Tag:Rajon Rondo
Posted on: February 20, 2011 11:33 pm
Edited on: February 21, 2011 12:22 am
 

2011 NBA All-Star Game Superlatives

Highlights and lowlights from the 2011 NBA All-Star Game. Posted by Ben Golliver.

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The Western Conference prevailed over the Eastern Conference, 148-143, in Sunday’s 2011 NBA All-Star Game at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA. Here’s a look at some of the highlights and lowlights from the evening.

Most Valuable Player – Kobe Bryant

From the opening tip, Kobe Bryant was playing just a touch harder than everyone else in the game and clearly looked like he was gunning for his 4th NBA All-Star MVP. Truth be told, he didn’t have much competition. He had the most points, the best dunks and the home court advantage. The West’s second half force-feeding of Bryant got a quiet Staples Center crowd going and the win sealed the deal. Bryant finished with a game-high 37 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and three steals in 29 minutes. He received a standing ovation when West coach Gregg Popovich pulled him from the game with less than a minute to play. He was voted MVP immediately following the game, tying him with Bob Pettit for most career NBA All-Star Game MVPs.

Least Valuable Player – Kevin Love

Kevin Love might be the most valuable player on the Minnesota Timberwolves, but on Sunday night he was better as a towel waiver and hand clapper than as a scorer or impact rebounder. His limitations – athleticism, lift, height for his position – will never be more glaring than in an NBA All-Star Game. Love finished with two points, four rebounds and one assist in 11 minutes.

Best Moment – Kobe Bryant dunks on LeBron James in transition

As the West looked to pull away in the third quarter, LeBron James tried to shift the momentum by foolishly attempting a chasedown block from behind as Bryant coasted in for a transition dunk. 'Bron got up, but Bryant got up higher, throwing down a two-handed dunk with force to many oohs and aahs from the Lakers fans in attendance. (The dunk is pictured above.)

Worst Moment – Dwight Howard hard fouls Kevin Durant

I get that the paint has to be protected and nobody wants to be in a post, but a third quarter drive from Kevin Durant ended in a massive collision when Dwight Howard met him high off the ground with full force. The resulting crash to the ground had people gasping, but Durant shook off the hit and headed quietly to the free throw line.

Most Thoughtful -- Drake

During a halftime show cameo, rapper Drake joined Rihanna on stage for a rendition of their hit “What’s My Name?” Drake flipped up the lyrics to wish Rihanna a happy birthday as Sunday was her 23rd birthday. Rihanna was later joined by an energetic Kanye West as well, making for a memorable and well-received halftime show. 

Most Historic – Bill Russell

During a first half break in action, legendary Boston Celtics center Bill Russell was recognized for winning the President Medal of Freedom this week. Russell, who was wearing the medal, was cheered loudly by the crowd, a nice gesture considering the current Celtics were roundly booed when they entered the game.

Best Coaching Move – Doc Rivers

In the first half, East coach Doc Rivers subbed all four of his Boston Celtics – Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett-- into the game simultaneously. What better way for a coach to show his appreciation for as team-first and ego-free group of All-Stars as you’ll find?

Second Best Coaching Move – Gregg Popovich

During the fourth quarter, the Staples Center crowd started a chant of “We want Blake!” West coach Gregg Poppovich immediately obliged their demands. If Bryant is King of L.A., Griffin is surely first in line to take the throne.

Biggest Disappointment – Blake Griffin

In relative terms of course. After showing out big time in the rookie/sophomore game and making history in the Dunk Contest, Blake Griffin was a bit player on Sunday, looking a little bit tentative on offense and managing only a few moments of jaw-dropping glory. Griffin finished with eight points, five rebounds and five assists in 14 minutes.

Best Potential – Russell Westbrook

Of the first time All-Stars, few looked like they belong as much as Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, who threw down a vicious dunk in transition, yanked his defenders around with crossovers and finished one move in the paint with an acrobatic lefty hanging flip shot. He will be a staple of future All-Star Games for years to come. Westbrook finished with 12 points, five rebounds and two assists in 14 minutes.

Most Overlooked -- LeBron James

Because his night slowly built up over the course of the game, LeBron James got lost in the early Bryant flurry and wasn't the game's headliner. But his supporting performance was still jaw-dropping and thunderous, his relentless drives to the rim ending with one monster dunk and a number of trips to the free throw line. When all was said and done, he finished with a gigantic triple double: 29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in 32 minutes.  

Best Technology – Mics

The in-arena sound was excellent throughout the night, but the best touch was the on-court microphones, which allowed everyone – even those in the upper deck – to hear scattered player conversations. Guys yelling “same” when two teammates went for the same rebound, “help” when someone didn’t get back in transition and, of course, “come on” when a perceived foul wasn’t called. The sound, combined with the stage lighting, made for an unforgettable live experience.

Star Tracker

Here’s a nearly complete list of celebrities that were shown on the big screen during the game.

Gene Simmons, Justin Bieber, Stevie Wonder, P. Diddy, Spike Lee, George Lopez, Bruno Mars, John Legend, Mark Curry, Keri Hilson, Dustin Hoffman, Steven Tyler, Nick Cannon, Neyo, Warren Beatty, Julius Erving, James Worthy, David Robinson, Clyde Drexler, Darryl Dawkins, Dominique Wilkins, Rick Fox, Kanye West, Ellen Pompeo, Jack Nicholson, Derek Fisher, Shawn Stockman, Piers Morgan, Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte, Chris Tucker, Snoop Dogg, Noah Wyle, Ciara, Terrell Owens, Rihanna, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Robert Horry, Forest Whitaker.

