Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo

Atlantic Division lead in balance as Celtics face 76ers

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If the NBA playoffs started today, Philadelphia would be the Atlantic Division winners and four seed taking on the Pacers. Boston and New York would be the seven and eight seeds and get the Bulls and the Heat in the first round.

Boston and New York need to move up — and the easiest way to a good seed is suddenly to jump past the slumping Sixers. Philadelphia has won just two of its last 10 games, it’s offense that shot 44.6 percent on the season has shot just 41.2 percent in the last 10. On the other side, All-Star weekend rest and trade rumors have fueled Boston to a five game winning streak — they are just one game back of Philly now. The Knicks are not out of it, either, just three and a half games back.

Wednesday night Boston travels to take on Philadelphia — a Celtics win and despite the slow start, swirling trade rumors and everything else Boston will be tied for the division lead.

It matters. A lot. Win the Atlantic and you can be no lower than a four seed. Finish second in the division and it could be very tough to get out of the first round.

The Boston veterans are all saying the right things, but Paul Pierce was honest with A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com.

“This is definitely a division rival that we are going to have to overtake, and seeing as it’s going to be important going into the playoffs,” said Paul Pierce.

Right now Boston is the hot team, but it is not impossible to imagine the Knicks putting a run together and getting in this mix either.

In the NBA where seeding is done by conference usually winning the division is not that big a deal. But the Atlantic division this year could be different. Which makes this mid-season tilt in Philadelphia very interesting on Wednesday night.

Russell Westbrook’s no-look, two-hand, behind-his-head pass ignites Thunder break

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Russell Westbrook was just himself — hustling, attacking, and getting his fifth triple-double in a row Sunday night against the Pelicans.

But the play of the night didn’t get him any points or an assist. It was Westbrook hustling, getting to the floor to get a loose ball, then making the showtime pass to start a Globetrotters-like fast break that ended with an Andre Roberson dunk.

Westbrook had an impressive dunk of his own.

NBA VP Kiki VanDeWeghe on “unnaturual acts:” “Our rules are for every player”

draymond green
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The NBA has tried to crack down on “unnatural acts” — players flailing body parts trying to draw a foul call.

At the heart of that is Golden State’s Draymond Green, who picked up a flagrant foul for the unnatural act of getting his leg high enough to kick James Harden in the face Thursday night. Green fired back at the league, saying in part, “It’s funny how you can tell me how I get hit and how my body is supposed to react. I didn’t know the league office was that smart when it came to body movements.” Green’s argument is that he was fouled in the air and the high leg was the natural act of him trying to keep his balance. (Doesn’t matter, it’s a reckless act and if you kick someone in the face you should get a flagrant foul. Also, try explaining the kick on Marquese Chriss on Saturday that way.)

Former All-Star NBA player as well as coach Kiki VanDeWeghe is now an NBA vice president and the guy who is the decision maker on these reviews and fouls. He spoke with Sam Amick of the USA Today about how those unnatural act rules are applied.

“Our rules are for every player,” VanDeWeghe told USA TODAY Sports. “We want each play judged according to the rules, as best possible, and the rules applied fairly across our whole league. That’s very important to us. We don’t make exceptions for players. They are applied to everybody.

“In Draymond’s particular case (against the Houston Rockets on Thursday), he had an arm flail which struck the player (James Harden) in the neck-head area. And then in addition to that, he had a kick up above the head of the defender. As he brought his leg down, his heel hit him in the face. It wouldn’t matter what player we’re talking about (it’s a foul)….

“Most of these are done to draw the attention of the referees. We noticed an uptick in these last year, and they needed to be addressed by the competition committee.”

While Green feels singled out — “marked” is what he tweeted — VanDeWeghe noted that competition committee included owners, coaches, GMs, people from the players union, and a lot of people with playing experience, who all sat down as a group and studied what is and is not an “unnatural act.” As Amick noted, it isn’t just Green who gets hit with these penalties, although he gets the headlines: Boston’s Marcus Smart was given a Flagrant One for his kick to the groin of the Miami’s Hassan Whiteside; Thursday LeBron James was given a technical foul for his blow to the head of the Clippers’ Alan Anderson.

So long as Green continues to make these acts — and the kick to Chriss Saturday suggests they are not slowing down — the crackdown will continue.

Watch Raptors PG Kyle Lowry throw a full-court alley oop to Pascal Siakam

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Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry is having an excellent year for the Eastern Conference Finals hopefuls, and part of that is due to his vision. On Saturday, Lowry threw a full-court lob to Pascal Siakam that was mighty impressive.

After a missed shot in the middle of the third quarter by the Atlanta Hawks, Lowry gathered the rebound on the left block and quickly turned his eyes downcourt.

Siakam, the No. 27 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, was streaking toward the Raptors basket and behind the Hawks defense.

Lowry took advantage with a long-distance heave after one dribble at the free-throw line, and Pascal was able to gather and softly lay the ball up at the rim.

Warriors F Draymond Green kicks Marquese Chriss in the hand (VIDEO)

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Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green was not punished with an additional fine for kicking Houston Rockets G James Harden in the face on Dec. 1. Perhaps that emboldened him to kick another opponent just two days later in Phoenix Suns rookie Marquese Chriss.

While attempting a rip through move on Chriss in the third quarter of Saturday night’s game, Green could be seen kicking Chriss in the hand.

Chriss, in some obvious pain, immediately ran over to the bench and was replaced by Jared Dudley.

Meanwhile, Green didn’t even draw a foul. On the other end of the floor, P.J. Tucker was trying to fight through a screen and was called for both a personal foul and a technical foul after arguing.

It seems that there’s not much stopping Green from trying to damage opponents. He infamously missed Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals due to his extracurricular activity, his absence perhaps acting as the catalyst to swing a series in which the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

There was no fine for kicking the league’s best MVP candidate in Harden, and no reaction from officials for kicking Chriss.

This came just a day after Green complained about how the league was treating him and how he should control his body.

In the last six months, Green has hit or kicked Harden, Chriss, Kyrie Irving, Allen Crabbe, and Steven Adams (twice).