Jermaine O’Neal set to return by the end of the month

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Kendrick Perkins is gone, but the sky isn’t falling for Boston’s defense. Even with only one true center (if Nenad Krstic even qualifies) in the rotation, the Celtics have posted two fantastic defensive performances in a row, holding both the Grizzlies and the Knicks to under 97 points per 100 possessions. That’s a remarkable level of defensive dominance, and while the Celtics haven’t fared so well on the other side of the ball, those struggles are far too complex to be attributed to Perkins’ absence.

However, if there’s one enduring concern about Boston’s ability to execute defensively, it’s that the size just isn’t there on the front line. That’s about to change; Shaquille O’Neal is expected to return to the court by April 1st, and according to a report from the Boston Herald, Jermaine O’Neal is on a similar timeline (via CelticsHub):

Jermaine O’Neal’s recovery from knee surgery has taken a big step, according to Danny Ainge. The Celtics’ president of basketball operations watched his recuperating center work out in Chicago this morning, and later said that O’Neal’s return to the team appears to be on schedule. “It could be next week, which is about what we hoped for – the end of the month,” said Ainge. “He looks good. I watched him go through his workouts.”

The most encouraging news, according to Ainge, is that O’Neal has been able to work out for approximately three weeks without swelling. In addition to working out with a trainer, the center has been playing 1-ob-1 basketball. “That’s always the challenge,” said Ainge. “He’s been working out for that long without swelling, which is a big consideration.”

O’Neal also lost approximately 12 pounds during his rehabilitation.

That last note is important. O’Neal hasn’t exactly been the most mobile big around over his last two seasons, and a slighter frame should help his ability to rotate and, more importantly, stay healthy.

It should be interesting to see what exactly becomes of Krstic upon the return of both O’Neals. Jermaine O’Neal wasn’t logging serious minutes even when healthy, but he’s a better defender than Krstic and a comparable mid-range shooter. Assuming Shaq eventually slides into a starting role and plays around 20 minutes a night (his season average), and that Glen Davis gets some run at the 5, there likely won’t be room in the rotation for both O’Neal and Krstic to play regular minutes. O’Neal’s health and rust could end up which player functions as the primary back-up at center, but regardless, his return to the active roster gives Doc Rivers another strong interior defender to throw at any opposing big who gives the Celtics trouble.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan slips and falls while arguing call (video)

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Nate McMillan slipped up in his handling of Victor Oladipo‘s early fouls during the Pacers’ Game 2 loss to the Cavaliers last night.

Then, the Indiana coach literally slipped while arguing that LeBron James should have been called for offensively fouling Lance Stephenson.

LeBron James: Reporter warned me about question on Gregg Popovich’s wife before live TV interview

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In her on-court interview with LeBron James following the Cavaliers’ Game 2 win over the Pacers last night, TNT sideline reporter Allie LaForce asked him about the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife.

LeBron appeared emotional as he gathered his thoughts.

That prompted some to criticize LaForce for ambushing LeBron on a sensitive subject on live TV. But that’s not what happened.

Uninterrupted:

LeBron:

I’m not on social media right now, but I was made aware through some friends through texts that a question was asked to me postgame, and a lot of people feel I was blindsided. That is absolutely false. Allie LaForce told me that she was going to ask the question and if it was OK.

And once I started talking about it, once we were on air, actually my emotions kind of took over. And that was just my emotions coming straight from my heart about the late Erin Popovich.

It’s unfortunate. It’s a tragic loss. My thoughts, my prayers, once again goes out to the Popovich family, to Gregg, to the Spurs family, to the whole Spurs fan base.

And also guys, please get off Allie LaForce’ back, because she followed the proper protocol and she warned me. So, get off her back, man. She’s very professional, and she does a great job at her work.

Like I said, thoughts and prayers to the heavens above. We all know the man above never makes mistakes, even when we question it. But it’s a sad, tragic time right now for the NBA family, and we’re all praying and hoping for the best.

It would have been surprising if LaForce hadn’t done that. Somewhere between nearly nobody and absolutely nobody in her position is trying to embarrass players.

PBT Extra: If Portland is going to turn series around it starts with Damian Lillard

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This was the year the Trail Blazers were going to break through. They were defending better as a team. There was some depth on offense. And Damian Lillard was playing at a level that will get him on many voters’ MVP ballots.

Instead, they are down 0-2 to Anthony Davis and New Orleans, having dropped both games at home to open the series. Portland is on the verge of being bounced in the first round for the third time in four years.

If Portland is going to turn this series around, it starts with Lillard, something I discuss in this latest PBT Extra. C.J. McCollum needs to get more buckets, Jusuf Nurkic needs to contribute more on both ends, but for Portland it all begins and ends with Lillard and it’s on him to start the turnaround.

Rockets easily overcome James Harden’s horrid shooting night, win Game 2 over Timberwolves

AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith
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James Harden shot 2-for-18 – the worst field-goal percentage (11%) on so many attempts in a playoff game in nearly a decade and the worst ever in a first-round game.

The Rockets still won by 20 because of their stout defense, a strong supporting star in Chris Paul and Harden’s foul-drawing ability.

Houston’s took a 2-0 series lead with a 102-82 win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday. Game 3 will be Saturday in Minnesota, but the top-seeded Rockets have seized firm control.

Every No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seed to take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven first-round series have won it. There’s little reason to believe Houston will become the exception.

The Rockets are no longer as reliant on Harden, the likely MVP who seemed to wear down last postseason.

They buckled down defensively before letting up in a fourth quarter that was entirely garbage time. Houston forced more turnovers (16) than allowed assists (15) and contested shot after shot.

It’s becoming increasingly clear the Timberwolves have no quick solution to the Karl-Anthony Towns problem, and it’s not simply a matter of deciding to feed him more. Yes, he can get favorable post matchups against the Rockets’ switching scheme. But Minnesota lacks quality entry passers. The Timberwolves are also short on shooters and need him to spread the floor – even if that skill is less-helpful after a switch. Towns scored just five points in 24 minutes tonight.

His teammates were barely, if at all, better. The focus has turned to Towns, but this was a far-wider letdown.

On the other hand, Paul (27 points and eight assists) led Houston’s offense. Gerald Green (21 points and 12 rebounds) got hot. Even Harden (7-of-8 on free throws) chipped in thanks to his elite foul-drawing ability.

The Rockets aren’t always the most enjoyable team to watch, and that was the case tonight. Mostly, because they put this game out of reach long before it actually ended.