Posted on: February 19, 2011 1:30 am
Edited on: February 19, 2011 1:37 am
 

NBA All-Star Friday pics and quips

The 2011 NBA All-Star teams addressed the media on Friday. Here's a photo gallary and round up of the best quotes. Posted by Ben Golliver.

The 2011 NBA All-Stars met with a giant group of media members at the Marriott Hotel near Staples Center on Friday, in advance of Sunday's All-Star Game. Here's a photo gallery of the biggest names plus a round up of some of their best quotes.

Miami Heat forward LeBron James on his pick for the Slam Dunk contest: "(Griffin's) explosiveness is higher than mine's ever been," James said. As quoted by NBA Fanhouse.
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Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant on calling Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh a "fake tough guy": "“I don’t regret it at all,” Durant told NBA.com. “I said it. I knew what I was doing. Nobody influenced me to say it. I knew what I was doing. At the same time, I’m not the type of person that lets emotions get to me. I was so upset about the loss. I wanted to win that game so bad."

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Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin on receiving a bounce pass alley oop from Washington Wizards point guard John Wall: "…That [bounce] pass was crazy. I thought Steph Curry could have swiped at it. But I was glad he let it go." As quoted by the LA Times.

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Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo: I'm not sure Rondo actually said anything during his media interview, as he had this same look on his face the entire time I watched him, even when the questions were in English. 

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Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh on taking a break this weekend from the fierce rivalry with the Boston Celtics: "You don’t want to be on edge all the time,” Bosh said. “You want to have time to relax. You don’t want to feel like you’re in competition with somebody every time you see them, especially when it’s supposed to be a break." As quoted by the Palm Beach Post.

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Boston Celtics guard Ray Allen on entering the three-point competition against teammate Paul Pierce: “If you ask Paul, he’ll tell you that I won it was 10 years ago and everything’s changed,’’ said Allen. “(He’ll say that) I’m the dinosaur in the game, so I don’t stand a chance. I don’t know the formula now because he won last year. It’s just shooting. The formula is to settle in during the week and make sure you’re not too tired or overwhelmed or exhausted so when you get to that, your body is in a good place.’’ As quoted by PatriotLedger.com.

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Orlando Magic Center Dwight Howard on what he would do during a lockout: "“I’ll be a pizza delivery man,” he said. “I think I’d be good at that job. Just call me and I’ll bring the pizzas to your house. Or the pool guy. Most people like pool guys.” As quoted by the L.A. Times and asked by The Basketball Jones.

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San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan on his disappointment that his teammate Tony Parker was left off the All-Star team: "I wish Tony could be here. He deserves to be here, he’s had an excellent year so far. I think if he can grow a couple of inches the next couple of days, I’d trade [spots] with him."

tim-duncan
Posted on: February 17, 2011 11:29 pm
Edited on: February 17, 2011 11:30 pm
 

Derrick Rose makes a statement against Spurs

Derrick Rose takes over to beat Spurs with 42 points and 8 assists. What is it that makes him not only so good, but different from the other elite point guards?
Posted by Matt Moore

When Derrick Rose said that this game was a "statement" game, he apparently had more than one thing he wanted to make a statement about. 

"The Bulls are good enough to beat the Spurs." Check. 

"The Bulls are a legit Eastern Conference contender." Check.

"The Bulls will rise to the challenge when facing the great teams." Check.

"Derrick Rose is an MVP candidate." Check.

The Chicago Bulls have improved in a lot of ways this season, particularly defensively. They're a more complete team, have better perimeter scoring, better interior defense, a legit post presence in Carlos Boozer, and a better knowledge of how to execute in key situations. But Thursday night the biggest reason for their improvement was clear: Rose. Rose dropped 18-28 from the field, lobbed 8 assists, grabbed 5 rebounds and had but one turnover against the Spurs, a virtuoso performance which encapsulated his best attributes. 

There are so many great point guards in this league and everyone has their own favorite. Recently Royce Young argued that Chris Paul was still rule of the roost, but that Rose was on his way. However, tonight's performance served as an excellent example of what makes Rose so transcendent. He's blessed with a point guard's skills and a small forward's ability. His scoring ability is elite, there's no question of that now. Typcially this season, Rose's three-point shot has been on and his mid-range jumper has struggled. Against the Spurs it was the opposite, as he went 0-4 from the perimeter but nailed all but two of 13 jumpers inside the arc. That range forces the defense to step up, at which point, said defense is ruined, along with said defense's mother, face, and hope for the future. Rose showcased a floater that is as good as any player in the league, often off jump-stops or pump fakes, creating and-one opportunities. 

Rose's eight assists, though, don't come like Rajon Rondo's twisting, turning exploitations, or Chris Paul's seamless extensions of the offense like it was a part of him. Instead, Rose continually finds assists where there are seemingly none to be found. He is often credited with things described as "winning plays" and "big-time plays." In reality, this is a reflection of his ability to convert on low-percentage situations.  Against the Spurs, Rose swung passes over triple-teams from defenders trying to stop the gushing wound caused by Rose's dribble penetration. The result are wide open threes. Whereas Rondo and even Paul to an extent, create scoring opportunities with the threat of their passing ability, Rose creates passing abilities through the onslaught of his offensive repertoire. Essentially, he gouges you until you try and protect the wound, then he hurts you where you're revealed yourself. 

