“Just wait until Shaq gets back” is legitimate argument for Boston

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The Chicago Bulls made their statement Thursday. Right now, the Bulls are the better team. If Thursday had been Game 1 of a seven-game series the Celtics would be in trouble.

After the game, Kevin Garnett talked about Boston having another gear for the playoffs. Their fans are counting on that. That those days off between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs — plus the end of back-to-backs — will mean the veteran team will have fresher legs. That their savvy and understanding of what it takes in the playoffs will lift them to another level that a team like Chicago does not yet grasp.

They also have a trump card — Shaquille O’Neal.

That card is a legitimate play, but we will not see it for at least a couple more games. CSN New England is reporting that Shaq will be out Sunday against Miami and Monday against Washington. Wednesday against New York is still a question mark. Shaq is expected back for the playoffs.

When healthy he changes the game for the Celtics — the team defense remains good but the offense takes a big step forward. John Schuhmann at NBA.com did the heavy lifting on the numbers.

O’Neal has played with the other four Celtics starters in just 18 games. But they were 15-3 in those games and 9-1 against playoff teams. With that lineup intact, they beat the Heat twice, and they beat the Knicks, Bulls, Magic and Lakers.

Of lineups that have logged at least 200 minutes together, the Celtics’ lineup of Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Garnett and O’Neal has been the second-most dominant…

First, let’s be clear, those Boston wins were in the first half of the season. They would face very different Heat, Bulls and Lakers teams now. (Knicks too, not sure it would matter there, though.) But Schuhmann’s point is valid still — Boston’s starting five with Shaq in the lineup outscored opponents by 19.1 points per 100 possessions. Swap in the also injured at times Glen Davis in that with the Celtics big four and they are up 17 points per 100 possessions. (The most dominant lineup, by the way, was the Mavericks lineup with Caron Butler.)

What Shaq brings is an inside scoring presence that Boston lacks right now, allowing teams to stick tighter with players on the perimeter.

And on the offensive end of the floor, where the Celtics have been struggling most over the last month, is where Shaq can help the Celtics most. The lineup of Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett and O’Neal has shot a ridiculous 58 percent from the field (easily the highest among five-man units that have played 200 minutes together). And with O’Neal on the floor, Allen (38-for-69) and Pierce (30-for-59) have combined to shoot an incredible 53 percent from 3-point range.

There are legitimate questions about how much Shaq can give or if he can stay healthy. There are legitimate questions about if this year the dip is about father time catching up with Boston in a way it did not in previous years. Those questions can only be answered once the playoffs start.

But Boston does have another gear in them once Shaq returns to the lineup. And that gear may be one the other teams in the East cannot match.

Kobe Bryant: I wanted to play for Knicks, because of Madison Square Garden

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Kobe Bryant, who spent his entire career with the Lakers, has said he wanted to play for the Wizards and Bulls.

Add the Knicks to the list.

Bryant in a Q&A, via Frank Isola of The Athletic:

What other teams would you have liked to play for besides the Lakers?

There are some teams … I always kind of dreamed about playing in New York and what that would have been like. It’s true. As a fan, the Garden was the historical arena.

So, I always wanted to be a part of that history and play in it. So, New York was a team … it would have been pretty good to play in that city.

For a while, the best thing the Knicks have had going for them is their arena. That gets them only so far.

They need better ownership, better management, better coaching.

Maybe Kevin Durant will help turn the tide. If he chooses New York, it surely won’t be for only Madison Square Garden.

Timberwolves shut down Robert Covington, Derrick Rose, Jeff Teague for rest of season

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The Timberwolves are all but officially eliminated from the playoff race.

But Karl-Anthony Towns is still playing for something – a projected $32 million more over the next five years if he makes an All-NBA team.

He’ll continue that pursuit without teammates Robert Covington, Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague.

