NBA Playoffs, Celtics Magic Game 6: Big men will be banging, but little men will decide this one

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Rondo_Jumper.jpgMan is it going to be fun to watch what happens inside the paint tonight tonight. Both as a fan of basketball and MMA — because there is going to be some banging.

Dwight Howard and Kendrick Perkins are going to go at it inside, technicals be damned. Big Baby is back from his injury and ready to rock. You know Sheed will be ready to go, game time decision or not. Celtics fans want blood; Celtics players are going to stand their ground. Howard is not giving an inch.

And all that is not going to decide the game, that’s just the sideshow.

Point guards will decide this one. Not those two men alone, but how the other team’s defense deals with them.

For the first three games, it was all Rajon Rondo. Then since the Magic went to more staggered double screens for Jameer Nelson, he started feeling comfortable enough to attack, and he has been the story as the Magic have won two in a row.

Stop Nelson and you stop the Magic. ESPN did the math for us (and the fantastic Eddie Rivera posted it for us): in the first three games, Nelson shot 38.2 percent, that jumped to 52.8 percent the last two games. More importantly, his points per possession (where he has the shot or assist, or turnover) jumped from 0.86 to 1.21 (know that basically one is the average).

The Celtics knew they had to adjust, so in Game 5 they started to send Paul Pierce in to help on the pick-and-roll, leaving Matt Barnes as the guy to beat them. He did in the first quarter, he hit a couple threes. Combine that with some foul trouble and the Celtics sort of abandoned that strategy.

They should go back to it tonight — Barnes was a 31 percent three-point shooter during the season. Granted, he has hit almost 38 percent in the playoffs, but this is going to a high-pressure, on the road situation. Make Barnes prove he can do it. If that doesn’t work, well, better have a Plan B.

The other Celtic defender that needs to step up in Kevin Garnett — he needs to be everywhere. His responsibilities are huge, but such is the role. He has to help inside, he has to have rotations and recover on shooters (especially his man Rashard Lewis). KG has to be part of stopping the pick and roll, because if the Celtics do that they stop the Magic attack.

Conversely, the Magic need to continue to hold Rajon Rondo in check. They have been physical with him the last couple of games, they have to continue to be without getting fouls. Rondo for his part needs to get back to pushing the pace — something the Celtics should be more comfortable doing at home (we say should, they have not always done that this season). The Celtics need a few easy buckets in transition.

They also need Garnett to get more points on Lewis — KG has the height advantage in the post, he needs to exploit it and when the double comes hit the open man. Garnett needs to go back to being the guy who abused Antawn Jamison last round, not the tentative guy from the conference finals. Some hot shooting from Ray Allen would solve a lot of problems as well.

But it still comes back to the point guards.

Tonight, one of the two guys is going to get loose. Nelson is going to continue to run the pick and roll with impunity, and the Magic will force a Game 7. Rondo will get loose in transition and hit some shots at the rim in the half court — maybe even draw a foul — and the Celtics will end this series and await the winner of the next one.

The big banging bodies in the paint will be fun to watch. But the point guard battle will decide this game. And the series.

Celtics lock-up Al Horford with two-year, $20 million extension

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics
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Brad Stevens has locked up the core of this Celtics team — the one that reached the Finals last season and has the best record in the NBA to start this one — through the summer of 2025.

They did that with a two-year, $20 million extension (that kicks in next season). The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and later confirmed by the Celtics.

Horford, 36, is making $26.5 million this season, the final year of a four-year, $109 million deal he signed in Philadelphia. While he never fit well as a stretch four next to Joel Embiid, he has worked well as a role player in Boston’s front line. The Celtics have locked him up at a deal closer to the league average and about his value now, at an average of $10 million a season (both years are fully guaranteed). It’s a fair deal for both sides, and a low enough number that if Father Time starts to win the race it doesn’t hurt Boston much.

With Robert Williams still out following knee surgery, Horford has seen his minutes increase to start this season but he has handled it well, averaging  10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, shooting 55.5% overall and 48.8% from 3-point range. Joe Mazzulla will likely try to get Horford some rest down the line when he can, but for now he’s leaning on the veteran.

And the team has rewarded him.

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.