For the Spurs, it's a downer going into the All-Star break, especially because of the defensive implications. For a while Gregg Popovich has been harping on the defense, and in a situation against an amped opponent who was willing to work even on the last game before the vacation, they found those problems amplified. The Spurs are a fantastic team with just ten losses. But if they don't improve their defensive ability, it will all be for naught. 

And for Chicago? Luol Deng played great. Carlos Boozer was solid when he wasn't getting blocked by Tim Duncan, and the Bulls' wings did a nice job on Manu Ginobili. But the statement in reality is fairly simple. 

Derrick Rose hasn't just arrived. He's taking the next step, and that's what should leave the rest of the league petrified. 
Posted on: February 14, 2011 6:15 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2011 6:53 pm
 

Pretenders or Contenders? The MVP candidates

As we head into the All-Star break, who's are the pretenders and contenders for the NBA MVP award?
Posted by Matt Moore



Before we get to our list of MVP contenders and pretenders, check out Adam Aizer, Greg Urbano, and Ben Golliver as they discuss the most underrated and overrated teams in the NBA and more in our weekly CBSSports.com NBA podcast:  



This season likely features the closest MVP battle we've seen since 2006. The list of worthy candidates is phenomenally long this season, and every candidate has a strong resume and clear question marks which is why this will end up as a hotly contested race down the stretch. 

To be honest, I'm loathe to write this. Anyone whose candidate is excluded will be outraged, but not as much as those listed in the pretenders category. It seems like a direct slap in the face, as if not saying a player is among the very most elite, just the generally elite, is a huge insult. It's understandable. Everyone loves their guy. Worse will be those outraged by my inclusion of certain contenders. Just as some are passionately certain that "their guy" is the MVP, there are candidates that just rub people the wrong way. Some are Chris Paul fans who can't understand all the fuss about Derrick Rose when CP3 has been around for years. Others are livid over Amar'e Stoudemire being in the conversation when Dwight Howard is a force at both  ends of the floor.

The answer to all this? If I had my way, we'd have a ten-way split for Co-MVP. It would be like that episode of "Oprah." "You get an MVP! And you get an MVP! And you get an MVP!" only instead of screaming middle-age stay-at-home moms it would be shrugging 25-30 year old basketball players who don't understand why you're giving them a car when they make over $16 million a year in most cases. The point is that all of these players deserve tremendous respect just for being included in the conversation. And it's entirely possible that some of them really do deserve to win it, or don't deserve to be considered, were there some sort of objective measure. But there isn't. It's a purposefully vague award voted on often by people who have not seen anything close to the entire body of work of all the acceptable candidates. The following is merely meant to be a roadmap based on the likelihood of the voters, featuring the common compliments and detractions for each.

To sum up: don't shoot the messenger. We're all winners in my book.

Contenders

LeBron James: If there's a favorite, it's got to be LeBron.  The reigning two-time MVP is averaging 26 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. He's the best player on the second best team in the East, and has shown the abilities that still consistently cause objective observers to label him as the best overall basketball player on the planet. His candidacy continues to improve each month, as he averaged 30 points in January, and is averaging 8.6 rebounds since the start of 2011.  Furthermore, Cleveland's horrific turn lingers in many eyes, despite the injuries to Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao wreaking havoc on Byron Scott's lineups. It's hard to argue against James when his former team went from the best regular season record in the East to arguably the worst team in the league. But there are reasons why James may not get the vote. His numbers, particularly his assists, are down, despite having his superstar teammates. We expected the scoring drop when put alongside Bosh and Wade, but he's having a harder time creating for teammates despite having far superior ones. His efficiency is also down considerably, with a 26.7 PER this season down from 31.1 last year. He may also suffer from the  "Jordan effect" where writers get tired of votiing for the same guy over and over again. But the biggest reason, sigh, is of course his image. No one wants to reward James' preseason preening, and considering the enormous expectations put on the Heat, it's hard to reward James when he hasn't blown everyone away despite the All-Star teammates he shares the floor with. 

Chris Paul: Paul has been the most efficient point guard on the planet this season. While Rajon Rondo leads in Assists, Weighted Assists, and Assist percentage, Paul isn't far behind in any of those categories, and has a lower turnover ratio. He's also better offensively. His (near) return to health has taken the Hornets from a lottery team to a team looking at homecourt advantage in the first round in a tough Western Conference, and may have single-handedly pushed the attendance where it needed to be to avoid the lease agreement issue. Paul is still strongly considered by many to be the clear-cut best point guard in the league, in an era where that position is filled to the brim with outstanding talent. The knocks on Paul seem like nit-picking. He simply hasn't been dominant in closing stretches of close games. Too often he defers, and not in the "pass to the open man off the double" way. More in the "here, David West, here's the ball, I'll be in the corner, good luck" way. He seems to be struggling to regain his explosivness that he showcased in his near-MVP season in 2008, and has not trusted his floater enough. Paul has had a phenomenal season and is definitely a contender, but the voters will need more in order for him to walk away with the trophy. 

