Celtics look like road warriors, maybe division champs after beating Bucks

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Eight games in a row on the road — it was supposed to do Boston in, knock them out of the playoffs. It was the biggest test of the season and the Celtics old legs were not going to be able to live up to it.

Friday night the road trip ends in Philadelphia and at the end of the night the Celtics could move into first place in the Atlantic Division.

The stage was set for that by Boston’s 100-91 win over the Bucks Thursday night. That win moved the Celtics half a game behind the Sixers for the division lead — and the automatic four seed that comes with it. Which means avoiding the Heat or Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.

Even if the Celtics don’t grab the division lead Friday, the win over the Bucks — breaking Milwaukee’s six-game winning streak — put them on solid footing to make the postseason.

The Bucks are the 9 seed in the East but are now four games back of the 7 seed Celtics — that’s a lot of ground to have to make up in just 20 games. (Which is how many games the Celtics have left this season.)

(The team that might be more nervous about the charging Bucks is the Knicks — except the Knicks have won five in a row themselves. New York is 1.5 games ahead of the Bucks. Milwaukee might have better chance to catch the 76ers who are 4.5 games ahead of them but slumping.)

The Sixers got their key win over the Bucks the old fashioned way — good defense. Well, a half of good defense. After a tight first half the Celtics held Milwaukee to 29.3 percent shooting in the second half. For the game the Bucks backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings combined to shoot 12-of-32. Which is still better than Drew Gooden’s 2-of-12.

Meanwhile Paul Pierce had 10 points in the third quarter on his way to a game high 25.

If Boston can get a performance like this on Friday night — if the old legs can do it one more time on this road trip — they will go home with after a 5-3 road trip with a half-game lead in the Atlantic. Something nobody saw coming.

Lou Williams trolls Jimmy Butler for resting during All-Star Game

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Jimmy Butler was in Los Angeles and enjoying his well-earned All-Star slot on Team Stephen.

Well, except for the actual playing basketball part. Butler did not set foot on the court during the All-Star Game at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

Lou Williams, the Clippers’ guard who likely would have been near the front of the line for an open All-Star roster spot in the West (likely second in the queue behind Chris Paul), but instead took part in the Saturday Skills Competition then had Sunday off, trolled Butler for it on Twitter.

This seems more good natured than genuinely bitter.

Williams will roll with it, but his point’s a valid one — if you’re an All-Star, at least play a little and give the people what they want. Get out there for five minutes or whatever. LaMarcus Aldridge only played four minutes, no big deal.

If you’re not going to use the roster spot, give it up to someone who will.

Report: Raptors won’t sign Vince Carter if he gets bought out

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Of returning to the Raptors, Vince Carter said, “It’ll happen one day.” It sounds as if the Kings would buy him out if he wants.

Will he end the season with Toronto?

Josh Lewenberg of TSN 1050:

After speaking with a few team sources, I can confirm that they’ve had internal dialogue and debate about the idea of bringing Vince Carter back. It’s something that they wanted to do over the summer. That’s why they made him an offer, something that I’ve reported in the past. And it’s also something that they’d be open to in the future, perhaps next year in some capacity. But they’ve decided now is not the right time. And I think the consensus seems to be there’s so much going on right now, and they want this season to be about this team, their accomplishments and their playoff push and not the sideshow that I think would come with a Vince Carter return.

The Raptors (41-16) are on pace for their best record ever. They’re excelling offensively and defensively. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are spearheading a more dynamic offense that spurs hope for more playoff success.

Toronto is probably correct to save the Carter reunion for another year – though it depends who else is available. That 15th roster spot could be useful. If Carter is the best player who’d sign, the Raptors should sign him and deal with the hoopla.

But it’s not clear whom they could get or whether they could even get Carter. He hasn’t sounded like someone who’d forgo guaranteed salary to play for the minimum.

Tiago Splitter announces retirement

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Tiago Splitter was so effective in his role for the Spurs during their playoff run to the 2014 title – 19.1 PER, .239 win shares per 48 minutes, +7.5 box plus-minus. It gets forgotten, because he twice lost his starting job that postseason.

Limited by a late start in the NBA and injuries, Splitter’s prime was short and ill-timed. He was a traditional center just as those were going out of style.

But for moments in the right matchups, he provided a major boost to a championship team. That was the peak of a seven-year NBA career.

HoopsHype:

Tiago Splitter announced his retirement at the age of 33 in an interview with SporTV.

Splitter just couldn’t get healthy. He missed 150 games over the last three years with the Spurs, Hawks and 76ers.

Drafted No. 28 in 2007, Splitter remained overseas for a few years and built hype and intrigue. He signed with San Antonio and started alongside Tim Duncan for a couple years. The Spurs later dumped him on Atlanta to clear space for LaMarcus Aldridge – a sign of Splitter’s success. He earned about $47 million in his NBA career.

J.J. Redick apologizes for saying what sounded like a slur for Chinese people

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76ers guard J.J. Redick explained saying what sounded like a slur for Chinese people – he was tongue-tied. But he didn’t actually apologize, and that bothered many.

Now, he’s getting that part right.

Redick:

Maybe Redick really did just stumble over his words. Based on the inflection, it certainly sounds possible.

Maybe he thought he was being funny then got caught.

He’d respond now the same way now either way. Maybe it’s just unfortunate he’s caught up in this. Maybe he’s using plausible deniability to get away with something.

I don’t know, but it’s good he apologized. People can apologize for accidents, and it usually helps make everyone feel better and move on.