GAME TIME: Magic 96, Celtics 94 The Celtics' Christmas gift to themselves was a joyous 86-77 victory in Orlando. Since then, however, Boston has registered a 6-9 record and has had little to celebrate.
The Magic were 22-7 before being treated like orphans on Christmas Day, and -- their latest win not withstanding -- have never really recovered, as demonstrated by their 8-9 record in the succeeding weeks.
Here's what's wrong with both teams and, on the basis of their latest post-holiday confrontation, what remedies are possible and what are not.
Ray Allen seems to be getting old in a hurry. After hitting his first seven shots, he was only 1-5. One sure sign of an aging player is that his game worsens the more he plays, which is precisely what happened to Allen over the course of his 41-minute stint.
If only Tony Allen was a (much) better shooter than he is, R. Allen's daylight could be limited to a more sensible 30 minutes per game.
Also, Ray has become strictly a catch-and-shoot scorer. He's slower with the ball than he's ever been, and managed only one driving bucket in the game at hand. Never a defensive ace, R. Allen's efforts on the uphill side of the game were far below average.
SOLUTION: Either find the Fountain of Youth, or somehow either trade Ray for a creative scorer with young legs or obtain a lively backup.
Kevin Garnett's game has been negatively impacted by his several leg injuries. Against the Magic, he was a non-factor both on offense -- where he missed a layup, a dunk and several open jumpers -- and defense. More than that, KG as a liability was made evident when Rashard Lewis beat him so easily for the winning bucket in the final seconds.
Without Garnett's mobility, intensity and go-to scoring, the Celtics are just another ball club.
SOLUTION: Nothing short of a miraculous healing-on-the-run will get Garnett back to where he used to be.
Rajon Rondo's jump shot is worse than ever. This factor allowed the Magic to go under every high screen/roll that was offered for Rondo's use. It must be noted that Rondo's incredible quickness nevertheless enabled him to turn the corner on several sequences. Even so, with Rondo's man essentially ignoring his presence on the perimeter, the Magic were easily able to double-team Paul Pierce in the pivot and along the baselines.
SOLUTION: Is there a shot-doctor in the house?
Rasheed Wallace has been profoundly inconsistent. He did show some quick-handed defense and some early shot-making, but -- like R. Allen -- he wilted in the stretch.
SOLUTION: Perhaps some electric shock therapy, voodoo, hypnotherapy and/or extended meditation retreats could reduce Wallace's highs and lows and make him a more dependable performer.
Paul Pierce doesn't get enough shots. Rondo's blighted jumpers are one reason, and perhaps PP has lost a half-step. In any event, Doc Rivers understands the necessity of getting Pierce more involved, which was why he was sent into the pivot on Boston's first possession of the game -- only to have his shot blocked by Dwight Howard. In all, Pierce suffered three blocked shots.
SOLUTION: Put Pierce in his favorite isolation situations at the top of the key only when Eddie House is on the court and Rondo is on the bench.
Boston lacks reliable scoring off the bench. This was certainly not the case against the Magic where Wallace, T. Allen, Glen Davis and Brian Scalabrine totaled 41 points. Still, none of the above can create his own shots.
SOLUTION: Make a deal, or else stand pat and hope for the best -- with the latter option being more realistic.
Boston's post-up game is nil. After setting up in the pivot, Perkins, Wallace, T. Allen, and KG scored two points each in a combined total of 12 interior shots. Compare this to the 19 points in the paint totaled by Dwight Howard alone.
SOLUTION: Somehow trick Orlando in accepting an exchange of Perkins, Wallace, T. Allen and Garnett for Howard.
There's a serious lack of big beef behind Kendrick Perkins, which is an even more serious requirement since the big fellow is so foul prone. Davis is too small to play in the middle, and Wallace is all finesse on defense.
SOLUTION: Clone Perkins ASAP.
Even though Boston's 29-14 record is still the second best in the East, the Celtics have plenty of issues that must be resolved for them to regain their championship form.
Despite the gutsy win, the Magic also have their share of major issues.
Jameer Nelson's leg miseries have slowed him considerably. Except for a mini-streak in the first quarter where he tallied 9 of his 12 points, Nelson was practically useless. His defense was atrocious, and his two assists were more than negated by his three turnovers. Which was why Jason Williams got all the meaningful minutes in the clutch.
SOLUTION: Give Nelson about three weeks off in hopes that he can fully recuperate.
Vince Carter is out of sync, takes bad shots, misses too many shots, and makes bad decisions in the clutch. Carter's shooting percentage of 39% wasn't helped by his 2-13 performance. To say nothing of his penchant for overhandling, of the several shots he forced, and of the costly turnover he committed in the waning moments of the game.
SOLUTION: Either start J.J. Redick (who's a much better fit), or try to trade Carter for Hedo Turkoglu.
Rashard Lewis has been an underachiever ever since returning from his 10-day suspension. Citing his lack of timing after he's played in 36 games is weak. However, after a mostly silent first half, Lewis came on like gangbusters, and his driving layup against KG won the game.
SOLUTION : Run more plays for him.
Dwight Howard's game has lacked the intensity he demonstrated last season. He did have a good outing against Boston -- 8-12, 10 rebounds, 4 swats, 19 points -- with his right-handed jump hooks and running hooks doing most of the damage on offense. However, the extenuating circumstance was that Boston's game plan was to play Howard one-on-one and thereby stay in touch with Orlando's 3-point shooters. And the strategy was mostly successful as the Magic shot 43.8% overall and only 6-20 from the great beyond. The difference in the game was Orlando's getting 40 free throws to Boston's 18.