Dwight Howard: Oh, Dwight. If Howard were to play every game on the offensive end as he did Sunday against the Lakers, the award could be thrown at his feet during All-Star Weekend. Howard is an extremely divisive figure in the conversation, arguably even moreso than LeBron. LeBron's detractors don't like him, and have good reason not to like him, but finding fault with his game is pretty tough. With Howard, finding fault with his game isn't difficult, but neither is finding evidence that he's the single most impactful player on both ends of the floor. He's still the monstrous defensive presence he has been for the past three seasons, even if Kevin Love's astronomical rebound rate has stolen the top spot statistically. Howard is still the most dominant rebounding force in the league. He's able to influence play mechanics and shot selection, he rotates, blocks shots into the ninth row, has terrific awareness and is the biggest reason why the Magic are still hovering around homecourt advantage in the first round. Howard has also featured a more expanded offensive repertoire, showing off a mid-range jumpshot to go with his array of dunks. He leads all centers who play 30 minutes a night in FG% at the rim , at 75.5%. So what's the hold back? In short, if you absolutely need a bucket in the fourth quarter of a contested game, Howard is still not the best place to go. With all the improvements made to his offensive game, he's actually shooting his second worst free throw percentage of his career. That alone wouldn't take him out of the running, but with the Magic having made several trades to improve the squad and still struggling, Howard isn't supporting them enough on his own to make him the favorite in some eyes. His footwork remains inconsistent, his offensive repertoire still the basketball equivalent of the menu at a baked potato restaurant. You can get it loaded with whatever you want, it's still a baked potato. Howard may be the candidate who suffers most from perceptions rather than facts about his game, and that's saying something with LeBron James in the conversation. 

Derrick Rose: If Howard is most often punished based on feeling rather than fact, then Rose is his mirror image. The point guard who's not an elite passer, the scorer who's not the model of efficiency, but the player who "wows" voters night in and night out. Rose has shown a phenomenal ability to take over games, particularly in the fourth quarter, and with extended injuries to both Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, the Bulls' second and third best players respectively, it's been Rose that has pushed the Bulls to be in contention not only for homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference, but possibly a top-two seed. He's improved in nearly every aspect of his game, from defense, to scoring, to creating contact and getting to the line, which was a concern early this season. He's quite simply been a phenomenal basketball player, even though he's not necessarily dominant in any one area. Rose has found a way to make the necessary play more times than not when the Bulls have a chance to win the game, and his athleticism and explosiveness simply blows you away. All that said, he's a third-year player on a third-place team who's only shooting 45% from the field. Rose being considered a candidate is either a testament to the immeasurable impact his play has on the game, or a case of big-market bias combined with a sentimental affection for a outstanding highlights insteads of empirical evidence. 

Pretenders:

Kobe Bryant: Kobe Bryant doesn't care about this award. Could not give a flip. He cares about the sixth ring, catching Michael, cementing his legacy, sending Phil out on top (or perhaps more importantly, not failing him), and doing it his way. Which means lots and lots and lots of shots. Whether you agree or disagree that Kobe's the source of the occasional Lakers' stalling mid-flight offensively, to argue that Bryant doesn't like to shoot is beyond reason. He leads all players in FGA per 40 minutes . All players. Even the end-of-benchers who like to toss it up so as to say they made a few buckets in an NBA game before heading off to the D-League again take fewer shots than Bryant. And that's acceptable. He's the singular best offensive talent of his time. So he'll continue doing what he wants, and scoring, and winning more often than not, in part because he had the unimitigated gall to demand to play for the Lakers before the draft, and has been rewarded with teams of unfathomable talent and a Hall of Fame coach, and in part because he may very well be the second best ball player to ever lace up shoes on an NBA floor. So for Bryant to be considered a pretender should not be taken as some sort of grand insult the way so many consider his exclusion of the award from 2005 to 2007 to be. He's older, he doesn't shoot as well, he doesn't have to try as hard, and Pau Gasol is just as much a part of what makes the Lakers great. Bryant is a phenomenal player on the West's second best team, as well as the star of the defending NBA champions who many expect to repeat. None of this makes him worthy of the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award, just as none fo the accomplishments of the contenders listed above make their legacies in any way comparable to what Bryant has accomplished. Bryant's past a silly regular season award. He's playing for points in the game of immortality. 

Dirk Nowitzki: If physically pains me to place Nowitzki here. Did you know that Nowitzki is shooting 51% from 16-23 feet ? Think about that.  As the number one offensive threat for a Western Conference contender, in the most difficult place to shoot from (three-pointers are often set, catch and shoot opportunities with reasonable space from a closing defender), Nowitzki makes more than he misses. That's incredible. What will really shock you, however, is Dirk's defense. He's allowing just 29% FG shooting in the post. He's certainly not defending top-level post players, but that's still incredible for a guy often criticized for his defense. Same with isolation, where he's allowing just 36.4% shooting. (Numbers courtesy of Synergy Sports.) All this and he's helped lead the Mavericks to the second best record in the Western Conference. So what's the knock on Dirk? Nowitzki suffers more than any other candidate from the "What have you done for me lately?"card. Nowitzki has already won the award, his team isn't blowing everyone away in their conference, and they're still not taken seriously as a title contender. It's impossible to find an argument with Dirk's play, it's that once again, he doesn't seem to "feel" like an MVP. 

