Boston vs. Chicago: It’s a playoff preview. And it isn’t.

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Thursday night’s much anticipated Celtics at Bulls matchup is not a playoff preview.

Well, technically it can be. These two teams could meet in the Eastern Conference finals, but first they have to get there. Teams evolve during the playoffs, these teams will be different by then.

More importantly, no Shaquille O’Neal for Boston tonight. He remains Boston’s X factor but he may not be back until this weekend from a strained calf. Boston needs his size in the paint, his rebounding, his offense from the post to win a title this season. Jermaine O’Neal and Nenad Krstic are nice off the bench guys. They’re not Shaq. Not that Boston can’t win the game Thursday without Shaq — anything can happen in one game — but they need their big leprechaun to win a series against Chicago (or even Miami). They are not the same team with him in street clothes.

True preview or no, this should be fun.

It’s a test of what are seen as the two best “teams” in the Eastern Conference. (Miami would like to be in that conversation, but they will have to shed the “collection of individuals” tag in the playoffs.) Rose, right now, may be the biggest offensive force on either team. But the better “big four?” Boston is better, deeper, more experienced with their best players.

This game also features two of the very best point guards in the game. Rajon Rondo vs. Derrick Rose.

Brian Scalabrine has a unique perspective on this. He played for the Celtics with Rondo. He followed Tom Thibodeau to Chicago (the veteran who understood the defense and could help teach it in practices), he has now seen Rose up close.

He compared the two for CSN Chicago.

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Scalabrine called Rajon Rondo “the smartest basketball player I’ve ever played with.”

As for the other side, “Derrick has the ability to dominate the game with a variety of shots.”

There are other fascinating match ups. Kevin Garnett on Carlos Boozer will be fun to watch. Luol Deng’s long arms trying to disrupt Paul Pierce’s shot.

It will be interesting to see how Thibodeau defends Boston. But if he has a real trick, a real secret he thinks will work, you will not see it tonight. He will save it for a bigger stage.

This game still matters. Chicago’s magic number to clinch the top seed in the East is three. Win Thursday and it is one. Lose and they still probably win the top seed, but they’re going to have to work a little harder for it down the stretch.

Thibodeau knows the value of some rest (even with a younger team). He’d like to get the win tonight. His charges would like to make a statement about who is the best in the East. Boston needs the win to keep their hopes of catching Chicago alive, but just as importantly to move another game ahead of Miami for the two seed. And home court in the second round.

Both teams have reason to win. Both teams are going to play hard and bring it.

Just don’t think this game represents how a playoff series plays out.

Just a reminder, Anthony Davis is very good at basketball, dropped 43 on Knicks

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Anthony Davis went into this season wanting to be seen as the best player in basketball.

Part of that perception is team success, and while the Pelicans are a good-not-great 8-7 to start the season it’s not because of Anthony isn’t doing all he can. He dropped 43 points and 17 rebounds on the Knicks, helping spark the Pelicans comeback against the Knicks. Check out the video above.

Davis is averaging 26.5 points with a quality 56.4 true shooting percentage, plus 17.1 rebounds a game. His PER of 26.8 is sixth best in the NBA. When Davis gets some help, and the Pelicans play a little defense, this is the kind of team AD might want to stick with.

Allen Iverson: “No way Melo should retire… he got a lot left in the tank, man”

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Carmelo Anthony is in limbo now. He’s not with the Rockets, not suiting up for games or playing, but he’s still on the roster. Houston has yet to waive him because they and his agent have not yet found a landing spot for him — other teams don’t want to get into the Carmelo Anthony business right now. Maybe that changes as injuries come and rosters shift, but right now there are no takers.

It has led Tracy McGrady and others to suggest Anthony retire.

Allen Iverson disagrees, speaking to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Iverson is right, Anthony needs to be in the right situation. I’m just not sure what that is.

Anthony, like all great athletes, wants to leave the game on his own terms. The challenge is he is no longer a top two or three player on a good team, yet he feels entitled to be put in that role (or, at least, be treated like one of those guys). ‘Melo came off the bench in Houston but didn’t like it. The problem is that’s where his game is at that point — he’s a bench role player who can get some buckets but hurts the team defensively. That limits when he can be put on the court, especially in the playoffs. Can he accept that spot on a team?

Eventually, a team is going to give Anthony a chance, and I hope that works out. I would like ‘Melo to leave the game with us remembering him as the Hall of Fame player and elite scorer that he was, not like this.

 

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.