SOLUTION: Have David Stern issue a decree prohibiting opponents from two-timing Howard.
The Magic rarely reverse the ball on offense. Indeed they only recorded 8 assists (to Boston's 22) and depend almost entirely on a succession of individual efforts to keep the scoreboard flashing.
SOLUTION: While Stan Van Gundy is constantly preaching ball movement, his players continue to ignore him even as their losses mounted. The team should try a punishment-and-absence-of-punishment technique -- in which each player is fitted with an electric collar with Van Gundy having a wireless detonator that can deliver a slight shock at a push of a button.
Both of these teams have plenty of work to accomplish in order for them to mount serious challenges to the Cavs in the battle for supremacy in the East.
STRAIGHT SHOOTING Who doesn't enjoy reading and fantasizing about trade rumors? And with the deadline looming in roughly three weeks 'tis the season for such ruminations.
Here are the most persistent of the several rumors making the rounds:
SHANE BATTER TO DENVER FOR J.R. SMITH
Losing Batter will hurt, but with Trevor Ariza starting to fizzle, the Rockets are in dire need of an explosive, creative scorer. Plus, there are enough stable individuals on the team for Houston to be able to deal with Smith's shenanigans.
As for Denver, anybody who can help their defense would be a huge plus. And even though Smith is capable of scoring points by the dozen, his continued immaturity has severely diminished his usefulness.
A good deal for both teams.
Why the Bulls would want to even think about trading Hinrich is beyond me. His toughness more than compensates for his less-than-stellar ball-handling and his erratic shooting. Meanwhile, the expiring contracts of both Vujacic and Morrison are much more valuable than their expiring talents. For Chicago, it's all about money -- creating sufficient cap space to compete with the Knicks for LeBron.
A steal for the Lakers.
AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE FOR YI JIANLIAN, COURTNEY LEE, CHRIS DOUGLAS-ROBERTS AND TERRENCE WILLIAMS
Stoudemire is on record as saying that he likes the Nets corps of young players, and that he'd refuse to re-sign with any team that didn't have a top-notch point guard. Hmmm ... I guess Robin Lopez and Jared Dudley aren't young enough, and Steve Nash is just another guy with the ball on a string.
One unspoken reason why Stoudemire thinks fondly of the Nets is the proximity to the Big Apple. Think of all the fun and lucrative endorsements that would fall into his lap! Also, Stoudemire knows that he'd be The Man in New Jersey.
Too bad Stoudemire's poor work ethic, disinclination to either pass or play defense, and overall adolescent attitude would still keep the Nets at or near the bottom of the league.
On the other side of the proposed equation, Yi would thrive in a running game where he could avoid body contact. Lee is another okay shooter-and-scooter, and Chris C-D likewise would be more effective in a wide-open game. Williams' game is still a mystery.
The Suns would be deeper, but appreciably smaller. For all of his faults, Stoudemire is still a force in the paint.
And I have a feeling that some of the trades that will indeed transpire will be beyond any civilian's imagination.
VOX POPULI Why do so many people believe that Steve Nash and Chris Paul are better than Deron Williams? - Juan Abreu, New York City
Williams is essentially a power point guard who lacks the flash of Nash and Paul. His creativity is also hampered by Jerry Sloan's highly disciplined offensive schemes.
While I agree that there's a certain stiffness in Williams' movements, he does play better positional defense than CP3 and better overall defense than Nash.
Although Nash is the most creative and the best shooter of the this trio, and if Nash and Paul could switch teams without either ball club suffering a letdown, neither of these guys could duplicate Williams' effectiveness within Utah's system.
The point being that a player's specific duties on his specific team have much to do with how he should be evaluated.
TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY Back when I coached the Savannah Spirits in the CBA, the play-by-play guy was Craig "Bibs" Kilborn. At the time, Bibs was trying on different professional personas, but he was always funny, intelligent, good-natured, and a surprisingly good hooper.
Anyway, the Spirits had just lost to the home-standing Pensacola Tornadoes on the Friday night before the Daytona 500 was set to start, and a good time was to be had all over the state of Florida. As a result, the fans, the security guards, the players from both teams, and the Tornadoes' public relations and administrative personnel had quickly abandoned the arena as though someone had called in a bomb threat.
The Spirits were not provided with a van since the hotel was within walking distance of the arena, but Bibs and I lingered in a common search for two things: A video of the game that was supposed to have been provided by the home team. And a copy of the game stats.
We spent at least an hour investigating every nook, cranny, and unlocked room, but came up empty. It was getting late, we had a 5 a.m. wakeup call for a 6 a.m. flight the next morning--and we both suddenly realized how ravenously hungry we were.
The nearest eateries were miles away so we'd have to walk back to the motel and try to find a Chinese or Italian restaurant that made late deliveries, an undertaking that would consume at least another hour.
"What we need to find," said Craig, "more than the game video or the stat sheet, is something to eat. And we need to find it behind THIS door!"
Lo and behold, there on the floor just behind the opened door were several boxes of second-hand pizzas. After tearing open the boxes, we discovered about ten slices of cold, but virgin pizzas replete with extra cheese, sausage and anchovies.
Without a trace of guilt or hesitation, we wolfed down everything that was even halfway edible.
The point of the story being that Craig Kilborn was an unsung prophet, and that when our stomachs are grumbling, unexpected free food is always the tastiest.
If you have a question or comment for Charley Rosen, please email email@example.com and he may respond in a future column.