Amar'e Stoudemire: Stoudemire energized New York in the first quarter of the season and was blasting his way through the Eastern Conference. It looked every bit like Stoudemire was going to be a legit MVP candidate this year. But the Knicks have fallen off, and as a result, Stoudemire's contributions no longer seem as sterling. Yet he's still averaging 26 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game, at or near career highs, and certainly is the most valuable player on a Knicks team that's a lock for the playoffs, even as homecourt slips further and further away. The biggest knock on Stoudemire? Defense. His defensive numbers are average in the post according to Synergy Sports, and there's a widely held perception that he's a terrible defender. It's probably an exaggeration, but without any signature wins over the top defensive teams outside Chicago (ironically the top defensive team), Stoudemire will be hard pressed to get the vote, even with the New York advantage. 

Kevin Garnett: Can a player average only 15 points and win MVP? Probably not, which is why Garnett will likely fail to get many, if any votes for MVP. But he deserves to at least be in the discussion. Garnett shoots 74% at the rim this season, and 46% from 16-23 feet . He's the unquestioned defensive leader of the most trusted defensive unit in the league, and his work has somehow been even better than usual this year. His explosiveness has returned after last year's recovery from a knee injury, and he has been dominant at both ends of the floor at times. If LeBron James is excused from statistical dips because of his teammates, how about Garnett who plays on the deepest team in the league? Not to mention, how many other candidates can hit someone in the testicles and not get suspended for it? Garnett means more to the best team in the East than any other player. That alone should get him in the room for this discussion. But he's still not individually brilliant enough to warrant the award. The Celtics without Garnett could conceivably still be a top three team in the East. Thats' how stacked they are. And much like Bryant, Garnett's presence isn't most felt in the regular season, but in April, when the toughest part of the season comes into play.
Posted on: February 13, 2011 11:43 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2011 12:32 am
 

Game Changer: Is there any hope for the Heat?

The Miami Heat lose to the Boston Celtics for the third straight time this season, Rajon Rondo d's up on LeBron James, Blake Griffin throws down another alley oop, LaMarcus Aldridge sets a franchise record, the Birdman does some hanging out on the rim, and plenty more. Posted by Ben Golliver.

Each game is made up of elements that help formulate the outcome. Monday through Friday, we'll bring you the elements from the previous night's games in our own specialized version of the game recaps. It's not everything that happened, but it's an insight into what led to the results you'll see in the box scores. This is the Game Changer.  

THE BIG ONE: IS THERE HOPE FOR THE MIAMI HEAT?

Earlier Sunday, I took a look at how the Celtics' 85-82 victory over the Heat had a familiar feel to it, the game playing out as a "same old story" remix of Boston's first two victories against Miami the season. 

As much as we all might hope, the Heat aren't going to just fold up shop and cancel the rest of the season because the Celtics continue to stand in their way as a seemingly insurmountable opponent. Instead, Miami will work the spin cycle, focusing on Sunday's positive developments as they head into the All-Star break with the second best record in the East.

Despite their nationally-televised, much-hyped loss on Sunday, there were at least three positive takeaways for the Heat. 

First, Chris Bosh got the best of his match-up with Kevin Garnett - both from a scoring and rebounding perspective - a critical component if Miami ever hopes to top Boston. Simply put, each of Miami's Big 3 must play better than their counterpart to overcome Rajon Rondo and the chemistry advantage that Boston possesses because they've played together for so long. Bosh's 24 and 10 to Garnett's 19 and seven earned a respectful backslap from KG as the players left the court. Bosh has rightfully drawn criticism this season for his softness and inability to exert his influence on games this season, but neither of those flaws was an issue tonight, as Bosh stuck a big jumper down the stretch and never flinched from the moment.

Second, the Heat can be proud that they out-rebounded the Celtics while shooting virtually the same percentage from the field. There's a mental hurdle in going against a team with as many big, physical players as Boston, and Miami overcame that nicely, getting big boarding nights from forwards LeBron James (seven rebounds) and Mike Miller (nine rebounds). On the other side, Boston's frontcourt players combined for just five offensive rebounds. Given the makeshift nature of Miami's frontline, these numbers will serve as nice ammunition for the Heat coaching staff if and when a playoff match-up needs to be discussed in the locker room. "Look, guys, you've rebounded with them before, you can do it again." At the very least, we learned on Sunday that the perception of Boston's dominance inside is more pronounced than its actually dominance. (At least as long as Shaquille O'Neal remains out.)

Finally, the Heat can take solace in the fact that Dwyane Wade had a real stinker, scoring just 16 points on 17 shots and committing six turnovers. While Paul Pierce's historically awful shooting night drew most of the headlines, an average night from Wade would have certainly meant a Miami road win. If Wade shows up, things look a lot different. Miami likely would have taken home its  ninth straight victory and would be sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings. Over the course of a seven-game series, even against Boston, Wade isn't likely to repeat a performance like that more than once. 

Even given all of that, though, you would still much rather be the Celtics waking up on Monday morning rather than the Heat. All the confidence and mental advantages are yours. All the questions and needs for adjustments are Miami's.   

GO-GO-GADGET LINES OF THE NIGHT:

Rajon Rondo: 11 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists on five of 10 shooting in 43 minutes in a Boston Celtics home win over the Miami Heat.

Dwight Howard:  31 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, three blocks, 13 of 16 shooting in 39 minutes in an Orlando Magic home win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

LaMarcus Aldridge:  36 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals, one block on 12 of 17 shooting in 41 minutes in a Portland Trail Blazers road win over the Detroit Pistons.

