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Fast Break: Celtics beat the Wiz 11.17.10 at 9:55 pm ET
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All five Celtics starters reached double figures as the Celtics built a 20-point lead early in the third quarter and coasted to a 114-83 victory over the John Wall-less Washington Wizards at the TD Garden on Tuesday night.

Paul Pierce scored a game-high 23 points while Kevin Garnett added 18 points and seven boards and Delonte West netted 12 points off the bench in his return to lead the Celtics (9-2) to a 65 percent shooting night.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT

1. Hot shooting: Despite looking sluggish defensively in the early going, the Celtics hit their first six shots and made 15-of19 on the offensive end in the first quarter. And they didn’t let up for the rest of the night.

In all, the Celtics starters shot 71 percent (35-of-49) from the field. Pierce’s 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting — including a trio of 3-pointers — led the effort, as the C’s grabbed a 33-25 lead in the first 12 minutes, stretched it to 16 at the half, 20 after three and as much as 37 in the fourth quarter.

2. Vintage Shaq: Showing signs of the player who made 14 straight All-Star Games, Shaquille O’Neal grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds in a swarm of three Wizards, gathered himself and nearly took down the rim with a dunk over all three of them.

Forced into more playing time than usual because of Semih Erden‘s four personal fouls in his first six minutes of action, O’Neal totaled 13 points and six rebounds in his first 16 minutes on the floor. By the time he cooled off, the Celtics had already built a 20-point lead and were coasting to victory.

3. Welcome back, Delonte: Within a minute of his re-debut, Delonte West worked his way under the basket, drew a defender and found an open Pierce for 3. It was skilled, smart basketball — exactly the type of play the C’s are hoping to get all season long from the backup guard.

West had a personal 5-0 run against the Wizards in the fourth quarter, giving him 12 points, four rebounds, three assists, one steal and a block on the night. Not bad for a guy coming off a 10-game suspension.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT WRONG

1. Boxing out: Sounds easy enough, but the Celtics apparently didn’t feel like doing it in the first half. On one play, the C’s ran up the court, leaving the ball behind for the Wizards to clean up and score an easy bucket.

The C’s actually out-rebounded the Wizards on the night, 40-36, but 18 of Washington’s 36 boards came on the offensive glass. Javale McGee led the effort, grabbing six offensive boards and 10 total.

2. Semih awkward: After showing flashes of brilliance in his first 10 games, Semih Erden fell back to earth a bit against the Wizards. Facing a tough interior defender in Javale McGee, Erden got into early foul trouble, picking up four personals in his first six minutes on the floor.

It may have been his nagging shoulder bothering him, but Erden (3 turnovers) didn’t seem to have the sure hands that made him so effective in his first 10 appearances.

With that being said, his ability to score inside and knock down free throws put nine points on the board for the Celtics.

3. All quiet on the West front: This one falls more on the Celtics crowd. After playing for some woeful teams in Boston and being traded as part of the deal that brought Ray Allen — and subsequently an NBA championship — to the city three years ago, Delonte West returned to the Garden in a Celtics uniform on Wednesday night.

Yet, when West entered the game, the crowd reacted as if Lester Hudson was returning to the building (which he did), giving a half-hearted ovation. They cheered louder when the Noise Meter popped up on the Jumbotron.

Generally, Boston crowds deliver in those moments — one reason they’re considered great fans — but they missed the boat on that one.

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The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (5 of 7) 10.26.10 at 12:13 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 Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division with the fifth of a seven-part  series (Don’t forget to check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4) …

Atlanta Hawks
ATLANTA HAWKS
by Jason Walker, Peachtree Hoops

Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew is interviewed during the NBA basketball team's media day, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010, in Atlanta.

Can Larry Drew get more out of this Hawks team than Mike Woodson did last year? (AP)

ON THE HAWKS: The Hawks spent the summer, once again, reinvesting in the status quo (see Johnson, Joe), which has seen them improve on their record every season since their 13-win nadir in 2004-05.

The major changes were on the bench, where the team replaced Mike Woodson with longtime assistant Larry Drew. Gone are the constant switching defensively and the heavy reliance on iso-sets offensively in favor of a motion offense and playing it straight defensively.

Such change should result in a rise in turnovers, a stat that has always kept the Hawks’ offensive efficiency near the top of the NBA but also kept their best defenders, Josh Smith and Al Horford, in better positions to help the team defensively.

The Hawks were also very fortunate last year in terms of injuries, so their lack of depth didn’t harm them in terms of their regular-season record.

Between the adjustment to new schemes and a likely injury or two to the main core, the Hawks should see the end of their annual increase in win total, but the continued improvement in their younger players (Smith, Horford, Marvin Williams and Jeff Teague) should help balance that somewhat, giving them another 50-win season, fourth in the conference — and getting bounced again in the second round of the playoffs.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics have a good thing going … and going … and going with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, led by one of the most exciting players in basketball in Rajon Rondo.

