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

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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 scores 34, Rockets hold off Timberwolves 129-120

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets’ 26th win in 28 games.

The West’s top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20.

The Wolves got a burst of energy after a fourth-quarter scuffle between Gorgui Dieng, Paul and Gerald Green. Green was ejected for coming to Paul’s defense after a frustrated Dieng pushed him down after a foul. With the pumped-up crowd chanting “Gor-Gui!,” Derek Rose had back-to-back layups to pull the Wolves to 109-102. But Paul hit a jumper with Crawford in his face, and Harden easily drove past Dieng for a layup to give the Rockets some breathing room.

Minnesota’s 19-6 run made it 115-110 with 3:58 to play before Trevor Ariza hit a 3, and the Rockets were able to answer every Wolves bucket to hold off the rally.

The game was seemingly over by halftime; Houston shot 63 percent, hit 11 3-pointers and led by as many as 24 in the first half while turning the ball over only three times. Harden had 10 assists in the first half, when the Wolves were as close as three before Houston reeled off a 12-0 run and didn’t allow Minnesota to recover.


Jimmy Butler targeting return to Timberwolves before end of season

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Jimmy Butler could return to the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves before the end of the regular season, if he stays on track with his rehabilitation from knee surgery.

Butler spoke to reporters Sunday for the first time since the meniscus injury he suffered Feb. 23 at Houston . He confirmed an initial recovery estimate of four to six weeks. Even on the long end of that timetable, he’d likely have two games with the Timberwolves before the postseason.

Butler said he’s confident in both his ability to heal in time and the team’s ability to hang on to a spot in the playoffs. The Wolves entered their game against the Rockets in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Western Conference, but no room for a slump.

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Gerald Green ejected for pushing Gorgui Dieng into stands (VIDEO)

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I don’t know why everyone in the NBA is so geeked this weekend. Coaches are getting fined, referees are throwing dudes out left and right. Maybe it’s because most of us recently saw the sun for the first time in five months, although I couldn’t tell you for certain.

As the Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets went head-to-head on Sunday, something had players on both sides itching. Early in the fourth quarter, Timberwolves big man Gorgui Dieng got into it with Houston’s Chris Paul and Gerald Green.

The incident came as Dieng was being defended by Paul in the low post. Paul was whistled for a foul while trying to get the ball away from Dieng, but even after the whistle blew the Rockets guard did not stop trying to get the ball. Dieng responded by pushing Paul, who fell to the ground as if someone cut the strings on him.

That prompted another whistle from the refs, and a crowd of players ensued. Green rushed to push Dieng, sending the Timberwolves center into the stands.

When the scene settled, Dieng was issued a technical foul and Green was ejected.

After the game, Dieng told reporters he thought Paul’s constant digging for the ball was a cheap shot, so he responded in kind.

Minnesota, energized, tried to make a late push on the top team in the Western Conference but came up just short. Houston beat the Timberwolves, 129-120.

Alvin Gentry, Stan Van Gundy fined $15,000 each for criticizing officials

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All is not right between NBA players, coaches, and the referees. What else is new?

After contentious games on Saturday night, both Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry expressed their opinions about what they felt was a poor officiating.

Van Gundy — whose team lost to the Portland Trail Blazers as they continued on to their 12th straight win — complained that his players were being “screwed” as they were knocked down, hammered, and hit. Gentry was especially infuriated after a late foul call went against his team as James Harden was hit on the hand while shooting a 3-pointer.

Now, the NBA has announced that both coaches have been fined $15,000 each for public criticism of officials.

Things were slated to get better between the NBRA and NBPA after the All-Star break. The two sides were supposed to have a meeting which discussed some of the more concerning trends that players and coaches have publicly complained about this year. That meeting got moved up to December, with more talks to come later. It’s not clear if they’ve done any good.

Right after All-Star Weekend guys like LeBron James were still making waves about how they are being officiated. Coaches like Doc Rivers continue to openly complain about the referees and draw fines. Van Gundy and Gentry are just the latest additions to the list, and it’s unlikely they’ll be the last before the season ends.

Hell, the end of the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors was just about as bad as we’ve seen all year. In that game, Raptors coach Dwane Casey was ejected after a comment made by a fan sitting near the floor was incorrectly attributed to him.

The NBA lost a lot of veteran officials due to retirement in the changeover to this season, and the transition has been rough. They’re going to need to figure some things out over the summer. I expect bigger announcements about those efforts to come out after the NBA Finals as a means to restore public faith in the officiating crews.