Steve Nash:  22 points, 18 assists and two rebounds on eight of 17 shooting in 37 minutes in a Phoenix Suns home loss to the Sacramento Kings.

DON'T MISS:

SNAPSHOT:

The Boston Celtics needed to turn things up in the second half against the Miami Heat, and point guard Rajon Rondo led the charge, harrassing Heat forward LeBron James all over the court. Incredible snapshot of two All-Stars sizing each other up. 

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Western Conference Playoff Chase

Don't look now, but the Western Conference standings are getting pretty insane. Just five games separate the New Orleans Hornets, the fifth seed, and the Phoenix Suns, the 10th seed. To make things even more intriguing, the two biggest wildcards - the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz - are tied for the sixth seed, with their division rivals, the Portland Trail Blazers just a half-game behind. The Nuggets are still in no-man's-land with Carmelo Anthony, the Jazz are dealing with their first coaching change since the Reagan Administration, and the Blazers are, improbably, on a four-game winning streak and expecting to get center Marcus Camby and guard Brandon Roy back within the next few weeks. In other words, we've officially reached the "everyone checks the standings first thing in the morning" stage of the season, and the All-Star break isn't until next weekend.

The real question: Does this flattening affect anyone's strategy in advance of the trade deadline? 

It seems to me like more teams than ever rightly feel like they have legit playoff hopes. If that's true, it's reasonable to expect that the sellers will dry up a bit as the teams in the Western Conference's vast second tier would be more inclined not to make a rotation-changing deal, preferring instead to hold down the fort as is. 

Additionally, this group is a clear cut below the West's top four, which could also mean that they won't be inclined to make a bold "win now" type move either. Melo obviously remains the biggest wild card, but, at this point, I'm leaning towards this being a relatively quiet trade season out West. The fringe teams would seem to have more motivation to stick with the status quo rather than going for it or blowing it up.  

HIGHLIGHT REEL:

This is just a Blake Griffin dunk every single day, you know how I do it. Here Griffin catches the alley oop lob pass from Baron Davis and throws it down two-handed in transition against the Raptors in Toronto. Jiminy.


WHIMSY:

Colorful Denver Nuggets big man Chris Andersen scowls at the rim during a dunk attempt.

birdman-dunk

FINAL THOUGHT:

The Portland Trail Blazers announced on Sunday that power forward LaMarcus Aldridge became the first player in franchise history to score 36 or more points in three consecutive games after he scored 36 to lead the Blazers past the Pistons in Detroit. Given that Clyde Drexler, Bill Walton, Brandon Roy, Rasheed Wallace, Zach Randolph and others all donned the red and black, that's an amazing accomplishment. 
Posted on: February 13, 2011 1:46 am
 

10 Keys to Celtics vs. Heat III

Five keys for Boston and Miami as the Celtics and Heat meet Sunday for the third time this season. Is this a must-win for Miami, even in February?
Posted by Matt Moore




Allright, Miami. We're going to give you one last shot at this to show us you have anything interesting to bring to the matchup against the Boston Celtics before we start tracing over our penciling in of the Celtics for the Finals. In the first two meetings between the two best teams in the East, the Heat were dispatched. Both games featured moderately significant leads for the Celtics late, runs by Miami to keep the television audience slightly interested, then workman-like elimination stretches from Boston to close things out. If the Heat want to showcase anything towards the notion that they are anything more than a cupcake-devouring regular season team, this is the time to prove it. Their showcase wins over the Lakers and Magic in the past month and a half will mean very little if the Celtics were to run up a 3-0 season series advantage.

There's no such thing as a must-win game for an NBA title contender in February. But this is about as close as it gets. 
And with that, here are five keys to Boston and five keys to Miami for Sunday's afternoon delight between the Heat and the Celtics. 

Boston Celtics



1. A Pointed Exchange

Rajon Rondo isn't just the best point guard on the floor, he is arguably the third best overall player in this matchup.  He's certainly made a strong case for that element in the first two games against Miami. Rondo has 33 assists and just six turnovers against the Heat this season. I'll let you soak in that stew of incredible for a moment. 33 assists. Six turnovers. Even more incredible, though, is that his games could have been a lot stronger offensively. Rondo is just 5-17 from the field in this season series, for a grand total of 12 points. Rondo's clearly shown he doesn't have to score in order to be a huge advantage for the Celtics, but if he brings his brilliant playmaking and finds his mid-range or floater falling? This thing could get out of hand before half. Matched up against either Mario Chalmers or Carlos Arroyo, Rondo is able to out-class whatever the Heat want to throw at him, and he's even got the speed and ability to take Dwyane Wade or LeBron James to the cleaners. The big key for Rondo is to stay aggressive and focused. When he's zoned in, the Heat simply don't have the personnel to counter him. 

2. Baby You Got What I Need

Glen Davis has never lost a regular season game to the Miami Heat. True story. He's 9-0 all-time agains the Heat, and while some of that is an anomaly, some of it isn't, and he's been a big factor this year against the Triad. Davis is the unofficial league-leader in charges-drawn and has made some big ones against LeBron James. The Celtics' ability to close on James not at the point of attack on the perimeter, where his size and athleticism allows him to either bust the double or pass to a cutter, but at the bucket, has frustrated James time and time again throughout the years. While Davis' blubbery reverse, tilt-a-whirl mid-range and fiercely wild, yet consistent putbacks are helpful, it's this awareness on the defensive end and his willingness to sacrifice his body to an oncoming L-Train that really makes him a difference-maker in this matchup. With a shortened bench likely for this game, expect Davis' presence to be felt early and often. 