The true test of whether your franchise is a contender is when the regular season predictions don’t mean jack squat, and the C’s have been in that neighborhood ever since acquiring KG and Ray. It’s a great place to be, and this season is no different.

With a plethora of big men (Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal and Glen Davis) to supplement the core roster in case of any injury up front due to age (and there is considerable age there), Boston should be able to capture home-court again, which makes them a very tough out come postseason time, as they proved so well last season.

I believe they’re a lock for the Eastern Conference Finals.

Charlotte Bobcats
CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
by David Arnott, Rufus on Fire

Charlotte Bobcats players, from right, Stephen Jackson, D.J. Augustin, and Gerald Wallace, share a laugh as they pose for photos during media day for the NBA basketball team in Charlotte, N.C. , Monday, Sept. 27, 2010.

Gerald Wallace (left) and Stephen Jackson (right) will rely on new starting point guard D.J. Augustin to run the offense. (AP)

ON THE BOBCATS: The Bobcats will have a huge hurdle to overcome this season, having lost their starting point guard and starting center (Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler).

Barring a trade, they’re looking to replace them with D.J. Augustin, a young player Larry Brown seems to despise, and Nazr Mohammed, a center whose sell-by date is long-since passed (last season’s career year notwithstanding).

Even if Gerald Wallace remains an All-Star, and Stephen Jackson and Tyrus Thomas continue playing as well as they did last season for the Cats, they’re going to struggle to get to 40 wins — and could easily finish with near 30 wins.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics’ window could be closed this season, given the likely continued decline of Pierce, Garnett and Allen.

There’s also no telling, really, how much Tom Thibodeau meant to the Celtics’ defensive excellence the past few years, and any kind of decline on that end of the floor might be the death knell for them as true title contenders, since no one on the team is a killer offensive threat.

So, give them 50 wins again.

Miami Heat
MIAMI HEAT
by Benny Vargas, All U Can Heat

Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade, left, Chris Bosh, center, and LeBron James react on the bench during the second quarter of an NBA preseason basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 in San Antonio.

The success of Miami's Big 3 may depend on what they get from their bench. (AP)

ON THE HEAT: After a much ballyhooed offseason, the Heat enter the 2010-11 season as legitimate title contenders.

The additions of Chris Bosh and LeBron James along with the re-signing of Dwyane Wade has caused a seismic wave throughout the league, which could signal the beginning of a new NBA dynasty on South Beach.

Miami will have to battle through glaring holes at the 1 and 5 spots, despite their newly assembled constellation of stars.

The Heat must find a way to become a cohesive unit, within an 82-game span, leading into the playoffs. Once the postseason gets underway, expect Miami to face difficult obstacles in Boston and Orlando. Both teams have been together longer and have big edges at the center and point guard positions.

Predicting Miami’s season is difficult, because so many factors come into play. Look for the Heat to make the Eastern Conference Finals vs. Boston and for the series to go seven games with the decisive contest being held in Miami.

The Heat will have a stellar regular season, earning the top seed in the East, but don’t expect them to match the record-setting 72 wins that the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls managed to get.

ON THE CELTICS: While Vegas odds-makers have listed the flashy names on the Heat lineup as favorites to win the Eastern Conference, one has to love the Celtics’ chances.

Boston solidified their roster this offseason with several free-agent signings. The additions only help to strengthen a team that was a Kendrick Perkins injury or a few more key rebounds away from winning an NBA title.

Boston has All-Stars at every position on the floor. While Allen declined a bit last year, Rondo’s emergence as an elite NBA player compensated for the slip in Allen’s game. KG and Shaq must be held back a bit during the regular season, so they can be healthy and rested for the playoffs.

Expect to see Boston easily win the Atlantic Division but to finish with the third seed for the playoffs. The Celtics showed last year that they don’t need to overexert themselves for 82 games in order to have postseason success.

No matter their seeding, the Celtics should be considered the Eastern Conference favorites once the playoffs begin. In the end, it will be Boston and Miami squaring off for a chance to dethrone the Lakers.

Orlando Magic
ORLANDO MAGIC
by Evan Dunlap, Orlando Pinstriped Post

Orlando Magic guards Vince Carter, left, and Jameer Nelson celebrate from the bench during the second half of Game 1 in the second round of the NBA basketball playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks in Orlando, Fla. , Tuesday, May 4, 2010. The Magic won 114-71.

Vince Carter (left) and Jameer Nelson are happy to be part of Superman's supporting cast. (AP)

ON THE MAGIC: I’m expecting bounce-back seasons from Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson, as well as another year of improvement for Dwight Howard.

