Miami Heat v Boston Celtics

Boston still beasts of the East (and they’re enjoying it)


Why did the Orlando Magic dramatically reshuffle their roster last weekend?

The Celtics.

Orlando’s brain trust realized their current roster was not going to beat Boston come May. The Celtics knocked the Magic out of the playoffs last season and this season that gap widened. Orlando had to do something — and in doing so made themselves smaller along the front line, which will hurt them against the Celtics if they meet in the playoffs.

Elsewhere in Florida, Miami is playing well, but fans of that team are looking at moves to fill in some gaps. As we saw Monday against Dallas, Miami lost to a good defensive team that can contest the midrange, and Miami struggles against teams with big front lines.

That describes Boston. And why any Heat moves will also be about countering the Celtics.

For all the hype in other cities, right now the East is all about Boston.

Usually a traditional power overpowering everyone brings plenty of haters to the table (and there are still plenty of Boston haters in Los Angeles), that’s not happening this time. These Celtics are fun. For the first time in years there is a real joy to go with their passion. Blame Shaquille O’Neal if you want. The fact is casual fans — who start paying attention around Christmas — will be drawn to them as an antidote to the Heat and Lakers (who are not perceived as nearly as likeable).

A powerful antidote because the Celtics are good. Boston is off to a fast 22-4 start, led by the best defense in the game and a solid offense. But this is not new. Last season Boston got off to an identical 22-4 start and were turning heads. They looked like the team to beat with a powerful starting five — Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins.

But this year’s version of the Celtics are better. This season the Celtics are scoring two points more per 100 possessions and giving up almost four fewer. That works out to more than 5 points a game improved over last season’s numbers (based on the pace the Celtics play at right now). A key part of it is that it has been a long time since Garnett moved this well — 2008 at least. His energy changes their defense.

Last year’s numbers are a big skewed because Boston finished the season 11-11 in its last 22. That finish had a lot of teams and pundits overlooking them. We all thought age had caught up with them and Cleveland would overwhelm them. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Finals…

This season nobody is going to look past the Celtics.

That weak end-of-season performance last year was because Doc Rivers was resting key guys, letting bodies heal and trying to get everything right for a playoff run. This season Rajon Rondo has missed six games with more to come, Shaquille O’Neal has missed nine and Kendrick Perkins has yet to even put on a uniform. Still they are 22-4. This is a team that resting guys, staying healthy during the long grind, and still winning at a crazy pace.

What’s more, they seem to be having fun this year. Shaq — Maestro Shaq to you — brings that. Nate Robinson brings some of that. The passing of Rondo spreads that around. Garnett plays the game angry at the world, Shaq has to enjoy it and be larger than life to be at his best. He can be serious about his craft, but the game is about the joy of playing.

So go ahead and watch all the moves in the east in the next couple of months. There will be plenty. But remember that a lot of those moves are really going to be about the Celtics.

Because right now the East belongs to Boston.

Popovich to Aldridge: “Welcome to the Spurs. Go sit” out practice.

LaMarcus Aldridge
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Gregg Popovich’s habit of resting key players at times has become the norm around the league as more and more studies have shown it helps players perform at higher levels plus helps reduce injury risk. Still, Popovich is the poster child.

New Spur LaMarcus Aldridge wasn’t used to this but got introduced to it in a very Popovich way, reports Jeff McDonald at the Express-News.

LaMarcus Aldridge missed his first workout of training camp today with leg tightness. Or rather, the Spurs — being the Spurs — held him out for precautionary reasons.

“We sat him out,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “He didn’t want to do it. I said, ‘Welcome to the Spurs. Go sit.’”

He might as well have added “get used to this.” Aldridge is going to get some rest this season. Not as many as Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, but he’s going to get some nights off.

Remember, Aldridge is a guy who played through a torn ligament in his thumb last season because he thought the Blazers could make noise in the playoffs (and they might have had Wesley Matthews not gotten hurt). He’s not a guy used to being told to sit and rest.

It’s his “Welcome to the Spurs” moment.

Ben Gordon goes vegan for a stint, notices improved energy

Orlando Magic v Golden State Warriors
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Ben Gordon ate avocados any time of day for their healthy fat, and also fueled his workouts with oatmeal and different juices or nutrient-rich smoothies.

Gordon went the vegan route – no dairy or meat – for a stretch a few months back.

“With that diet you have to kind of be creative,” the new Golden State guard said. “At that time I had a chef so it was a little bit easier.”

Gordon is back to a more “normal” diet as the season gets underway and he looks to play a part on the defending NBA champions.

He is eating meat again to gain back some of the weight he lost as a vegan for about the final six weeks of the season last spring and several weeks of the offseason. He needed a bit more strength to handle the rigors of an NBA schedule, yet his energy increased on the diet and he felt “a lot lighter and faster.”

The 6-foot-2 Gordon got down to his high school weight of 185, but noticed he wasn’t quite as strong and built himself back up to his typical playing weight at around 200 pounds.

“I experimented with that this summer and throughout the end of last season,” he said. “As you get older you try to see different things that work for you. I’m not doing it right now but I kind of use it functionally depending how my body feels. But with all the running, protein is hard to come by sometimes when you’re doing the vegan thing. I just like to mix it up.”

The 32-year-old Gordon, a London native and the third overall pick by Chicago out of Connecticut in 2004, averaged 6.2 points last season with Orlando. He enters his 12th NBA season looking to give Golden State another reliable shooter coming off the bench – something the Warriors have wanted.

Gordon wanted to be part of a winning situation, and he got that all right.

“You always have to prove yourself,” he said. “With this team, they won a championship so for me it’s just trying to mesh with the guys and not try to do too much. The league is so much about being in the right situation, being with the right group of guys that mesh with your talents and skills. This team here, the style of play is just a lot of ball movement and unselfish play, and they’re not shy about shooting so I think that’s right up my alley. They don’t have a guy on the bench who shoots a high arc from the 3-point line.”

Sure, committing to be a role player might be considered a risk for a guy who has long been a starter, yet Gordon is confident he will find his place on the defending champions and, he hopes, help the Warriors make another special postseason run.

“He’s been around a long time but he’s still got gas in the tank,” coach Steve Kerr said prior to taking a leave of absence last week to fully recover from back surgery. “He’s a good shooter, good scorer. You don’t have to have a traditional point guard in that role because Shaun (Livingston) and Andre (Iguodala) off the bench handle the ball. So he would be a good fit.”

Gordon played all 82 games in four different seasons, including three times in his initial five years with Chicago and again for Detroit in 2010-11. Yet Gordon has played as many as 75 games just once since with Charlotte in 2012-13 and averaged only 14.1 minutes last season with the Magic.

Not that anybody’s counting.

“I think he’s going to use this year to get another long deal,” said swingman and Finals MVP Iguodala, who made his pitch to Gordon to join Golden State while in Las Vegas this summer.

With the Warriors’ up-tempo style, Gordon plans to be patient and knows shots will find him given the way Golden State moves the ball.

“The last few years for me have been tough, but I think I fit in well here,” he said. “I’m taking my chances here. I’m not shy about this opportunity. It’s a great one.”

Oh, and he can’t wait to engage in some regular shooting competitions with NBA MVP Stephen Curry.

“It’s great to be out there with another great shooter,” Gordon said. “Just to see the way he works, how hungry he is. Even though I’m a vet, a few years older, I’m still picking up things and learning as I’m going along.”