Boston still beasts of the East (and they’re enjoying it)

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Why did the Orlando Magic dramatically reshuffle their roster last weekend?

The Celtics.

Orlando’s brain trust realized their current roster was not going to beat Boston come May. The Celtics knocked the Magic out of the playoffs last season and this season that gap widened. Orlando had to do something — and in doing so made themselves smaller along the front line, which will hurt them against the Celtics if they meet in the playoffs.

Elsewhere in Florida, Miami is playing well, but fans of that team are looking at moves to fill in some gaps. As we saw Monday against Dallas, Miami lost to a good defensive team that can contest the midrange, and Miami struggles against teams with big front lines.

That describes Boston. And why any Heat moves will also be about countering the Celtics.

For all the hype in other cities, right now the East is all about Boston.

Usually a traditional power overpowering everyone brings plenty of haters to the table (and there are still plenty of Boston haters in Los Angeles), that’s not happening this time. These Celtics are fun. For the first time in years there is a real joy to go with their passion. Blame Shaquille O’Neal if you want. The fact is casual fans — who start paying attention around Christmas — will be drawn to them as an antidote to the Heat and Lakers (who are not perceived as nearly as likeable).

A powerful antidote because the Celtics are good. Boston is off to a fast 22-4 start, led by the best defense in the game and a solid offense. But this is not new. Last season Boston got off to an identical 22-4 start and were turning heads. They looked like the team to beat with a powerful starting five — Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins.

But this year’s version of the Celtics are better. This season the Celtics are scoring two points more per 100 possessions and giving up almost four fewer. That works out to more than 5 points a game improved over last season’s numbers (based on the pace the Celtics play at right now). A key part of it is that it has been a long time since Garnett moved this well — 2008 at least. His energy changes their defense.

Last year’s numbers are a big skewed because Boston finished the season 11-11 in its last 22. That finish had a lot of teams and pundits overlooking them. We all thought age had caught up with them and Cleveland would overwhelm them. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Finals…

This season nobody is going to look past the Celtics.

That weak end-of-season performance last year was because Doc Rivers was resting key guys, letting bodies heal and trying to get everything right for a playoff run. This season Rajon Rondo has missed six games with more to come, Shaquille O’Neal has missed nine and Kendrick Perkins has yet to even put on a uniform. Still they are 22-4. This is a team that resting guys, staying healthy during the long grind, and still winning at a crazy pace.

What’s more, they seem to be having fun this year. Shaq — Maestro Shaq to you — brings that. Nate Robinson brings some of that. The passing of Rondo spreads that around. Garnett plays the game angry at the world, Shaq has to enjoy it and be larger than life to be at his best. He can be serious about his craft, but the game is about the joy of playing.

So go ahead and watch all the moves in the east in the next couple of months. There will be plenty. But remember that a lot of those moves are really going to be about the Celtics.

Because right now the East belongs to Boston.

Frustrated Luka Doncic tears jersey (video)

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Luka Doncic has been showing his anger lately – kicking a ball into the stands and, last night, tearing his jersey entering halftime. At least that last outburst didn’t get him ejected.

Doncic got a fresh jersey for the second half and helped the Mavericks beat the Clippers, 106-98.

Three Things to Know: Grizzlies finally ready to hear Gasol, Conley trades, but is there a deal?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Grizzlies finally ready to hear Marc Gasol, Mike Conley trades, but is there a deal to be had? Last July, there would have been trades to be made, but the Grizzlies wanted no part of it. Rumors circulated during the summer that the Memphis Grizzlies might finally decide it was time to move on from the “grit ’n grind” era and trade their stars, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, while their value was still fairly high. But then owner Robert Pera bought out two minority owners and with full control pushed back against a rebuild, saying he thought this team could win 50 games.

Not so much. The Grizzlies are 19-28, 14th in the West, and have gone 1-12 in their last 13. One of the fears of rebuilding was alienating the fan base of a smaller market, one that loved the grit ‘n grind era and filled the arena to see it. But the fans have already started to move on, the Grizzlies are bottom six in the league now in both attendance and percentage of the arena filled. The market already is unimpressed with the product.

Now the Grizzlies are ready to listen to trade offers for Gasol and Conley. They are ready to rebuild around the promising Jaren Jackson Jr.

However, finding an actual trade in 17 days — before the Feb. 7 deadline — is going to be very difficult. (And despite the fun you can have in the trade machine, it’s not going to be one big three-/four-team trade that moves them both, these will be separate deals.)

There is more urgency for the Grizzlies to trade Gasol, who can opt out of his $25.6 million contract for next season — but that deal also complicates trades for him. How much are teams going to give up for an expensive half-season rental who has shown declining skills this season (father time is starting to win the race, his defense has faded)?

The other challenge: What playoff team needs a center and is willing to trade to take on his $24.1 million salary this season? Not many.

Both Los Angeles teams — the Lakers and Clippers — would see an upgrade at the five with Gasol, and both are pushing to make the playoffs in the crowded West. However, both are more focused on next July and big players in free agency (or, any potential Anthony Davis trades), they can’t risk Gasol looking at the market and picking up his player option for next season, eating up their cap space and spoiling their plans.

Dallas would see Gasol as an upgrade over DeAndre Jordan if they want to make a playoff push, and Jordan is an expiring contract so both sides would not be stuck long term. But if Memphis is taking on Jordan they would want a serious sweetener — a young player or a pick — and why would Dallas give that up? To make a playoff push? With J.J. Barea out and the Mavericks four games out of the playoffs and fading, it’s hard to see a deal getting done.

