it was probably more of an emphasis on being aggressive and for the most part we did that. I think we’re looking for that consistency. We’ll see. If we decide as a team to come into that, then that’s what we’ll be. If not, we’ll have problems.”

The injuries have placed a greater burden on this year’s stars than Celtics coach Doc Rivers had anticipated, and the team’s three aging stars will all have played more minutes this season than they did during the 2009-10 regular season. Still, Garnett isn’t using that as an excuse to explain the team’s lackluster performance since the All-Star break.

“Fatigue’s not an option right now,” he said. “It’s not an option. But we are trying to get better, and we’re doing it with hard work and effort, as usual. … A lot of [fatigue] is mental.”

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Fast Break: Celtics rebound against Wizards 04.08.11 at 10:00 pm ET
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The Celtics allowed the Wizards to hang around for much of the night, until the starters returned in the fourth quarter and mercifully put their stamp on a 104-88 victory.

Rajon Rondo (20 points, 14 assists), Kevin Garnett (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Paul Pierce (22 points, 12 rebounds) all recorded double-doubles, and Ray Allen (13 points) showed signs of coming out of his recent slump, making 5-of-10 shots (but only 1-of-6 3-pointers). The Celtics (55-24) did their part in the race against the Heat for the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed.

Andray Blatche led the Wizards (21-58) with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Rajon Rondo’s fast start: One night after reportedly asking coach Doc Rivers for a 1-on-1 meeting, the Celtics point guard came out of the gates with a full head of steam, recording more assists in the first quarter against the Wizards (7) than he did all night against the Bulls (6). By the third quarter, he had already recorded a double-double. As a side note, Rondo continued to incite concerns about his aggressiveness around the basket, passing up easy shots to create more difficult ones.

Kevin Garnett came to play: It’s no surprise that a showdown with Blatche brought out the best in Garnett, as the two have a long history of back-and-forth bickering. Knocking down six of his first eight shots, the Celtics forward registered his 28th double-double of the season by the third quarter. Of course, Blatche wasn’t so bad himself, producing a double-double of his own.

Back to the basics: Of course, it helped that they were playing the Wizards. The Celtics totaled only 22 points in the paint and 14 assists (on 28 field goals) against the Bulls. Against Washington, they nearly doubled their output from the previous night in both areas (48 points in the paint and 25 assists), as all five starters reached double figures and each of the Big Four had at least three assists.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Just when you think they’re out of it … the Celtics let them back in. After building a lead as big as 12 points and appearing to be in total command during the first 6:39 of the game, the C’s predictably — as they have all season — let the Wizards close the gap to 59-56 at the half. As the season nears a close, Rivers would love to be able to rest his stars, but the bench hasn’t been productive enough and the starters haven’t been aggressive enough to put bad teams away.

Will Troy Murphy ever contribute consistently? The C’s waiver wire acquisition saw some rare early playing time against the Wizards. Offensively, he committed a turnover and seemed lost for many of his 14 minutes on the floor, although he made a couple layups. Defensively, he got burned by unstoppable force JaVale McGee and immovable object Andray Blatche. All in all, not a great showing by Murphy, who’s in desperate need of good showings if he wants to see playoff minutes.

Delonte West gets the heave ho: The team’s best point guard against the Bulls Thursday night, Delonte West didn’t even make it through the second quarter Friday. Playing tough defense but scoring just two points in less than six minutes of play, West picked up Washington point guard John Wall on full-court pressure, only to be whistled for a cheap foul. He didn’t complain. Instead, he picked up Wall again, defending all the way up the court until another, worse whistle 14 seconds later.

After two separate verbal exchanges between West and referee Josh Tiven, the Celtics backup point guard picked up two technical fouls and, as a result, the ejection. West quietly walked off the court, leaving the C’s with Carlos Arroyo and Avery Bradley as their options off the bench.

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Doc Rivers doesn’t want his team taking anyone for granted – not even Cleveland 01.24.11 at 2:31 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Saturday night’s loss to the lowly Washington Wizards was the latest bad loss in a season filled with plenty of wins, according to Doc Rivers. The Celtics coach was asked to explain how his team could lose to a team like the Wizards, which came in with just 13 wins.

“Obviously, if you look at the whole season, it’s been a terrific season so far,” Rivers said following Monday’s practice. “But in that terrific season, we’ve had some bad losses, too. And I tell our guys that. Some of the teams that have beaten us are under .500 and those are tough losses for a team that shouldn’t lose those games. Moral lessons learned and we’ve just got to keep teaching them.”