I’ve pegged them for 62 wins, because although the East got stronger this offseason, the Magic certainly didn’t decline in talent level from the last two seasons, when they won 59 games apiece.

Carter worked hard on his body this offseason and appears to be much more comfortable on the floor. His jumper has rarely even caught the rim in preseason, as he’s getting his body square and legs into the shot before firing away.

Orlando brought Quentin Richardson aboard, largely due to his 3-point shooting, which will force the Celtics to think twice about leaving him open. The Celtics exposed Orlando in the conference finals last season by utterly ignoring Matt Barnes on the perimeter, due to his unreliable outside shot, which freed them to pack the paint, stymieing Howard inside and shutting down driving lanes for Carter and Nelson. Clearly, Richardson will be one key against Boston.

Orlando will likely win far more games than the Celtics do this season, but don’t let that disparity fool you: If these teams meet for the third consecutive postseason, it’ll be anyone’s series.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics proved last season that they’re a tough team to peg, at least until the playoffs roll around.

Given the continuity in Boston’s locker room, at least as far as leadership is concerned, I expect another season of Doc Rivers managing his players’ minutes closely, and the players conserving their energy.

This approach worked to great effect last year, as they took the defending champion Lakers to the brink in the Finals after most basketball observers counted them out, first against the Cavaliers and then against the Magic.

Overall, I’ve pegged the Celtics for a win total in the mid-40s, likely 46-36. If that seems low, or insulting, to the Boston faithful, I think it’s instructive to point out the regular season doesn’t mean a whole lot to this team.

While I’m dubious that the Celtics can flip the switch again, so to speak, Rivers will keep that possibility open so long as he’s able to keep the veteran core fresh. And regardless of their health or engagement level, they’ll always be a tough matchup for the Magic.

The cost-effective additions of Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal — along with Perkins — give Boston three of the top five Dwight Howard defenders in the league.

Washington Wizards
WASHINGTON WIZARDS
by Beckley Mason, Truth About It

Washington Wizards point guard John Wall (2) reacts after making a dunk against the Atlanta Hawks during the fourth quarter of an NBA preseason basketball game in Washington, on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010. Wall scored 19 points in the Wizards 107-92 win over the Hawks.

Just how far can uber-athletic rookie John Wall lead his veteran Wizards team? (AP)

ON THE WIZARDS: The Wizards enter the 2010-11 season with positive energy flowing out their ears.

John Wall has already proven to be a man-child not only as an ankle-breaking wunderkind, but as a steady-handed floor marshal — unafraid to put veterans in their place, literally, on the basketball court.

But however solid Wall may be this year, the squad as a whole is perforated with imperfections. Gilbert Arenas can’t guard anyone, only a couple players can hit 3s and the Wizards’ young posts have a history of weak rebounding and late help defense.

See, this is a team full of “you know, if…”s. Because, you know, if Gilbert stays healthy and embraces the off-ball responsibilities like he did in the preseason, if 30-year-old Josh Howard returns to his near All-Star levels of play, if JaVale McGee builds on his breakout summer, if Andray Blatche plays like he did down the stretch last year (21 points a game from January to March), and if Al Thornton eschews the mid-range game and focuses on becoming Count Dunkula, this could be a pretty good team.

That’s far too many ifs for the irresponsible optimism that pervades D.C. hoops fans — but an appropriate amount for a team heading into a 35-47 season.

ON THE CELTICS: Was the Celtics’ run to last year’s Finals the last violent spasm of a dying monster, or simply proof that the beast was slumbering throughout the regular season?

Rondo is superb (Hubie Brown voice) and the East’s best point guard, but the rest of the Celtics’ starting five is declining — that is, unless The Big Ticket really is bouncing back on that right knee.

Boston’s pride won 50 games last year and is replacing Perkins with the chalk outlines of the O’Neals, a significant downgrade defensively and offensively (KP is the best screener in the league). The frontcourt is deeper, but also less effective until Perk returns, and then at what level will he play?

The Celtics should also be concerned after losing Tony Allen, the East’s best perimeter defender and resident LeBron/Wade specialist. Who fills that void? Ray, Pierce, Nate Robinson, Delonte West all fall well short defensively.

On any other team, these concerns would lead one to declare, “They will be worse than last year.” But this is the Celtics, who, like the Spurs in the West, must be taken seriously until emphatically proven otherwise. Most of the East sucks yet again, so 50-plus should be in the cards once more — 55-plus if Garnett is truly “back.”

Stay tuned for Part 6 of this seven-part series: the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division.

