Celtics look like road warriors, maybe division champs after beating Bucks

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Eight games in a row on the road — it was supposed to do Boston in, knock them out of the playoffs. It was the biggest test of the season and the Celtics old legs were not going to be able to live up to it.

Friday night the road trip ends in Philadelphia and at the end of the night the Celtics could move into first place in the Atlantic Division.

The stage was set for that by Boston’s 100-91 win over the Bucks Thursday night. That win moved the Celtics half a game behind the Sixers for the division lead — and the automatic four seed that comes with it. Which means avoiding the Heat or Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.

Even if the Celtics don’t grab the division lead Friday, the win over the Bucks — breaking Milwaukee’s six-game winning streak — put them on solid footing to make the postseason.

The Bucks are the 9 seed in the East but are now four games back of the 7 seed Celtics — that’s a lot of ground to have to make up in just 20 games. (Which is how many games the Celtics have left this season.)

(The team that might be more nervous about the charging Bucks is the Knicks — except the Knicks have won five in a row themselves. New York is 1.5 games ahead of the Bucks. Milwaukee might have better chance to catch the 76ers who are 4.5 games ahead of them but slumping.)

The Sixers got their key win over the Bucks the old fashioned way — good defense. Well, a half of good defense. After a tight first half the Celtics held Milwaukee to 29.3 percent shooting in the second half. For the game the Bucks backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings combined to shoot 12-of-32. Which is still better than Drew Gooden’s 2-of-12.

Meanwhile Paul Pierce had 10 points in the third quarter on his way to a game high 25.

If Boston can get a performance like this on Friday night — if the old legs can do it one more time on this road trip — they will go home with after a 5-3 road trip with a half-game lead in the Atlantic. Something nobody saw coming.

Report: Suns to waive Austin Rivers, who becomes unrestricted free agent

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The Phoenix Suns need a ball handling guard to go next to Devin Booker, so when they picked up Austin Rivers as part of the Trevor Ariza trade with Washington it made some sense. Rivers is a below replacement level NBA player (who has been serviceable the past couple of seasons), but that’s an upgrade over what the Suns had.

Except Rivers didn’t want to be part of the rebuild in Phoenix. In an unusual and unexpected move, the Suns have agreed to waive him, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

It’s an odd move on a few levels. Why didn’t Rivers want to stay in a place the ball would be in his hands more, giving himself a chance to build up his value before free agency next summer? Why didn’t the Suns first try to shop him around and offer to take on another team’s bad/dead contract if they got a pick or other asset? (Rivers can’t be packaged with another player in a trade but he can be moved straight up.)

Finally, how much demand is there among good teams for Rivers, even on a minimum contract?

Rivers, the son of Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers, is in his seventh NBA season. Rivers is averaging 7.2 points per game on 39.2 percent shooting this season.

It’s an odd move. Without Rivers Suns will keep leaning on rookie De'Anthony Melton as a potential future backcourt mate with Booker and hope he develops into something.

Bulls’ Kris Dunn shoves Russell Westbrook, scuffle breaks out (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook has a way of getting under an opponent’s skin.

Monday night it was the Bulls’ Kris Dunn‘s turn.

While moving over in position on the strong side, Westbrook and Dunn made contact, and after the whistle blew for a foul (with the ball handler), Westbrook made a grand gesture of pushing Dunn off him. Dunn responded with an outsized shove. And then it was on.

There’s more stuff to break down here than the Zapruder film.

• Jeremi Grant of the Thunder came in and tried to go at Dunn a little, in front of Westbrook (protect the star).

Bobby Portis tried to slide Grant out of the way, but…

Robin Lopez came in and went at Grant getting in his face, so Grant basically throws Lopez into the first row.

• Which just made Lopez even madder, leading to a meme-worthy angry face.

• Bulls’ coach Jim Boylen gets Grant in a headlock and pulls him out of the situation.

Steven Adams calmly makes sure Portis is out of the picture, then walks back over to Lopez and then Adams and Lopez get separated.

• In the end, the officials handed out for technicals: Westbrook, Dunn, Grant, and Lopez.

A few minutes later, Lopez blocked a Grant shot, decided to taunt him, and that got Lopez a second technical and he was tossed (Lopez is a veteran, he has to know the officials are going to call everything tight at that point). Watch Adams pat Lopez on the back as the Bulls’ big man makes the walk to the locker room.

James Harden scores 47, including sinking dagger into Jazz (VIDEO)

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Utah and Houston met in a battle of the disappointing early season Western teams — predicted by most to finish 2/3 in the West, they came into the night 10th and 13th — and in the tight West these kinds of games matter.

So James Harden turned it up a notch.

The reigning MVP looked every bit that guys scoring 47 points and adding six rebounds, five assists, and five steals in what was a Houston win, 102-97. It was Harden that sank the dagger into Utah.

That’s four wins in a row for Houston as they try to climb out of the hole they dug themselves early this season.

Taj Gibson helps defend drive with one shoe on, one shoe in his hand (VIDEO)

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In the first quarter Monday night, Timberwolves veteran Taj Gibson was working in the post on the Kings’ Nemanja Bjelica, Gibson got the bucket but lost his shoe.

He picked it up, ran to the other end with one shoe in hand, and then defended a Bjelica drive well enough that Karl-Anthony Towns would come over and get the block on the play.

Somehow, Tom Thibodeau is going to get credit for this new defensive style.