Dwight Howard Celtics

Boston looks like a title contender in win. Orlando? We’re not sure.

1 Comment

The big news out of this game is the situation involving Marquis Daniels injury — he had to be taken off the court on a stretcher — which we cover in detail here and will follow going forward.

Boston is a title contender in the NBA — that’s never been in question and why was in evidence Sunday against the Orlando Magic. The Celtics have the stifling defense, they have a lot of ways to score, they have the depth.

Can Orlando — even after their big trade — say the same thing? I don’t know.

One game in February does not a contender make or break. And the Magic have quality wins against the Heat and Celtics and Lakers.

But watching how Boston beat them on Sunday, 91-80, combined with how Miami beat them earlier in the week, the question is can these new parts come together into a real contender? Sure, they will be good, at times very good. But can they be good enough? Or is the Eastern playoff seeding going to be a matter of matchups, with teams able to beat one of the elite but not another?

What Boston was able to do — something few teams can — is single cover Dwight Howard, usually with Kendrick Perkins (Glenn Davis got time, too). In the first half Orlando was able to exploit that.

The knock on Howard for many years was that he didn’t have enough moves in his offensive arsenal, that he was just power. Not anymore. The guy has drop steps, up-and-under moves, spins, a jump hook and more. He showed all that off getting 22 points in the first half while Perkins was as physical with him as the refs would allow (which was a little short of an MMA pay-per-view but not that far off).

However, while Howard was hot the Celtics took away the open threes he is supposed to create, the other half of Orlando’s offense. The Magic were 1-9 from three in the first half and that’s why they trailed 46-43 (with Howard having more than half their points).

For the game Orlando was 3-of-24 from three. J.J. Redick and Hedo Turkoglu were a combined 0-8 from three.  A lot of that was good defense by the Celtics, who contested and forced Magic shooters to rush. Part of it was the Magic were just off and missing shots they hit most nights.

Despite the defense Orlando was out to the early lead as Boston struggled against a good Magic defense. Boston was just 4-of-14 shooting in the first quarter with 7 turnovers.

But two things changed as the game went on. One was Rajon Rondo, who started getting into the teeth of the Magic defense and making plays with shots and passes. He took over and controlled this game. Orlando did a good job taking away most of Boston’s preferred offensive options, until Rondo started to single handedly change that. He finished with 26 points and 7 assists.

Bottom line, Boston was able to adjust offensively in a way Orlando never could.

The other thing was that Howard went cold in the second half. The physicality of Boston’s defense and Perkins in particular seemed to wear him down. He had just four second half points and missed some chippy put-backs.

Orlando is still trying to fit all its new pieces together. It got nothing out of a seemingly hobbled Gilbert Arenas (0-7). They are forced to play Earl Clark 15 minutes a night right now with Brandon Bass out and that’s less than ideal.

But this game leaves you wondering if the Magic could beat the Celtics in a seven-game series? Of course, could Miami deal with Orlando’s size inside over seven games? And just how good is Chicago?

There are a lot of questions left in the East. But right now Boston is the measuring stick and it sure looked like Orlando will have a hard time matching up in May.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
1 Comment

James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at NBA.com.

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.