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Wizards pull one out of the hat 05.18.10 at 8:32 pm ET
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The Washington Wizards won the NBA Lottery on Tuesday night in Secaucus, New Jersey. The New Jersey Nets had 250 of the 1000 chances or a 25 percent chance of gaining the first overall pick for the NBA Draft in late June. John Wall of Kentucky and Evan Turner of Ohio State are considered two of the likely choices to go first overall to the Wizards. The Nets actually finished third behind Washington and No. 2 Philadelphia.

“I have no idea,” Wizards general manager Ted Leonsis said when asked on ESPN whether he would take Wall with the No. 1 overall pick.

Irene Polin, the widow of former Wizards owner Abe Pollin, represented the franchise and wore the world championship ring of her late husband when the franchise won its first and only title as the Washington Bullets in 1978.

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Flip: ‘We choked’ against Celtics 03.08.10 at 2:04 am ET
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Kevin Garnett takes the ball to the basket during Sunday's night win over the Wizards. (AP)

Kevin Garnett takes the ball to the basket during Sunday's night win over the Wizards. (AP)

Flip Saunders knows Kevin Garnett well enough. For 10 seasons, Saunders coached the perennial All-Star with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

With all apologizes to Jim Croce, Saunders, now the head coach of the Wizards, knows you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind and you don’t tick off the Big Ticket.

The last part of that equation was especially troublesome in Saunders’ eyes as he watched his Wizards blow a 79-66 lead with just over six minutes to go Sunday night.

“Well, we choked,” Saunders began. “Six minutes to go, we’re up 13. We’ve got young guys, they don’t know what it’s like to be in a situation. We start talking to Garnett, start talking trash and everything else. Got Garnett and those guys juiced up and we just pissed down our leg the last six minutes.

“You have a veteran team that knows how to close out games against a young team that hasn’t been there, and instead of just letting a sleeping dog lie, we juiced up their energies. We had plays coming off timeouts and we had guys going to the wrong side of the floor, we were so discombobulated.”

[Click here to hear Saunders rip into his team for coming unglued at the end of the game.] Read the rest of this entry »

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Third Quarter Wrap: Celtics vs. Wizards 03.07.10 at 10:00 pm ET
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If the Celtics are going to take back this game, they have just 12 more minutes to do so. They trail 66-62 after three quarters.

The C’s struggled to piece together a total team effort coming out of halftime. Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins were the only players to score for the first 5:49 of the quarter. The C’s also went scoreless during a 3:45 stretch in which the Wizards pushed their lead up to 11 points.

Ray Allen gave the Celtics a spark midway through the quarter with a pair of 3s. Then it was Rajon Rondo’s turn. He scored seven points two minutes to bring the Celtics back within four.

The Celtics have momentum heading into the fourth, but they still have to dig themselves out of a deficit. They are 7-14 when trailing after three quarters.

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Is Marbury Hinting at Retirement? 09.08.09 at 11:23 pm ET
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From eating Vaseline to performing ballet to crying uncontrollably on camera, Stephon Marbury has kept the NBA world scratching their heads this summer with his unpredictable antics on the video streaming sites Justin.tv and USTREAM. These outbursts seemed damaging to the free agent’s already-tarnished reputation and put his future in the NBA in doubt.

Now one of Marbury’s latest Tweets shifts the question from, “Where will he play basketball next season?” to, “Is Marbury retiring?”

“Basketball is just a game. I will say it again. 14 years 250 million. Hold that. I’m good.. Thank you jesus for the blessing. Thanks NBA, he Tweeted on Tuesday.

Earlier this summer there were rumors Marbury may be heading to the Washington Wizards to play for former head coach Flip Saunders. He also talked about the idea of playing ball overseas, saying that he would average 50 points a game if he made the move. No offers, however, have been publicly reported since Marbury turned down a one-year deal to return to the Celtics in July.

In a buyer’s market — one in which marquee guard Allen Iverson has yet to sign a new contract — it is hard to imagine that an organization would bypass dozens of talented free agents to take on a player whose recent actions have deemed him a liability.

So has Marbury decided he’s finished with the NBA after 13 seasons in the league? In spite of his Tweet and amid all the uncertainty he has stirred up this summer, one thing is certain — it is impossible to truly predict Marbury’s next move.

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Reports: Marbury interested in Wizards? 05.26.09 at 9:58 pm ET
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Last week former Boston Celtic Sam Cassell was hired as an assistant coach for the Washington Wizards. Now there are reports indicating another Celtic PG may be interested in the Wiz.

According to the New York Daily News, Stephon Marbury contacted Wizards head coach Flip Saunders nearly every day during the playoffs. The Daily News reported, Saunders “would strongly considering adding Marbury to the roster if there is a vacancy.” Saunders coached Marbury, as well as Cassell and Kevin Garnett, during his tenure with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Marbury is one of five members of the 2009 Celtics squad who will be exploring free agency this summer.

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