Boston looks like a title contender in win. Orlando? We’re not sure.

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The big news out of this game is the situation involving Marquis Daniels injury — he had to be taken off the court on a stretcher — which we cover in detail here and will follow going forward.

Boston is a title contender in the NBA — that’s never been in question and why was in evidence Sunday against the Orlando Magic. The Celtics have the stifling defense, they have a lot of ways to score, they have the depth.

Can Orlando — even after their big trade — say the same thing? I don’t know.

One game in February does not a contender make or break. And the Magic have quality wins against the Heat and Celtics and Lakers.

But watching how Boston beat them on Sunday, 91-80, combined with how Miami beat them earlier in the week, the question is can these new parts come together into a real contender? Sure, they will be good, at times very good. But can they be good enough? Or is the Eastern playoff seeding going to be a matter of matchups, with teams able to beat one of the elite but not another?

What Boston was able to do — something few teams can — is single cover Dwight Howard, usually with Kendrick Perkins (Glenn Davis got time, too). In the first half Orlando was able to exploit that.

The knock on Howard for many years was that he didn’t have enough moves in his offensive arsenal, that he was just power. Not anymore. The guy has drop steps, up-and-under moves, spins, a jump hook and more. He showed all that off getting 22 points in the first half while Perkins was as physical with him as the refs would allow (which was a little short of an MMA pay-per-view but not that far off).

However, while Howard was hot the Celtics took away the open threes he is supposed to create, the other half of Orlando’s offense. The Magic were 1-9 from three in the first half and that’s why they trailed 46-43 (with Howard having more than half their points).

For the game Orlando was 3-of-24 from three. J.J. Redick and Hedo Turkoglu were a combined 0-8 from three.  A lot of that was good defense by the Celtics, who contested and forced Magic shooters to rush. Part of it was the Magic were just off and missing shots they hit most nights.

Despite the defense Orlando was out to the early lead as Boston struggled against a good Magic defense. Boston was just 4-of-14 shooting in the first quarter with 7 turnovers.

But two things changed as the game went on. One was Rajon Rondo, who started getting into the teeth of the Magic defense and making plays with shots and passes. He took over and controlled this game. Orlando did a good job taking away most of Boston’s preferred offensive options, until Rondo started to single handedly change that. He finished with 26 points and 7 assists.

Bottom line, Boston was able to adjust offensively in a way Orlando never could.

The other thing was that Howard went cold in the second half. The physicality of Boston’s defense and Perkins in particular seemed to wear him down. He had just four second half points and missed some chippy put-backs.

Orlando is still trying to fit all its new pieces together. It got nothing out of a seemingly hobbled Gilbert Arenas (0-7). They are forced to play Earl Clark 15 minutes a night right now with Brandon Bass out and that’s less than ideal.

But this game leaves you wondering if the Magic could beat the Celtics in a seven-game series? Of course, could Miami deal with Orlando’s size inside over seven games? And just how good is Chicago?

There are a lot of questions left in the East. But right now Boston is the measuring stick and it sure looked like Orlando will have a hard time matching up in May.

Jimmy Butler: “So much more fun to play with these guys”

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Jimmy Butler is in Philadelphia now, but he is not done throwing shade at his former teammates in Minnesota.

Butler had 28 points on 12-of-15 shooting, including the game-clinching layup, as the 76ers beat the Jazz 113-107 Friday night. After the game, he got the walk-off interview with Serena Winters and took a dig at his former Minnesota teammates.

“It’s so fun to win. So much more fun to play with these guys… Everybody wants to win, and when somebody messes up, you talk to them and they do their job.”

Part of Butler’s issues with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins was he felt they didn’t want to win badly enough, that they didn’t measure up to his level of passion. Butler is still in the honeymoon phase with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and the Sixers, but so far he likes the intensity so far and is happy to make a note of the difference.

By the way, they’re happy in Minnesota without him — the Timberwolves are 3-0 since the trade, Karl-Anthony Towns is back to playing like his All-NBA self, and he says the communication is better now and guys are taking responsibility.

 

Pelicans Elfrid Payton returns, starts, injured again

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) —The New Orleans Pelicans say point guard Elfrid Payton has a fractured finger on his left hand.

