OFFSEASON

Celtics wary of potential traps against hungry teams

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Celtics wary of potential traps against hungry teams

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

SALT LAKE CITY The Celtics went into the All-Star break having completed the toughest stretch of their season. But just because the schedule has looked easier (and will continue to do so) down the stretch doesnt mean the Cs are in for an easy go of things.

Its a trend thats followed the Big Three over their three-plus seasons together, and one that was once again in effect during Monday nights win in Utah. Essentially, when the Celtics take the floor, you can throw out the records, because regardless of where the other team is, or how much they might be struggling, theyre going to have their best for Boston.

I think every night a team feels that way, said Doc Rivers after the win, so that doesnt change. Thats probably good for us in some way. I dont know what, but it has to be good for us. Every night teams want to beat us. That pushes us.

On Monday, it pushed the Celtics into the most exciting game of the second half, one that saw a Jazz team that was down all sorts of luck they were 5-15 in their last 20, recently lost their coach and even more recently lost their franchise player push Boston to the brink before skill and experience took over in a 107-102 victory.

Im always concerned if were going to meet the other teams intensity, said Rivers, because theyre always giddy about playing us and sometimes you dont feel like we return that. But somehow we find a way to win the games.

Boston will have to continue to find ways over this upcoming stretch.

Of their next 15 games, only six will come against current playoff teams, and of those six games, two are against the 26-32 Pacers (currently the Easts eighth seed). The other four would-be playoff opponents are the Sixers, Knicks, Hornets and Grizzlies, but really, thats not a huge concern. The Celtics have consistently shown they can beat and remain focused enough to beat the best this season. And even though they havent exactly struggled with the bottom of the league, theres always the worry that down the stretch as has already happened this season with losses to Cleveland, Toronto, Washington, Detroit and Charlotte theyll look past and get trapped by an inferior opponent.

But they are aware of the potential traps. They know the dangers presented by teams who appear down on their luck and come out playing like their seasons are on the line. As Paul Pierce said, Weve been in a lot of big games together, so that kind of atmosphere doesnt really faze us.

And the veteran Cs have been around long enough to know that regardless of record, theres no such thing as an automatic win in the league.

Nothings easy, said Kevin Garnett. Nothings easy in this league. Sometimes getting up out of your chair is hard. Nothings easy.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

OFFSEASON

Michael Jordan: ‘I can no longer stay silent’ on racial issues

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Michael Jordan: ‘I can no longer stay silent’ on racial issues

By Dan Feldman, NBCSports.com Pro Basketball Talk

Michael Jordan might have never said “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

But that quote has defined him politically.

Whether the perception has been fair or not, he’s clearly trying to change it.

Jordan in ESPN's The Undefeated:

As a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man, I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers. I grieve with the families who have lost loved ones, as I know their pain all too well.

I was raised by parents who taught me to love and respect people regardless of their race or background, so I am saddened and frustrated by the divisive rhetoric and racial tensions that seem to be getting worse as of late. I know this country is better than that, and I can no longer stay silent. We need to find solutions that ensure people of color receive fair and equal treatment AND that police officers – who put their lives on the line every day to protect us all – are respected and supported.

Over the past three decades I have seen up close the dedication of the law enforcement officers who protect me and my family. I have the greatest respect for their sacrifice and service. I also recognize that for many people of color their experiences with law enforcement have been different than mine. I have decided to speak out in the hope that we can come together as Americans, and through peaceful dialogue and education, achieve constructive change.

To support that effort, I am making contributions of $1 million each to two organizations, the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s newly established Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

You can read Jordan’s full statement here.

 

OFFSEASON

Durant leads U.S. to second exhibition rout, 106-57 over China

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Durant leads U.S. to second exhibition rout, 106-57 over China

LOS ANGELES - Just two games into the U.S. basketball team's pre-Olympic tour, coach Mike Krzyzewski already sees the start of something big.

Kevin Durant scored 19 points, Klay Thompson added 17 and the Americans rolled to a second straight blowout exhibition victory, 106-57 over China on Sunday night.

DeMar DeRozan scored 13 points in his hometown, and DeMarcus Cousins had 12 points and seven rebounds in the second stop on the five-city tour leading the Americans to Rio de Janeiro. The victory over an overmatched opponent was impressive, but Krzyzewski liked it more for the composed, cohesive manner in which the new teammates worked together.

"We should have won, but the way we won was excellent," Krzyzewski said. "We're really growing together as a group."

After opening their showcase tour by trouncing Argentina in Las Vegas on Friday night, the U.S. team posted another rout at a packed Staples Center. Krzyzewski is finding it difficult to disguise his early optimism, praising his team's work in their brief practice time together.

And while they're still learning their teammates' tendencies and solidifying player rotations, the U.S. team looked remarkably connected for long stretches against China, which has no current NBA players.

Durant noticed it, as did Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who kicked off the festivities by blocking a shot on China's first possession and throwing down an alley-oop dunk on the Americans' first possession.

"We've only been together a week, but it seems like we've been teammates for years," Jordan said.

Jordan scored 12 points and led a strong defensive effort with three blocks for the Americans, who held the Chinese to 30.9 percent shooting. Krzyzewski believes the American team will excel at defensive switching because of its abundance of versatile players.

"I think we're learning more about one another, and our defense was there pretty much the whole game," Krzyzewski said.

The Americans haven't lost a game since the 2006 world championships, winning 65 straight games. They're 47-1 in exhibitions since NBA stars took over the roster in 1992, going undefeated since 2004.

While LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard all declined the chance to play in Rio, the Americans who accepted the opportunity appear to be serious about winning without some of the nation's top stars.

"We're young, but we've got a bunch of seasoned pros," said Kyrie Irving, who had 10 points and four assists. "We've been on a lot of journeys, and we've crossed paths before, but now we're all coming together at the right time."

Anthony was the only holdover in the Americans' starting lineup from Las Vegas while Krzyzewski works on chemistry and coordination. He put Paul George in with the starters alongside Anthony, Jordan, Kyle Lowry and DeRozan, whose family watched from courtside.

Both teams had early shooting struggles, but the Americans took charge with impressive speed late in the first quarter.

Durant, one of the two returning American gold medalists from London, heard boos from the LA crowd during pregame introductions. He quickly found his outside stroke with 14 points and four assists in the first half, and Cousins overpowered the Chinese down low for 12 first-half points on the way to a 55-29 halftime lead.

The Chinese team's most recognizable name to North Americans is Yi Jianlian, the Milwaukee Bucks' choice with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2007 draft. He spent five seasons with four NBA teams before heading back to the Guangdong Southern Tigers.

Yi led the Chinese with 18 points. Zhou Qi, the 7-foot-2 center drafted by the Houston Rockets in the second round last month, scored two points on 1-for-6 shooting. Exciting guard Zhao Jiwei scored 14 points.

The teams meet again Tuesday in Oakland, where Durant will play in front of his new home fans for the first time since defecting from Oklahoma City to the Golden State Warriors earlier this month.

They'll also meet Aug. 6 in the opening game of Olympic competition in Brazil.