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

1 Comment

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.

Terry Rozier on Celtics’ challenge: “Too talented, yeah. Too talented.”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Too many mouths to feed.

Among the many “what is wrong with the Celtics?” theories the idea that there are too many players who want touches and shots had a lot of traction around the league. Last playoffs, then rookie Jayson Tatum, second-year player Jaylen Brown, and “scary” Terry Rozier had increased roles — and thrived. They were the alphas (along with Al Horford), the guys with the ball in their hands leading a team to the conference finals, and they liked it — these are young players trying to carve out a role (or, in Rozier’s case, prove to other team’s he’s a starting point guard) and they didn’t want to take a step back. But that’s what had to happen with the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to the rotation. The result was a lack of a pecking order on offense, uncomfortable sacrifices, and precious little of the fluid play that got them within a game of the Finals a year ago.

Rozier seems to agree with that theory, speaking to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports in a story about Kyrie Irving’s adjustment to being a leader.

“I don’t think we’ve all been on a team like this,” Rozier told Yahoo. “Young guys who can play, guys who did things in their career, the group that was together last year, then you bring Kyrie and Hayward back, it’s a lot with it.”

When asked if the roster was too talented, Rozier didn’t back down.

“Too talented, yeah. Too talented.”

If everyone buys in, if everyone sacrifices (including Irving), if guys are willing to accept a role, all that talent can make the Celtics versatile and the team everyone expected. The team to beat in the East.

To get there will require Irving to be a leader — in words and actions. That’s more than just calling out the young core, it’s getting them involved and feeling like contributors so they are willing to make sacrifices. It’s doing the little things yourself. Can Irving do all that and turn Boston into the conference favorite we expected.

Or were Nets fans right, he is going to get frustrated and leave this summer?

The second half of this season in Boston is going to be fascinating.

Philadelphia signs Corey Brewer to 10-day contract in effort to add depth

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Philadelphia 76ers remain a step behind Toronto and Milwaukee — and maybe Boston — in the Eastern Conference, despite adding Jimmy Butler to form a “big three” with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. One issue is getting those three to make sacrifices to their games and meld together. The second big issue is depth: J.J. Redick is their fourth best player, then things drop off a cliff.

Enter veteran Corey Brewer.

For at least 10 days, anyway.

The 76ers signed Brewer to a 10-day contract, the team announced Tuesday.

“For me, I love playing basketball. I just wanted another opportunity,” Brewer told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I feel like I did enough last year that I should be on a team. But sometimes things don’t work out the right way … you can’t look it like that. An opportunity is an opportunity. I get to come here, and I gotta prove myself…

“I’m like a glue guy,” he said. “I do all the little stuff. I play hard, I’m going to run hard, and I feel like the way Ben [Simmons] pushes it, that’s right up my alley.”

Brewer is the king of the leak out and may benefit from some Simmons passes that way.

Brewer split time last season between the Lakers and Thunder, and in OKC he showed he could play a role on the right team and shot 34.3 percent from three. That fit was not evident on the young Lakers, Brewer looked out of place and struggled with his shot, which is likely why he was not able to land a guaranteed contract this past offseason.

This is a 10-day contract, the Sixers can sign him to two of those before having to either let him go or commit to him for the rest of the season. This is likely the first in a series of roster moves over the next few weeks as Elton Brand looks to find the right pieces to go around his big three stars so the team can make a push this offseason.

Warriors, Nuggets battle for first in West

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Playing in big games has become the norm for the Golden State Warriors.

Not so much for the Denver Nuggets.

Tuesday’s matchup between the top two teams in the Western Conference is new territory for Denver. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the Nuggets have been rebuilding and retooling, not competing for titles, but they have arrived this year and are challenging to be the best team in the Western Conference.

The winner of Tuesday’s game in Denver will sit atop the conference standings. Denver (29-13) has been up there for a while now, but the Warriors (29-14) might yet find another gear in the second half of the season as they pursue a third consecutive NBA championship.

They are about to get a new, big piece when DeMarcus Cousins returns this week.

The center, who signed a one-year deal in the summer, tore his Achilles almost a year ago. His season debut is projected to come on Friday at the Los Angeles Clippers. Golden State is expecting it will take time for Cousins to get fully immersed and integrated into the offense.

“We’re excited, but it’s a little daunting, too,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said in the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s not going to be simple just to plug him in. There’s going to be an adjustment period. He knows that, but it’s a fun challenge.”

The Nuggets have a big enough task stopping Golden State’s other stars. Guard Steph Curry, a two-time league MVP, hit 11 3-pointers in a 48-point effort to beat Dallas on Sunday, and then there’s Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to worry about.

And the Warriors have a revenge factor to use. The Nuggets beat them 100-98 in Denver on Oct. 21 when Juancho Hernangomez blocked Damian Jones‘ layup at the buzzer.

The Nuggets have been playing at a high level lately, especially at home, where they are 18-3 and have won their last 12. The latest was a grind-it-out 116-113 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, which might have been a perfect tune-up for the Warriors.

Denver has its own star power in center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray. Jokic, averaging team-highs with 19.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, had consecutive triple-doubles last week and then clocked in with 40 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists against Portland.

With or without Cousins, Golden State will have a tough time handling the Serbian. But the Warriors are best when they force teams to adjust to them, and they come at teams from different angles. One night it could be Curry, the next Durant. When tuned in, Golden State is hard to beat.

The Nuggets are ready for the challenge after getting everyone’s best this season.

“As teams give us their best shot because we’re No. 1 in the West right now, everybody gives the Warriors their best shot,” said Murray, who is averaging 18.5 points. “We just know we have the home court, and we beat them last time here.”

PBT Podcast: Breaking down the MVP race, other NBA mid-season awards

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Patience is not the NBA community’s strong suit — we were talking MVP race the first week of the season.

Now, however, it’s time. Teams are more than halfway through the season and we have seen enough games, we have enough data to start discussing who is the frontrunners for all of the league’s end-of-season awards.

Is it James Harden or Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP?

Can anyone challenge Luka Doncic for Rookie of the Year?

It’s a deep field for Coach of the Year, but is Mike Budenholzer the front-runner and can Doc Rivers, Dave Joerger or someone else catch him?

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports talk about their picks at this point of the season and who is in the running long term.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

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