How the Celtics can win the championship

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Banner #18. Rondo becomes a bona fide superstar. Doc Rivers proves all his doubters permanently wrong and either stays or retires on his own terms. Tom Thibodeau becomes the most accomplished first-year head coach in recent memory when he goes to Chicago. Paul Pierce, who stuck with the team through all the bad times, gets a second ring as The Captain. All of Rasheed Wallace’s sins are forever washed away. Nate Robinson becomes more than one of the great summer league players ever. KG…I’m not really sure, but it will be good.
What do the Celtics need to do tonight to bring yet another Finals trophy back to Boston? Here are my keys:
1. 48 Minutes of Hell

this is the mentality Boston needs to have if they want to win this game in Los Angeles. They need to use their length and their speed to swarm all over these Lakers. They need to bump Gasol off of his spots in the high post. Ray Allen and Kobe need to bother Kobe on every shot. Heck, they need to bother him on every dribble. Pressure the Lakers early, clamp down on Kobe and Gasol, and make them try to shoot their way back in the game. Bring doubles from different angles, flood the strong side and rotate back, collapse on drives, and hawk those passing lanes. No Perkins? No problem. Rasheed has the length to guard a hobbled Bynum, and everyone should be hungry enough to pick up Perkins’ slack on defense. They know the system. 
They know what they need to do. If they play with aggression and intelligence on offense, they can take the crowd out of it and make the Lakers play their brutal version of basketball. Besides, if the Celtics get stops, they’ll be able to…
2. Get full-court opportunities for Rondo and Co.

The Celtics are a pretty good half-court offensive team. They’re a terrifying fast-break team. If Rondo runs, the Celtics get layups, fouls on the Lakers, and open threes for Allen and Pierce. On both ends of the court, Boston must make the game as frenetic as possible. 
3. Make Bynum move, attack Odom

If Rasheed Wallace can hit some threes early, that would be great. Even if he doesn’t, it would be a huge plus for Boston if he can space the floor and drag Bynum out of the paint. The Celtics need to keep Bynum from camping out in the paint — they need to get Ray Allen off of baseline screens, put Pierce in the pick-and-roll, or get some pick-and-pop action early to make Bynum step out and challenge jumpers. When Odom is in, that’s when it’s time to run the offense through KG in the post, get Paul Pierce rumbling to the basket in ISO, or have Rondo attack the lane. 
4. Get greatness from Ray Allen

When Ray Allen isn’t on, he can get some layups in transition, space the floor, get some open shots, and play smart defense on Kobe. That won’t be enough. The Celtics need Ray Allen on. They need him running the floor, stopping on a dime, and draining threes. They need him picking the helping big apart off of a baseline screen. They need him darting behind double-screens and draining threes. They need him pulling up off the pick-and-roll or changing gears to get to the rack. Ray Allen has all the moves. The Celtics need him to have all of them working in order to score consistently in Los Angeles. 
5. Be the deeper team
Boston can’t have another game where nobody but Rondo, Pierce, KG, or Ray Allen scores until the fourth quarter. Glen Davis, Nate Robinson, Tony Allen, and especially Rasheed Wallace have to believe that this is their time. Nobody else will think it’s their time, and most probably think Boston is going to get sent home without a championship tonight. Then again, nobody expected Boston to make it this far anyways. Thanks to their lackluster regular season, Boston’s players and coaches have been the only people who believed they could actually win the championship this year. And against all odds, their belief in themselves has allowed them to win 15 of the 16 games they need. If they keep believing for another 48 minutes, they might actually end up proving themselves right.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford returns Wednesday after 21-game absence

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hornets coach Steve Clifford returned to practice Tuesday following a 21-game absence due to headaches caused by sleep deprivation. He will coach the Hornets on the bench Wednesday night against the Wizards.

Clifford said Tuesday when he began experiencing intense headaches back in early December it scared him so bad he decided to take a medical leave of absence. Medical tests revealed nothing wrong internally, but Clifford said doctors told him he needed to dramatically change his lifestyle and work habits – and get more sleep.

Clifford, who last coached Charlotte on Dec. 1, says he feels rested and plans to delegate more to his assistant coaches moving forward.

The 56-year-old Clifford returns to the sideline Wednesday when Charlotte hosts Washington, the start of a five-game homestand for the struggling Hornets (17-25).

Charlotte was 9-12 under associate head coach Stephen Silas during Clifford’s absence.

 

Jonathan Isaac in sermon: I invited my Magic teammates to hear me preach, but none came

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Jonathan Isaac hasn’t played in a few weeks due an ankle injury.

But the Magic rookie hasn’t stayed out of the spotlight.

He delivered a sermon Sunday at his church, which put the speech online. In the talk, he mentioned his teammates.

Isaac:

I invited my teammates. Right? I invited my teammates, and that was the scariest thing I’ve ever had to do yet. None of them came, but I took the step, and I invited them. When Doc told me, “You should invite your teammates,” I was frozen. I froze. I said, “What? I’m the rookie. I’m the youngest person on the team. I can’t tell them that I’m about to preach. What? They don’t serve the lord. What are they going to think of me? What are they going to say about me? What are they going to say behind my back?” I want to be a part of this team. I want them to love me, truly. I typed the message up, and I deleted it. I typed it, and I deleted it. I typed it, and I deleted it. And finally, I was like, “You know what? This isn’t about me. I’ve got to take myself out of the equation. I’ve got to do what god is telling me to do.”

The Lando:

This is interesting on a couple levels.

I think it’s generally worth knowing what drives players. Religion is clearly an important part of Isaac’s life. That has anchored many athletes, but it can also create a burden, as Dwight Howard discussed.