After that, the options get uglier. Detroit might be willing to swap bigs and move Andre Drummond (thinking Gasol fits better with Blake Griffin), but if you’re Memphis why make that move unless you’re getting young players and picks back? And why would Detroit give those up? Miami, Washington, San Antonio, there are other teams that maybe could throw their hat in the ring, but again why would those teams give up good future assets for at best a mild upgrade now?

If Gasol opts into that $25.6 million next season — and he may — then he could be traded come the summer. At the deadline it’s harder, a deal only gets done if Memphis takes pennies on the dollar back.

Mike Conley will have a lot of interested parties, he is an All-Star level player (he’d make it in the East easy, but in the West probably falls short again), but his contract is bigger than Gasol’s. Conley makes $30.5 million this season and has $67 million the two seasons after that (the second is an early termination option, but Conley isn’t opting out of that money, so consider that $67 million fully guaranteed).

There are a number of teams that would see Conley as an upgrade and believe he is better than what they will find on the free agent market come July. One popular idea is Orlando throwing in the towel on Aaron Gordon and constructing a deal around him — Conley would be the point guard Orlando needs, but they would be going young up front with Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba and even Conley can lift those two only so far right now.

Conley would be a massive upgrade for Detroit at the point as well. Dallas could use him next to Luka Doncic. Conley would be a great fit in Milwaukee at the point (with Eric Bledsoe and maybe George Hill, plus a pick/player, coming back). Phoenix has been involved in every point guard discussion out there. Would Utah take him on and move on from Ricky Rubio? Indiana can be an interesting fit.

All of those Conley trades make more sense than the Gasol ones — and they are all the kinds of trades more likely to happen in July than against the pressure of the trade deadline.

Maybe a deal gets done. It’s more likely, however, that we get a lot of smoke before Feb. 7 but no fire until next summer.

2) Paul George, Russell Westbrook get more help than Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Thunder win. Damian Lillard was looking every bit the All-Star he will be with 34 points on 24 shots.

C.J. McCollum scored 21 of his 31 points in the third quarter and tied his career high with seven three-pointers. Jusuf Nurkic continued his hot run of play with 22 points.

But after that the Blazers got very little — no other player scored in double digits and there was just one other made three.

Oklahoma City’s stars stepped up big. Paul George had a game-high 36, and Russell Westbrook racked up another triple-double with 29 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds.

The Difference was five other Thunder players scored in double figures and the rest of the Thunder shot 7-of-13 from three. That was enough to get the Thunder a 123-114 win at home.

My favorite on the court move? Evan Turner scored over Russell Westbrook and went to the rock-the-baby taunt.

Westbrook was not impressed.

3) Gorgui Dieng and Devin Booker get ejected, try to meet in the hallway to finish “fight.” It was another NBA fight — a lot of posturing and jawing but no actual punches thrown — but it was one of the funniest of the season. Were Gorgui Dieng and Devin Booker really going to fight in the hallway?

Here are the close-ups.

There was going to be no fight, but I’ll take Dieng if there’s going to be money wagered on the outcome.

Also, Dieng had the best response to any of it.

Kenneth Faried says the Nets were not honest with him

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Kenneth Faried is no longer a member of the Brooklyn Nets. The burgeoning young squad apparently didn’t have regular playing time for Faried, and things escalated between the former Denver Nuggets forward and the front office as the season went on.

Faried is now a member of the Houston Rockets, and he has contributed some during his first game in Texas. Still, Faried harbors some ill feelings toward the Nets, and made it known where he stood in an interview with the New York Daily News.

In particular, Faried said he felt Brooklyn was dishonest.

Via NYDN:

“It’s very frustrating. A lot of, ‘We’re going to play you when injuries,’ and a lot of, ‘We’re going to play you when in this moment, that moment,’” Faried said Tuesday. “Just tell me when you’re going to play me or tell me if you don’t want to play me. Tell me if you want me here or not. Because I’m a real honest player, I’m going to give you my heart, give you my all. And I wear my emotions on sleeve. I’m not going to be happy if you keep lying to me and telling me false statements.”

Faried appears happy to be in Houston, and remarked in the NYDN story about how coach Mike D’Antoni already came out and told him what his role would be moving forward.

His advanced numbers are still similar to what you’d expect from a player in his 20s, and although he’s probably never going to be the defensive guy you need, Faried is a useful rebounder and offensive guy for the second unit.

I’m glad Faried is happier with another team.

Devin Booker tries to meet Gorgui Dieng in locker room after both get ejected (VIDEO)

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NBA players like to talk a big game about getting into fights with one another. It rarely actually happens, and when things get a little too heated sometimes we get a little extracurricular activity that helps us weave the tapestry that is the story of the NBA.

As the Minnesota Timberwolves took on the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night, Gorgui Dieng and Devin Booker decided to have a little chat with one another. The two got into a jawing match after a play in the third quarter when Dieng elbowed Booker in the face.

Booker took exception to that and decided to start flapping his gums at Dieng. Both were ejected after official review, and as they exited to opposite sides of the floor, Booker appeared to make eye contact with Dieng and accept an offer to meet him in the concourse under the stands that lead to the locker rooms.

The Suns guard then had to be restrained from running at full speed to meet Dieng.

Via Twitter:

Devin Booker vs. Gorgui Dieng is the bitter rivalry you didn’t know you needed.