3. In Your Head, Zombie

Kevin Garnett's cute little antics can get in the heads of some, but he hasn't really whipped out the special effects in the first two meetings. His game has raged from strong but shakey in the first meeting (10 points, 7 turnovers) to strong (16 points, 13 rebounds) in the second. But he hasn't really had any key moment of conflict, which is surprising, considering how much of a target you'd expect Chris Bosh to be for Garnett's jawing and snapping. Garnett did shut down Bosh in the season opener, but he recovered for the second. You'd think that given how emotional Garnett has played lately, this game would be ripe for a fake-fight from the former MVP. At the same time, Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen need to make sure Garnett doesn't go too far. He's been pressing his luck further and further with officials lately, and they can't afford to lose him to an ejection, not with how short the bench is. Speaking of... 

4. Protect and Serve

The biggest key for this game for Boston? Don't get injured. That's the really important message. They've already won two impressive games against Miami, they're short-handed, it's February, they're in a bit of a slump, and it's an early-start game. While a nice, comfortable victory on the back of great shooting would be rewarding, and sending an even more dominant message would do the Celtics good, the goal for the Celtics now is to get to the Finals healthy. 

5. The Kobe Treatment on LeBron

The same formula that worked in the first two games should work again. Let James score all the points he wants, but make life a living hell for Dwyane Wade and the Heat shooters. Do that, and they become as one-dimensional as the Cavs were. It's only when the cylinders get going on all three members of the Triad and then the perimeter rotations start freeing up threes for the lesser guards that the Heat become a really effective unit. As long as James is being tempted into ISO situations, the Celtics can close, harass, and limit James' domination. It's fine if he gets ridiculous numbers as long as the rest of the team struggles. Worked before, it'll work again. 

Miami Heat



1. Try, Try, Try Again

It sounds simple, but if the Heat want to walk away with their first win over the Green since forming this little group of Super-Friends, they need to give more effort. Boston's defensive unit is yet again the most feared in the league and a huge reason for why the Heat's focus seemed to go in a thresher in October and November's games.  However, there was a clear lackadasical element to the Heat's body language in those games that seemed to indicate they simply weren't dialed into these games. Against the Celtics! It should have been Boston who wasn't committed to winning a meaningless regular season game, acting as if they didn't care about such games. But instead Boston brought its A-Game and the Heat seemed content to lay down and watch them take it from them. Needless to say, the same kind of intensity from Miami on Sunday will ruin any chance they have. The Celtics are tired, worn-down, injured, and know this game means nothing for them. Yet they will still bring their focus and be ready to capitalize unless the Heat give them a reason to quit. 

2. The D-Rated Superstar

Dwyane Wade has been terrible against Boston this season. He has shot 6-28 from the field for 21 points, with 9 assists and 12 turnovers. Those are "OMG" bad numbers. Wade is an elite player and it's his ability to finish at the rim that can rack up fouls for Boston and force them to bring doubles. If they're able to simply rotate like they usually do, the Heat shooters will face contested shots, which will pile up the misses. James has brought it the first two games, it's time for Wade to step up and join him. There's no reason to think they can count on the rest of the Heat to step up against the Celtics so the two best players on the team have to set the example. Wade has had a great season, but really been shut down against Boston. That can't happen Sunday or the Heat is sunk.

3. Do-Run-Run-Run, Do-Run-Run

The Celtics don't like running teams. They still usually beat them, but they have issues with them, as we've pointed out in the past. A shortened rotation due to injury is only going to exacerbate that problem. Likewise, the Heat are at their best when they're out in transition, using the talents of James, Wade, and Bosh in space. Against the Celtics this season, the Heat actually have fewer transition plays than the Celtics, (27-25, via Synergy Sports). The Celtics do a good job of getting back immediately in transition and attacking the ball to stop it. The Heat need to be insistent in pushing, and trusting that their athletes can make things happen. If they turn the ball over, so be it. But a higher pace game favors the Heat, even as the two teams are even in pace this season at 92.8

4. Desperately Seeking X

The Heat need an X-Factor. Someone to step up and put some points on the board, make a few defensive plays, create some steals, something. Udonis Haslem was that player in the first two games, but since he's out, someone will have to step up. If either Mario Chalmers, James Jones, or Eddie House can make a significant set of plays to cap off Heat runs, they may be able to get some damage done against Boston. They'll have their opportunities. The Celtics won't over-double and will run off three-pointers, but they're also unlikely to kill themselves to contest shots they're willing to live with. The Heat have to be ready to step up in those situations. It won't take a cohesive effort from all of the role players, but someone is going to need to give them something surprising. 

