Don’t ask Shaq about facing Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum in the playoffs

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Shaquille O’Neal has only appeared in 36 games for the Celtics this season, and hasn’t appeared in any since Feb. 1. But Boston didn’t add Shaq for the regular season, they added him with the hope that he’ll provide some size and depth at the center position for what the team hopes will be another long run deep into the postseason.

O’Neal is targeting April 1 as a return date, and since he’s been expected back for the playoffs all along, ESPN’s Marc Stein wanted to get his thoughts on the possibility of facing two of the league’s elite big men: Orlando’s Dwight Howard, and the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum.

Bad idea. The exchange went like this:

Q: How much do you look forward to the opportunity to go up against guys like Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum in the playoffs?

A: Excuse me? Don’t ask me a question like that.

Q: But that’s what people want to know. Those guys are playing so well and everyone wants to see if you can match up with them one-on-one.

A: First of all, they won’t dare play me one-on-one, even at the tender age of 39. And you know what? Playin’ those teams, it ain’t gonna be about the [center] matchup, so I don’t really worry about that.

Despite being 39 years of age, having a diminished skill set, and being limited by injury over the past couple of seasons, O’Neal’s ego is still as big as ever. He’s always taken offense when others are mentioned as being better or greater, especially in the case of these two players. O’Neal has often bristled at Howard’s usurping of his Superman persona, and he’s never been fond of the idea of Bynum becoming an immediate and effective replacement for him in Los Angeles.

Shaq may not be able to contribute as he once could to his team’s run at a title, and his assertion about teams not playing him one-on-one (defensively) might not be correct, simply because he’s not a focal point of the offense, and isn’t really a threat to get a significant amount of touches down on the low block. But if he can defend and rebound while staying out of foul trouble, and just clog the middle enough to make things difficult for his opponents’ slashers, then he may still have the impact he desires in the postseason.

Quinn Cook signing two-year contract with Hawks

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The Hawks began last season with just two point guards, one fewer than most teams – especially notable because neither starter Dennis Schroder nor backup Malcolm Delaney was experienced for his role.

Schroder and Delaney return, but Atlanta is adding another option – Quinn Cook.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Cook is a borderline NBA player. He might not make the regular-season roster. He also might supplant Delaney for a rotation spot.

A 24-year-old who has spent most of the last two years in the D-League (also getting stints with the Mavericks and Pelicans), Cook is a good outside shooter. He’s also steady, if unspectacular, in his lead-guard duties.

This is a solid flier at a position the Hawks could use depth.

Knicks sign Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Jamel Artis

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The Knicks signing Nigel Hayes leaked first.

But New York didn’t stop there.

Knicks release:

The New York Knickerbockers announced today that the team has signed forwards Jamel Artis and Nigel Hayes and guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes.

Like Hayes, Artis (Pittsburgh) and Rathan-Mayes (Florida State) went undrafted this year – making them eligible to be waived and assigned to the Knicks’ minor-league affiliate. That’s likely all three’s fate.

But first, each will have an opportunity to make the regular-season roster. The Knicks have just 14 players with guaranteed salaries, leaving one roster spot for someone on a standard contract. Chasson Randle (unguaranteed) is the incumbent choice, but these three could supplant him.

O.J. Mayo says abusing prescription painkillers triggered NBA ban

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Last year, O.J. Mayo was banned from the NBA for at least two years due to a drug violation. Aside from stating a plan to come back, Mayo didn’t say much publicly.

Until now.

Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:

He acknowledged smoking marijuana and abusing a prescription pain medication that triggered his two-year ban because it is on the NBA’s “drugs of abuse” list. (He emphatically denied testing positive for hard drugs like cocaine.)

Mayo also concluded that he had been “overwhelmed” by a string of difficult life events: his father, high school basketball star Kenny Ziegler, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for distributing crack cocaine, his brother was placed in juvenile lock-up, a close friend went to jail, and another was killed. “I was bred to play basketball and I thought I could balance everything,” he said. “I couldn’t.”

That’s part of an interesting feature on Mayo, who’s training for his come back. Golliver’s story makes it easy to pull for Mayo.

But the guard will be 30 when he’s eligible to apply for reinstatement, and he played lousily in his last three seasons with the Bucks.

Hopefully, Mayo has and keeps his personal life in order. But returning to the NBA will be an uphill battle.

James Harden throws alley-oop to Chris Paul, pair puts on show at Houston charity event

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What chemistry problem?

There are legitimate questions about how Chris Paul and James Harden will share the backcourt and ball with the Rockets, but none of those were on display on Sunday. That’s when CP3 joined his new teammate in Harden’s charity game (raising money for Harden’s charity, which helps children from single-family homes get a higher education), a kind of pro-am with some names thrown in to draw a crowd.

Harden and CP3 put on a show for the fans.

This is a charity event, not every team is going to defend like this or the Phoenix Suns. It’s going to be harder when the games matter.

But the Rockets are going to be entertaining to watch this season. No doubt.