Celtics "close" to signing Shaquille O'Neal


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If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. According to A. Sherrod Blakely of Comcast SportsNet, the Celtics are “close” to signing free agent center Shaquille O’Neal to a contract.

Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer says the Cavs have not been talking to the Celtics about a sign-and-trade, so this deal is very likely to be for the veteran minimum of $1.4 million.

Yes, Shaq is old. Yes, Shaq is still ring-chasing. Yes, Shaq will be a big personality/ego on a team whose locker-room dynamics are fairly well-established. And yes, the Celtics made Shaq look as old and out-of-place as he ever has during least season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals. This was not a risk-free signing for the Celtics by any stretch of the imagination. 
Even with all of that, this move could have some benefits for the Celtics. The Celtics need a big body because of Kendrick Perkins’ injury, and Shaq certainly provides that. If the Celtics meet the Lakers or the Magic in the playoffs, they will now have two players capable of guarding Bynum and Howard one-on-one. With Kevin Garnett’s dead-eye mid-range shooting in the starting lineup, the Celtics have much better front-line personnel to compliment Shaq than the Cavaliers did. Shaq is a smart enough player and a good enough passer to work with Rondo and the “Big Three” effectively. 
Also, remember that Shaq had a very strong two months before he broke his thumb in a regular-season game against the Celtics, and was signed to help the Cavaliers match up with the Magic. Just like the Jermaine O’Neal signing, one reason this move looks bad for the Celtics is that the Celtics themselves played an instrumental role in lowering Shaq’s value. Shaq couldn’t match up with the Celtics in last year’s playoffs, but that won’t be a problem for him next season. 
The real question is whether Shaq will accept his role as a situational player on the Celtics. Will he move to the bench after Kendrick Perkins’ rehab on his knee is complete? Will he accept the fact that both Jermaine O’Neal and Perkins will be better options than him against some teams? Can he accept that the Celtics’ locker room is run by Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen? If anyone can manage these problems, it’s Doc Rivers, but it should still be a concern for Boston fans. 
Shaq can be a very good role player, and he may be joining a team that can use a very good role player. If Shaq can accept his limitations, this could be the shot in the arm the Celtics needed to be championship competitors this season. If not, the last ride of the “Big Three” could turn ugly. 

LeBron James’ triple-double lifts Cavaliers past Bucks

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 40 points as part of his third triple-double in four games and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 124-117 on Monday night as coach Tyronn Lue began his leave of absence to address health issues.

Lue said Monday in a statement he been dealing with chest pains and loss of sleep, and that tests have offered no conclusion about what the issue is. Associate head coach Larry Drew will run the team in Lue’s absence.

James scored 17 points in the third quarter and finished with 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his 16th triple-double this season and 71st of his career.

The four-time MVP took over in the third beginning with back-to-back 3-pointers. After not getting a foul called on a third attempt, he finished Cleveland’s next possession with a massive dunk. He was fouled attempting another dunk and made both free throws the following time down.

Milwaukee cut a 17-point lead to 117-109, but James drove the length of the floor for a dunk with just over a minute left.

Cavaliers All-Star forward Kevin Love returned after missing six weeks because of a broken left hand and scored 18 points in 25 minutes. He sparked a 10-0 run in the second quarter with two 3-pointers

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 37 points and went 11 for 11 at the foul line for Milwaukee, which is seventh in the Eastern Conference. Khris Middleton had 30 points, making 11 of 16 from the field.

Milwaukee guard Jason Terry was given a Flagrant-1 foul for hitting Ante Zizic in the face with an open hand while the rookie center was putting up a shot in the lane. Zizic made both free throws, helping spark a run that built a double-figure lead.

Lue, 40, led Cleveland to the 2016 NBA championship after taking over for David Blatt midway through that season.

The Cavaliers (41-29) are third in the Eastern Conference and have endured roster shake-ups, injuries and other distractions as they try to reach the NBA Finals for the fourth straight time.

No timetable has been given for when Lue will return. He missed the second half Saturday, the second time this season he left a game because he wasn’t feeling well. Lue also sat out a game against Chicago at home in December.


Pelicans rookie Frank Jackson has another surgery, will miss entire season now

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Pelicans say rookie guard Frank Jackson won’t make his NBA debut this season after having follow-up surgery to remove residual scar tissue from earlier right foot operations.

The Pelicans say Jackson also received an injection in his foot.

The club says a specialist in New York handled Jackson’s latest procedure.

The Pelicans acquired the 6-foot-4 Jackson through a draft-night trade with the Charlotte Hornets, who selected the former Duke player with the first pick of the second round last summer.

Following the draft, the Pelicans signed Jackson to a three-year contract at the NBA minimum with two years guaranteed, but Jackson needed a second foot surgery last summer to address a setback following his initial surgery last May.

Jackson spent one season at Duke, averaging 10.9 points.


Giannis Antetokounmpo turns bad pass into ridiculous alley-oop (VIDEO)

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That is just not fair.

Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe threw an alley-oop pass to Giannis Antetokounmpo that was off the mark — high and behind him — but it just doesn’t matter. The Greek Freak gets up and throws it down.

It’s early, but it’s going to be hard to beat that one for dunk of the night.

League’s Last Two Minute Report backs referees (mostly) in Raptors/Thunder game

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Anyone who watched the Thunder’s win over the Raptors Sunday afternoon in Toronto — especially the final few minutes — thought it was not referee Marc Davis and crew’s finest hour. There were missed calls and three-straight ejections of Raptors players, which all seemed rather hair-trigger (especially coach Dwane Casey, who was tossed for something a fan behind him said).

The NBA’s Last Two Minute report doesn’t see it that way — it says the referees nailed it.

According to the report, there was only one missed call in the final two minutes: Carmelo Anthony held Pascal Siakam as a pass came to him with 11.7 seconds left, and that should have been called.

What about the play that set DeMar DeRozan off and ultimately got him ejected, the drive to the basket with 33 seconds left (and the Raptors down two) where DeRozan thought Corey Brewer fouled him? The report said that was a good no call:

DeRozan (TOR) starts his drive and Brewer (OKC) moves laterally in his path and there is contact. The contact is incidental as both players attempt to perform normal basketball moves….

RHH shows Brewer (OKC) make contact with the ball and the part of DeRozan’s (TOR) hand that is on the ball. The hand is considered “part of the ball” when it is in contact with the ball and therefore, contact on that part of the hand by a defender while it is in contact with the ball is not illegal.

(I didn’t see it that way, I think the contact was more than incidental, and to me looking at the replay Brewer catches some wrist and impedes the shot in a way that was not legal. Just my two cents.)

The report does not cover the ejections, which are reviewed by league operations but not part of this report.

Three thoughts out of all this:

1) Raptors fans/management/players have every right to feel the calls went against them in this game. As for calls always going against them — as DeRozan complained about after the game — 29 other teams and fan bases are convinced the officials have it out for them, too. I never bought that.

2) The Raptors didn’t lose this game solely because of the officiating. Russell Westbrook was clutch down the stretch, the Thunder were part of it, and the Raptors had other issues, too (Serge Ibaka had a rough game, for example).

3) This loss also does not say a thing about the Raptors in the postseason (even if they went a little too much isolation at the end) — this was their third game in four days, they looked tired and flat at the end. That will not be the case in the playoffs.