Miami Heat v Boston Celtics

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

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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.

Dwyane Wade apologizes to Bulls fans after ugly Chicago loss

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Even for an up-and-down Bulls team that has seen some sloppy losses, Friday night’s was ugly. The Atlanta Hawks went on a 36-11 run between the end of the first quarter and the start of the second, they led by as many as 34, and cruised in for the 103-92 win. The game wasn’t that close, the Hawks thoroughly outplayed the Bulls, and after the game ended coach Fred Hoiberg said he and his staff need to reexamine everything.

Dwyane Wade went another direction, apologizing to fans.

Wade was 2-of-10 shooting on the night.

Despite the loss, the Bulls remain tied with the Bucks for the final playoff slot in the East, a race that will likely include Detroit and New York (and maybe Charlotte) and go down to the final days of the season. The Bulls (21-23) can’t have many more games like Friday.

Warriors get 6th straight win, 125-108 over Rockets

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry reacts after making a 3-point basket late in the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Houston. Golden State won 125-108. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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HOUSTON (AP) — Kevin Durant scored 32 points and the Golden State Warriors used a big third quarter to build a huge lead and coast to their sixth straight victory, 125-108 over the Houston Rockets on Friday night.

In a matchup of two of the best teams in the Western Conference and All-Star starting guards Stephen Curry and James Harden, the Rockets fell short. Houston, which entered the game leading the NBA with 667 3-pointers, was just 7 of 35 behind the arc. Harden went 0 for 5 and Eric Gordon, who entered the game leading the NBA with 160 3s, missed all seven attempts.

Clint Capela had 22 points and Harden added 17 points with 11 assists for the Rockets, who are third in the West behind Golden State and San Antonio.

The Warriors were up by five at halftime and used a 12-4 run to open the second half and stretch their lead to 74-61 with about nine minutes left in the quarter. Golden State got six points from Durant in that span, including a dunk and a nifty reverse layup.

Houston got four points from Capela after that before Golden State used a 10-2 run, with 3s from Draymond Green and Curry, to make it 84-67 midway through the period.

Golden State pushed the lead to 99-79 entering the fourth quarter.

Houston won the first game against Golden State this season in two overtimes to snap an eight-game, regular-season losing streak to the Warriors. But it was clear the Rockets wouldn’t make it two in a row after they scored just 22 points and went 0 for 10 on 3-pointers in the third quarter.

Houston scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 99-84. But Golden State used a 9-4 run after that to extend its lead to 20 points by the midpoint of the quarter, and many fans started heading for the exits.

Curry finished with 24 points and made five 3-pointers, including one with about 3 1/2 minutes remaining that left the Warriors up 117-93. Both teams cleared their benches after that.

The Warriors led 62-57 at halftime.

TIP-INS

Warriors: Golden State made 15 of 38 3-pointers. … Klay Thompson added 16 points. … Green had 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

Rockets: Ryan Anderson had one rebound in nine minutes in his return after missing two games with the flu. … Capela played 21 minutes off the bench in his third game back after missing a month with a fracture on his left fibula. … Sam Dekker had 17 points for his 11th double-digit game this season. …

CHEERING ON THE HOME TEAM

Houston Texans star J.J. Watt cheered the Rockets on from a courtside seat. He received a huge ovation when he was shown on the Jumbotron during a timeout in the second quarter. Watt, who won NFL Defensive Player of the Year last season, played just three games this season before having season-ending back surgery.

 

Penny Hardaway inducted into Magic Hall of Fame (VIDEO)

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 15:  Penny Hardaway attends the Sears Shooting Stars Competition 2014 as part of the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend at the Smoothie King Center on February 15, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Orlando Magic have inducted Penny Hardaway into the franchise’s Hall of Fame.

Hardaway, a game-changing point guard at 6-foot-7, becomes just the fifth player in franchise history to be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame. He was enshrined during a pregame ceremony Friday and will be honored during a special halftime presentation during Orlando’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Amway Center.

Acquired by the Magic during the 1993 NBA Draft, Hardaway spent six seasons in Orlando where he averaged 19 points, 6.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.95 steals per game. Hardaway and center Shaquille O’Neal guided the Magic to the NBA Finals in 1995 where they lost to the Houston Rockets.

Hardaway remains third on the team’s all-time steals list (718) and fourth in assists (2,343).

Robert Covington with deep, contested three game-winner for Sixers (VIDEO)

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The Sixers have just become fun.

It’s not just Joel Embiid, it’s guards and wings feeling fearless in big game situations. A few games ago it was T.J. McConnell. Friday night, it was Robert Covington.

Down two with 13 seconds left after Damian Lillard missed a free throw, Brett Brown chose not to call a timeout and count on getting a good shot out of the chaos. What the Sixers got was Covington a full step behind the arc with Evan Turner in his face contesting.

It didn’t matter. Bucket. Ballgame.

The Sixers were down 13 at the half and came back to get the win. Sixers fans did get a scare in this one when Embiid left the game for a while and went to the locker room after tweaking his knee landing from a dunk. It proved to be nothing serious and he returned to the game, at which point you could hear and audible sigh of relief from the entire city of Philadelphia.