Brandon Bass,  Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo

Should we consider Boston a title contender now?

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The play for the first three quarters of this season confirmed the conventional wisdom going in — the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls were the class of the East, everybody else was a couple of steps back.

But in the past 10 days, the Boston Celtics have thumped the Heat twice. And although the Bulls beat the Celtics in that time frame, anybody who has seen Chicago of late and waited for the return of Derrick Rose knows the Bulls are not at their peak. They look vulnerable.

With their play of late, do we have to consider the Celtics contenders?

Yes. But for them everything needs to go right — health, good matchups. Which is pretty much what everyone said about Dallas before last playoffs and…

Boston has certainly hit its stride of late. That all starts with their defense — that has been their calling card during this run, it had taken a small step back in recent seasons but this year they are back to being the best defensive team in the league. When you defend like that, you have a chance every night in the playoffs. And Kevin Garnett is still at the heart of that (and he’s scoring well of late, too).

The Celtics also are getting great play from their role players — against the Heat on Thursday Greg Stiemsma was a force in the first half, defending at the rim and knocking down midrange jumpers. The emergence of Avery Bradley has allowed Doc Rivers to bring the scoring punch of Ray Allen off the bench, giving the Celtics frightening depth. Brandon Bass is an upgrade from Big Baby. Even guys like Sasha Pavlovic are stepping up.

Rajon Rondo keys the offense — he is the guy who has to create for others, to get some easy buckets in transition, he has to keep the ball moving. Boston has become an offense that finds the mismatch and takes what the defense gives them. Miami gave them jump shots, Boston was disciplined and knocked down the looks. Boston also runs some nice Paul Pierce/Garnett pick and rolls, plus they move off the ball well.

It may come down to matchups — Boston clearly gives the Heat trouble. Boston’s ball movement exposes the help rotations of the Heat, then Boston has guys who can knock down the jumpers. It was not a lack of effort from the Heat Tuesday night, they just struggle with Rondo and Boston. Chicago — from the same defensive school as the Celtics — may be a tougher matchup for the Celtics. And it’s also the more likely second round contest.

But right now, when you talk of teams that have a chance to come out of the East, you have to mention the Celtics. They have earned their way into the conversation.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim: Carmelo Anthony probably won’t win NBA championship

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of the United States poses with Team USA assistant coach Jim Boeheim after defeating Serbia in the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Jim Boeheim urged Carmelo Anthony to leave the Knicks in 2014. The Syracuse coach suggested the Bulls for his former player.

At the heart of Boeheim’s pitch: He wanted Anthony to win an NBA championship.

Well, Anthony discarded Boeheim’s advice and re-signed with the Knicks. So, Boeheim is predicting the outcome he always predicted if Anthony returned to New York.

Boeheim, via Mike Walters of Syracuse.com:

“He’s unlikely to win an NBA title,” Boeheim said. “He’s never been on a team that even had a remote chance of winning an NBA title. As a player, all you can do is try to make your team better and every team he’s been on he’s made them a lot better. Denver hadn’t done anything prior to him getting there and he took them into the playoffs. They weren’t going to beat the Lakers or the Spurs. In those years, they won the championship most of the time.

“But he’s always made his team better,” added Boeheim. “It’s obvious. You look back on your total basketball experience and he had a great high school team, he won the NCAA championship and he’s won three gold medals in the Olympics. That’s a pretty good resume.”

This is a classic controversy. Boeheim caused it by being honest.

Anthony probably won’t win a title.

He’s 32, playing for a team with a middling-at-best supporting cast and seems content remaining in New York. His most valuable teammate, Kristaps Porzingis, is so young, his prime might not overlap with Anthony’s. The Knicks limited themselves in the next few seasons by guaranteeing 31-year-old Joakim Noah more than $72 million over the next four years.

Most players are unlikely to win another championship. Most of exceptions play for the Warriors. I’m not even sure LeBron James is more likely than not to win another title.

Anthony sure isn’t.

That’s not the end of the world, and as Boeheim – and Anthony – said, Anthony can still have a good résumé. But it has to sting for such a prominent basketball figure in the state of New York and proud Anthony supporter tell the truth so bluntly.

Derrick Rose: Knicks ‘have a chance to win every game, and in the league, that’s rare’

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Derrick Rose called the Knicks a super team, which is absurd. When people called the absurd comment absurd, Rose doubled down.

How else can Rose show his absurd confidence in the Knicks?

Rose, via Nick DePaula of Yahoo Sports:

I think we have a chance to win every game, and in the league, that’s rare.

Let’s give Rose the benefit of the doubt. I think he meant the Knicks are capable of winning each time they take the court, not that they’ll go 82-0.

That’s probably true.

I can’t, today, call any single game on the Knicks’ schedule a guaranteed loss. Sure, some games are harder than others. The Knicks probably won’t win at Golden State in their sixth city in 10 nights. But they could. The Lakers beat the Warriors last season. Anything is possible.

Which is to say the Knicks being capable of winning every game is not rare. Nearly every team – and maybe even every team – can, on August 23, point to each game on its schedule and call it winnable.

But Derrick Rose is gonna Derrick Rose.

Trail Blazers C Festus Ezeli out six weeks after knee injection

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 18: Festus Ezeli #31 of the Golden State Warriors yells to his team during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on January 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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At one point, Festus Ezeli was predicted to land $50 million over three years in free agency.

But even in this wild market, injury concerns forced him to settle for just $8.4 million guaranteed from the Trail Blazers.

Their calculated risk isn’t paying off so far.

CSN Northwest:

Portland Trail Blazers center Festus Ezeli had his left knee injected with a bone marrow aspirate concentrate and Orthovisc today in Chicago.

The injection, performed by Dr. Brian Cole, is intended to alleviate pain and improve function.

Ezeli will be sidelined for six weeks.

This timeline would have Ezeli out for the beginning of training camp but back well before the regular season begins. Even if this puts Ezeli behind schedule, Portland has center depth in Mason Plumlee, Meyers Leonard and Ed Davis.

The Trail Blazers had to know they couldn’t completely depend on Ezeli to remain healthy.

Still, he’s a rim protector unlike Portland’s other options. The Blazers lose versatility and the ability to play better defense while he’s out.

Lakers contract to pay Yi Jianlian between $250,000 and $8 million next season

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 24:  Draymond Green #14 of the United States defends against Yi Jianlian #11 of China during the second half of a USA Basketball showcase exhibition gameat Staples Center on July 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Lakers officially signed former draft bust/Chinese Olympic star Yi Jianlian, but the contract terms were shrouded in mystery.

Some reports said he’d earn the minimum next season. Another said he’d get $8 million.

It’s rare to see such a huge discrepancy, but Yahoo Sports provided some clarity:

  • Cap number: $8 million
  • Guarantee: $250,000
  • Likely incentives:  up to $6,860,877

That means Yi’s base salary on the one-year contract is$1,139,123 – his minimum as someone with five years of NBA experience.

Yi will earn $6,701 per day he’s on the regular-season roster until Jan. 10. Then, his base salary will become fully guaranteed. He can also add to his income by achieving the incentive bonuses in his contract.

With this unconventional deal, the Lakers can waive Yi and potentially be off the hook for significant portions of his salary. But they don’t get cap flexibility unless they waive him before incentives raise his salary. He’ll count $8 million against the cap while he remains under contract.

The big question now: What specifically are Yi’s incentives?