5. A Step in the Right Direction

The Heat can't convert anyone about their prospects in the playoffs on Sunday. Not really. But they can make a good step in that direction. The Celtics will brush off a loss by saying they'll get it done when it counts. Miami does not have that luxury, but they still need to get some level of confidence. A loss means they were beaten in three straight by Boston, with their last matchup coming in rest-up time just days before the playoffs in April. This is their best and last shot to show they can go toe to toe with Boston, even if it's an injured Celtics team. They need to get outside the hype they brought with them this season, the injuries they've dealt with, and the newness of this team. If they want to feel confident in any way, shape, or form for a possible Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the Boston Celtics, they have to start by winning in Boston Sunday.
Posted on: February 11, 2011 1:34 am
 

Lakers play their part as the drama continues

Lakers take a big game from banged-up Celtics, prove the worth of Bynum. 
Posted by Matt Moore

Come now, Boston. You didn't think it would be that easy, did you?

The Lakers did their part in furthering the drama towards the inevitable Thursday night, downing the Celtics 92-86 in Boston. Each team has a win on one another's home floor. Each has a championship over the other since 2008. Each features aging superstars trying to pull one more run out of the struggle of injury and the grind of the 82-game season. In Los Angeles, it was Celtics execution overcoming the one-man Kobe show. In Boston? It was Bryant, looping baseline, drawing the double and dropping off to Pau Gasol, then working Ray Allen over like he was some rook on his way to the dagger elbow jumper. 

Even again. 

And now it's the Celtics left questioning themselves. Where is the offense going to come from? Why is Paul Pierce having so many turnovers in the clutch this year? How on Earth are the Celtics, even when Shaq and/or Jermaine O'Neal get back going to counter the Lakers' size, should they choose not to dish Andrew Bynum for Carmelo Anthony

And for the Lakers, the ultimate case of reassurance. They weren't just lost, just bored. They weren't out of sync, just lying in wait. This win, even over a banged-up Celtics squad proves that the concerns about the Lakers were unfounded. They're fine. They're focused, when they need to be, and they will be there in June, waiting for Boston to survive the Eastern Conference gauntlet. 

If Jim Buss was searching for some sign to prompt him to move Bynum in the Melo deal, it did not come tonight. Instead he found a team that simply is taller, longer, and more obstructive to the opponents' efforts in the paint with Bynum, and that is their biggest strength. Kobe Bryant is a killer, there's no question about that. But the Lakers thrive on being able to capture offensive rebound after offensive rebound, like the one that lead to the reset and Kobe-elbow-jumper to end it. The highlight reel will show Bryant breaking Allen's ankles (while Rajon Rondo simply watches for some reason, instead of comitting to the help-and-recover).  But the play was set up by the Lakers size providing them an offensive rebound. 

Sure, there was some voodoo going on with L.A., the usual Phil Jackson mind games. But the aesthetics are just a backdrop to the cold hard truth. The Celtics have to try and overcome physical advantage with mental effort. And while a victory of that sort may feel better than the alternative, it is because it is so much more difficult. Shaq may have made an impact. J.O. may have made an impact. But we saw Bynum make an impact, and we saw a Celtics team that just ran out of steam, much like it did in Game 7. 

The first game is not to be forgotten, however. In truth, these two teams are simply evenly matched. They are the best two teams, top to bottom, in the NBA. And once again, with their next meeting likely in June, these two are right back where they started. Even. 
Posted on: February 3, 2011 4:53 pm
Edited on: February 3, 2011 7:02 pm
 

NBA All-Star Reserves: West and East rosters

A constantly updated list of the 2011 NBA All-Star reserves. Posted by Matt Moore and Ben Golliver.

As the NBA All-Star reserves are inevitably leaked in advance of the 7 p.m. ET announcement, we'll have updates for you. The full rosters have now been announced.

Update 7:00 p.m. EST: Yao Ming's Replacement

Finally, Yahoo! Sports also notes that Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash is the favorite to replace Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, who is injured. 

Update 6:49 p.m. EST: Western Conference Reserves

Yahoo! Sports reports the following players have been named to the Western Conference All-Star team as reserves: 

Update 6:45 p.m. EST: Eastern Conference Reserves

Yahoo! Sports reports the following players have been named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team as reservers: 

Update 6:05 p.m. EST: Kevin Garnett

Like Gasol, we found that Garnett has a page built, along with previously leaked Rajon Rondo. 

Garnett will make it at least two Celtics reserves, with more on the way most likely. Garnett's been playing at a near MVP level with the impact he has on both sides of the floor. He's been his usual dominant, crazy self on defense, and his inside post moves have returned in addition to his mid-range jumper on the pick and pop. He's arguably the biggest reason the Celts have laid waste to the league this season. 

No other prospective reserves have such pages built, as of yet. These definitely don't confirm that they've been selected as All-Stars, but considering the three posted now are locks, they look pretty legit. We'll keep you posted. 

Update 6:01 p.m. EST: Pau Gasol


Someone is either running live screen tests or they jumped the gun. Hoopshype discovered that Pau Gasol has a page built for him as an All-Star. 

Gasol's a no-brainer, as he's arguably the best player on the Lakers, and that's saying something considering, you know, Kobe Bryant. Either way he's the biggest reason for the Lakers' past two championships outside Bryant, and is widely considered to be the best active big man in the game. Odds are good he might wind up replacing Yao Ming as a starter at center, despite his power forward designation.

Rajon Rondo


Yahoo! Sports reports that Rondo will be named an All-Star Reserve. The word you're looking for is ... "duh."  Rondo leads the league in assists per game and Assist Ratio (percentage of possessions ending in an assist). He's the starting point guard for the best team in the Eastern Conference and he does things like this:



Whether the Celtics send three or four , we all agreed, Rondo needs to go. He's the obvious choice. 
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com