Timberwolves release:

Covington has missed the last 34 games while recovering from a right knee bone bruise, originally suffered on December 31 at New Orleans. Covington had made improvements in his recovery and had progressed to on-court activities, in preparation to rejoin the team.  However, he recently suffered a setback which will require further treatment before returning to the court and as a result, is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

Rose has missed the last four games while experiencing soreness and swelling in his right elbow. An MRI taken Tuesday at Mayo Clinic Square revealed a chip fracture and a loose body in his elbow. The team and Rose are currently exploring further treatment options and he is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

Teague has missed the last four games after reaggravating a left foot injury, originally suffered in December. On Tuesday, Teague received an injection designed to treat chronic inflammation. He will wear a boot and is scheduled to be reevaluated in approximately three weeks. He is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

The language – “expected to miss the remainder of the season” – allows the possibility of the players returning. But the Timberwolves wouldn’t set this expectation unless they were pretty certain the players were finished.

Covington deserved All-Star consideration, and maybe Minnesota would still be in the playoff mix if he remained healthy. He was also heading toward an All-Defensive team before getting hurt. I doubt 35 games, even at 34 minutes per game, will be enough to get him selected now. Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Draymond Green clearly belong ahead of him. Covington has an outside chance for that fourth spot, though.

Rose had a bounce-back year after it appeared he could fall out of the NBA entirely. He looks like a solid backup point guard. He’ll draw plenty of interest in free agency this summer.

Teague has a $19 million player option for next season. He already seemed likely to exercise it, and this only increases the odds. The 30-year-old had a relatively down season.

Teague’s and Rose’s absences will leave the ball in Tyus Jones‘ hands at point guard. Jones has looked good in a small role, and this offers him an opportunity to prove himself before restricted free agency this summer.

Importantly for Towns, Minnesota’s depth at point guard allows him to play with someone credible at the position while he attempts to finish the season strong. There’s a lot of room to produce for the Timberwolves now, though Towns will likely face double-teams even more frequently.

Report: Suns signing Jimmer Fredette to two-year contract

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The Suns didn’t meet with Jimmer Fredette just for fun.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Fredette is a relatively high-profile signing because he scored a lot of points at BYU eight years ago and fills a great-white-hope narrative to some.

He’s also a 30-year-old who hasn’t played in the NBA in three years and faced questions about his athleticism even when younger. Don’t count on much.

Fredette’s season just ended in China, where he was dominating. But his high-usage style doesn’t translate cleanly to the NBA.

Fredette won’t change the course of the Suns’ season. They are and will remain one of the NBA’s worst teams. Though they need a point guard, especially with Tyler Johnson injured, Fredette hasn’t shown the playmaking ability to handle that position regularly.

At best, Fredette entertains late in a lost season and gives himself a chance to earn a role next season. The team option gives Phoenix upside if Fredette pans out at no additional cost if he doesn’t.

At worst, he interferes with the development of younger Suns over their final 10 games. That seems more likely.

Did Oklahoma City fan yell n-word at Pascal Siakam? (video)

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Pascal Siakam was awesome in the Raptor’s win over the Thunder yesterday. The Most Improved Player favorite had 33 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block.

He also shot free throws as an Oklahoma City fan shouted something:

Did the fan yell the n-word? Did she yell “Nader,” as in Thunder Thunder forward Abdel Nader? Did she yell something else entirely?

I can’t tell. It’s a noisy arena, and she wasn’t speaking directly into the microphone.

Her shouting drew the attention of a couple Toronto players, though.

Fred VanVleet:

Siakam:

The Thunder should investigate this. Talk to arena workers who were in the area. Maybe fans, too. Racist jeers obviously shouldn’t be tolerated.

I’d be surprised if she shouted the n-word without it immediately becoming a major incident, though. As the Donald Sterling saga reminded us, that’s the type of racism is not tolerated by society. Discrimination in housing and employment – things that destroy lives – get ignored. People can get away with coded racist language and terms with racist undertones some are ignorant to. But get publicly exposed saying something clearly racist – especially the n-word – and a firestorm usually erupts.

Some have suggested she couldn’t have been yelling “Nader” because he wasn’t in the game. That doesn’t hold up. Fans often yell at players on the bench.

Again, I don’t know what she said. VanVleet’s and Siakam’s interest should prompt the Thunder to investigate and explain their findings.