Religion can also unite teams – or divide them. While coaching the Magic, Doc Rivers – himself very religious – ended team prayers once he noticed Muslim player Tariq Abdul-Wahad appear uncomfortable during the Christian prayers. A former teammate said David Robinson caused a rift in the Spurs’ locker room due to his proselytizing.

There’s also something to be said for teammates backing each other. Attending Isaac’s church for a day can be about supporting him, not adhering to his religion.

Of course, his teammates are under no obligation to attend. They’re co-workers, not necessarily friends. Maybe they just didn’t want to spend there free time with Isaac. Maybe they were busy. Maybe they felt uncomfortable going to church. There’s a whole range of possible reasons for each teammate, the way it affects team dynamics – on and off the court – varying accordingly.

Based on his sermon and follow-up statement, Isaac is going about this the right way. It can be nerve-wracking to ask people to join in something. That can be a meaningful experience in and of itself.

For the Magic, this provides another lens for which to assess their chemistry and camaraderie.

Three Things to Know: Anthony Davis gives Celtics fans 45 reasons to drool over him more

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. And we didn’t even get to 

1) Anthony Davis shows why Celtics’ fans drool over him, drops 45 in Pelicans win. There are executives and fans with 29 NBA teams who covet Anthony Davis and fantasize about would look like in their uniform. It’s just that Boston fans and executives are the loudest and least subtle about it. That despite the fact that Davis — a top-five NBA player who makes an impact at both ends of the floor — has three years on his contract after this one (the last one a player option) and the Pelicans are not trading him for the foreseeable future because they are not stupid (the feeling around the league is the Pelicans will re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer and go all-in with that combo). That didn’t stop Boston media from peppering Davis with questions Tuesday that basically amounted to little more than “so, just how badly do you want to come here and when can we expect you?” Davis dodged them all. As he should.

Tuesday night Davis gave Celtics fans a first-hand reminder why they want him so badly — he dropped 45 on the Celtics and led the Pelicans to a big win in the Boston Garden (his second 45+ point game, he did the same thing to the Knicks Saturday).

After a performance like that, Celtics fans would even be willing to trade Terry Rozier for Davis. Well, some of them would, not all. Some would construct a trade around Daniel Theis and think it was a fair swap.

Davis had help in this one, and not just from DeMarcus Cousins (who had 19 points and 15 rebounds). Jrue Holiday had 23 points, seven assists, and played fantastic defense on Kyrie Irving down the stretch (Irving had 27 points, but on 8-of-24 shooting). Davis, Cousins, and Holiday all had key buckets in the overtime session.

This win puts the Pelicans three games over .500 for only the second time this season, and now they head into a soft week in the schedule where (if focused) they should be able to pad their record a little. They need to. While right now the Pelicans are the six seed in the West, they are just one game ahead of the nine-seed Clippers — the race for the playoffs is on. New Orleans needs every win it can get.

2) Aaron Afflalo throws a punch (and misses) at Nemanja Bjelica, both men were ejected in actual, almost, NBA fight. Orlando’s Afflalo and Minnesota’s Bjelica had been going at it for a while in this game — both had already picked up a technical and things were getting chippy. Then midway through the second quarter, as the two men went for a rebound on a Jamal Crawford jumper, Bjelica just ran headlong into Afflalo as the Magic player looked like he was pass blocking.

That’s when a fight broke out and Afflalo threw a haymaker, which didn’t connect, then Bjelica gets him in a headlock.

Both men were ejected. Obviously.

That’s a lot closer to a fight than whatever happened in the secret tunnels of Staples Center between the Rockets and Clippers.

Afflalo is getting suspended for this — his punch was wild and didn’t connect, but that was a punch. Bjelica may miss a game or two as well for his role.

Orlando went on to upset the Timberwolves behind 32 points from Evan Fournier, snapping a five-game Minnesota win streak.

3) Nikola Jokic had a monster night, dropping 29 points and grabbing 18 boards. This year, the center position for the All-NBA teams feels wide open. (The league still makes people pick a center for this award, which is outdated for today’s game, but that’s the rules.) Joel Embiid is in the conversation for one of those slots (so long as he plays enough games), as is DeMarcus Cousins. LaMarcus Aldridge plays more center than power forward now and has to be mentioned. So does Karl-Anthony Towns, who has started to finally focus more on the defensive end.

Just don’t sleep on Nikola Jokic.

Denver’s best player had maybe his best game of the season Tuesday night, carving up Dallas to the tune of 29 points, 18 rebounds, and seven assists. Dallas threw a variety of defenders at him and it just didn’t matter.

Much like was mentioned with the Pelicans above, the Nuggets need to rack up wins. Just 1.5 games separates Oklahoma City at the five seed and the L.A. Clippers at the seven seed. Five teams for four spots. There’s half a season to go, and injuries will likely ultimately determine who is in and who is out, but Denver can’t afford to look past anyone, and scrappy teams like Dallas can be a tough out. This was a good win for the Nuggets on Tuesday, and Jokic is why they have it.

Watch Anthony Davis score 42 points in OT win over Celtics (VIDEO)

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New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis is on a bit of a tear.

Davis scored 48 points to go along with 17 rebounds on Sunday as the Pelicans beat the New York Knicks at MSG. Then on Tuesday night, Davis again went for 40+, scorching the Boston Celtics at TD Garden to the tune of 45 points, this time with 16 rebounds.

Alongside DeMarcus Cousins, who scored 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, Davis was the deciding factor in Tuesday’s game, helping to get early buckets in the extra time period.

The final result was impressive, and good news for the Pelicans as they continue to solidify their playoff position going into the All-Star break.

Watch the full highlights from Davis’ scoring outbreak in the video above.