The Celtics have lost 10 games and one of those losses came to the Cavaliers, one night after the C’s beat Miami in the season-opener. Cleveland comes to TD Garden on Tuesday having lost 16 straight and Rivers said he’s not taking them lightly, and doesn’t expect his players to, either.

“Cleveland beat us once already this year,” Rivers said. “For us, I rarely worry about the opponent, I worry about ourselves. When we play right, I think it gives us an excellent chance to win games. And when we don’t anyone can beat us and that’s been proven this year.”

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Shaquille O’Neal might miss time on West Coast trip with sore right hip at 2:03 pm ET
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WALTHAM – Doc Rivers said it’s likely that Shaquille O’Neal will miss his second straight game on Tuesday night with a sore right hip. But the Celtics coach added, after O’Neal missed practice on Monday, that there’s a chance the 38-year-old center could miss part of the upcoming four-game West Coast trip to Portland, Phoenix, Los Angeles (Lakers) and Sacramento.

“[O'Neal] probably will not play [Tuesday] and maybe [return] on the West Coast trip but he may miss that trip,” Rivers said Monday. “We don’t know yet.”

The team doesn’t want O’Neal to play in back-to-back games and they would also rather not have him on the long flight to Portland. One scenario for O’Neal is to have him join the team in Phoenix for Friday’s game against the Suns.

O’Neal and Marquis Daniels (family issue) both missed practice on Monday. The Celtics host the Cavaliers on Tuesday at TD Garden. Cleveland has lost 16 straight while the Celtics are playing their last home game until Feb. 4 against Dallas.

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The strong and sensitive Delonte West 11.17.10 at 11:35 pm ET
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Shaquille O’Neal has a lot of faith in Delonte West, who made his long-awaited return to the court Wednesday night in the Celtics’ rout of the Wizards at TD Garden. After all, he played last year with him in Cleveland.

“I learned that you guys think he’s crazy but he’s not,” O’Neal said. “Not at all. I could handle him. We always have conversations about the game. He’s very smart. He’s just misunderstood at times.”

West was a very grateful man Wednesday night. And he wore his emotion on his sleeve. He was eligible to play in an NBA game for the first time since serving a league-mandated 10-game suspension for off-court misconduct involving firearms and a motorcycle in the summer of 2009.

With that behind him – and with the faith and support of his teammates and Celtics management - he entered the game as a sub for Ray Allen with 3:12 left in the first quarter. He was nervous as if he were a rookie making his NBA debut.

“It brought a tear to my eye,” West said of the loud ovation he received from the crowd, many on their feet in support.

Then West was brought back to earth by Washington’s Nick Young.

“Then Nick Young hit three shots in my face, and that dried up my tears real quick.”

West had the ideal scenario to return to the court on Wednesday night and he took advantage, scoring 12 points, grabbing five rebounds and handing out four assists to lead the bench in Boston’s 114-83 win over the Washington Wizards at TD Garden.

“Any game is perfect for me,” West said. “I just want to be back helping out. I’m so excited to be back. Thankful to the lord for this second opportunity and I’ll make the best out of it.”

After playing in practice and in the preseason with the team, West was making his official debut back in a Celtics uniform after serving a 10-game NBA-imposed suspension for off-court misconduct. The Celtics gave the once-troubled guard one more chance, signing him shortly after Minnesota waived him in the summer.

“It felt great,” West said. “For a minute there in the summertime I thought I wouldn’t see an NBA court again. I thank the Lord, ownership here, the coaching staff, and Danny Ainge. They know what I am about. I’m just blessed to have this opportunity to do what I love to do. They knew the difference between a bad decision and a bad person. I’m just blessed to have this opportunity to do what I love to do.”

West made his debut when he replaced Ray Allen with 3:12 left in the first quarter and Celtics coach Doc Rivers said it was only natural that he showed some initial rust but not for long as West found his rhythm, finding Paul Pierce for an open three on the right wing, a three Pierce drilled to give West his first stat in his first game back – an assist.

“I didn’t want to do too much,” West admitted. “Sometimes not doing too much is what the team needs you to do. The second unit responded well in the second half. The first half, our timing was just off. Marquis [Daniels] missed a few practices, I’m getting back into the mix. We’re just trying to adjust to playing with one another. Biggest thing is we got the victory. Other kinks we’ll work out.”

He played 21 minutes in his first Celtics game since being dealt to Seattle following the 2006-07 season.

“In the first half, I just wanted to get my feet wet,” West said. “I noticed that my timing was off a little bit. Guys that know me, I don’t really force much. I let the game come to me. With that second unit sometimes you got to force the flow. When you’re up 20 or 15, it’s hard to go out and want to be aggressive. You want to maintain the lead and give the starters some rest.”

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