Payton injured his finger in the first quarter of his first game back on Friday night after he’d missed New Orleans’ nine previous games with a right ankle sprain.

Soon after, Payton was ruled out for the remainder of the game against the New York Knicks.

Acquired as a free agent this past offseason, Payton has played in six games for New Orleans. He entered Friday night’s games with averages 11.6 points and 6.4 assists through his first five games, but did not have a point or assist in eight minutes against New York before his latest injury.

 

Kyrie Irving scores 43, Celtics beat Raptors 123-116 in OT

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BOSTON (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 11 straight Boston points down the stretch and scored 17 in all in the last 8:06 of the fourth quarter.

Then in overtime, he really turned it on.

The Celtics guard made or assisted on every basket in the extra period, finishing with 11 assists and a season-high 43 points on Friday night to lead Boston to a 123-116 victory over the Toronto Raptors.

“Man, he made some shots tonight where you’re just like, `Wow,”‘ forward Gordon Hayward said. “You catch yourself being a fan. When he gets into that mode, the whole arena knew where we were going, and so did the Raptors. They just couldn’t stop him.”

It was the first time Irving has scored at least 40 points with 10 or more assists in a game. He was the first player do it in the NBA this year, and the first Celtics player since Antoine Walker in 2001.

“Kyrie did a great job in the fourth quarter knocking down shots,” said Kawhi Leonard, who scored 31 points and had a season-high 15 rebounds for Toronto. “We fought hard tonight, they played a better game and we’ve just got to keep playing better.”

Jayson Tatum had 21 points and seven rebounds for the Celtics, who evened the season series at one game apiece against the only team to finish above them in the Eastern Conference last season. The home team has won nine straight matchups.

Serge Ibaka scored 21 and Pascal Siakam had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors, who have lost three straight since opening the season with 12 victories in their first 13 games. Toronto never led in overtime.

“It was just a veteran game out there, just great competition for a Friday night in the NBA,” Irving said. “You’ve got to appreciate that, two great teams going at it. And I’m pretty sure we’ll see them down the road.”

 

Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid lead Sixers past Jazz 113-107

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jimmy Butler had the sellout crowd chanting his name and singing his favorite theme song.

Butler scored 28 points in his home debut, Joel Embiid had 23 and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Utah Jazz 113-107 on Friday night.

Butler, the four-time All-Star acquired Monday from Minnesota in a five-player trade, got a loud ovation during introductions and quickly made an impression as the Sixers built a 16-point lead in the first quarter.

Fans serenaded him throughout the game and he got to hear the team’s “1-2-3 Sixers” theme song after the win.

“I already knew this crowd would be excited,” Butler said. “Now that I have them on my side it’s better for me. Y’all, we, have some great fans. Y’all have the catchiest song. I used to sing it in my head when I came in here.”

The Jazz rallied after a rough first quarter and the teams went back-and-forth in the fourth quarter. Jae Crowder‘s put-back after Ricky Rubio‘s stole the ball and missed a lay-up gave Utah a 107-105 lead with 1:37 left. JJ Redick tied it on a pair of free throws. Ben Simmons‘ driving lay-up gave the 76ers a 109-107 lead.

Butler then hit a jumper to extend the lead and drew an offensive foul, sending the crowd into a frenzy as Hall of Famer Allen Iverson jumped up to celebrate from his courtside seat.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” Embiid said.

The 76ers are 29-1 in last 30 regular-season home games.

Redick had 16 points and Simmons had 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Embiid scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter after he played less than a minute in the third because he had four fouls.

Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 31 points.

“We competed but we have to be smarter,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We had some mistakes where we have to think more. They add up against a team like this.”

After the Jazz made the first basket, Butler scored on a reverse layup to begin a 12-0 run. He also nailed a 3-pointer during that stretch as Philadelphia dominated early.

But Utah closed to 54-52 at halftime following Derrick Favors‘ alley-oop dunk.

Redick and Mike Muscala hit consecutive 3s early in the third quarter. However, the Jazz came back and went up 81-80 on Mitchell’s jumper late in the quarter.

“Up until the end, we made a few mistakes, but we played passionate,” Mitchell said. “Honestly, they’re a great team, but we had the game in the bag except for a few mistakes. I think the game just got away.”