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News And Notes: The Celtics Are Coming

December 13, 2012 5:10 pm EST

McHale's memories, Garnett's impact and the importance of handling the "head of the snake"

HOUSTON - Kevin McHale didn’t even try to deny it. When asked if Friday’s upcoming showdown with the Boston Celtics, the team he brilliantly represented for all 13 years of his Hall of Fame playing career, inherently possessed additional meaning on a personal level, Houston’s head coach could only confirm what any rational-minded person already realized.

Of course this game comes with an extra bit of significance attached. How could it not?

The Celtics are, after all, the club with which he won three NBA titles and a franchise that still has more than a few familiar faces known well by McHale and his family. Danny Ainge, Boston’s President of Basketball Operations and a teammate of McHale’s during the Celtics’ halcyon days during the 80s, remains one of Kevin’s closest friends. Then of course there is Kevin Garnett, the key to Boston’s revival over the course of the past half-decade, who memorably got his start in the league when McHale, then the General Manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves, made him the 5th overall selection in the 1995 NBA draft.

“There are too many memories,” said McHale of his playing days in Boston. “I had a great time. I had a great career. I always say I was blessed to be in the league at a great time and play with great players and play for a great manager in Red (Auerbach) and great coaches. It was truly a blessing.

“And Kevin’s an amazing player, always has been. His first training camp, his ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays for others at 7-feet was just mind-boggling. For a 17- or 18-year-old kid, you were like, ‘Wow, that’s just special.’ You knew that at some point he was going to be special.”

Incredibly, he still is – even at the age of 36 and in the midst of his 18th year in the NBA. Garnett averages nearly 22 points and 10 rebounds per 40 minutes with a true shooting percentage that is higher than any he’s posted since the 2007-08 season. Most impressive of all, however, is his impact on the floor. Take a look at Boston’s best lineup combinations and Garnett’s name is sure to appear in every single one. Little wonder, then, that the Celtics have been a whopping 98 points better than their opposition this season when KG is on the floor.

The upshot of this, at least from a Rockets’ perspective, is that Garnett only plays about 30 minutes per game these days since Boston’s head coach Doc Rivers is wisely doing everything he can to pace his aging superstar through the NBA’s marathon regular season. That stands as a rather significant reason why the Rockets’ game planning may well potentially focus a bit more on the player James Harden calls “the head of the snake.”

Now in his seventh NBA season, Rajon Rondo has indeed become Boston’s fountainhead on offense, representing the focal point from which nearly everything the Celtics do is derived. He is the league leader in assists per game by a long shot – the difference between him and second-best assist man Chris Paul is as great as the gap between CP3 and 25th ranked Andre Miller. Rondo is a remarkably whip smart, probing and passing wunderkind who has earned the admiration of his positional counterpart in Houston.

“He’s a different breed,” says Jeremy Lin. “He’s unique. I think he’s the best passer in the game and I don’t think it’s even close. He’s so versatile, he rebounds the heck out of the ball. He’s long and on defense creates a lot of problems. And he’s always in attack mode. He’s great drawing help and putting pressure on the defense. He’s going to be coming at me all night.”

Lin knows this from experience, having seen firsthand the kind of damage Rondo can inflict. The last time these two players faced off, the three-time All-Star posted a triple-double for the ages, compiling 18 points, 20 assists and 17 rebounds during Boston’s 115-111 overtime victory over the Knicks on March 4.

It then goes without saying then that, as with any great player, a team effort will be required to control, if not contain, Rondo, especially when the Celtics are running their half-court sets. Boston has injected more pace into their style of play this year, currently ranking 14th in that category – a notable step up from the previous three seasons that saw them rank among the bottom third of the league in pace factor. Nonetheless, the Celtics’ offense is still significantly more effective operating out of the half-court. In that setting, Synergy Sports lists them as the 6th best team in the NBA on a points per possession basis; in transition, Boston stands just 24th – numbers that should bode well for Houston given that the Rockets’ season-long bugaboo has been transition defense.

Our transition defense has struggled,” admitted Chandler Parsons. “I think we’re getting better at it, but I also believe that our half-court defense is really good, so I feel like the teams that slow it down against us, we’re more than capable of guarding and defending as long as we stay solid and don’t gamble.”

On the other end of the floor, meanwhile, Boston’s preferences and proficiencies are exactly the same, only the gap between them is even more pronounced. The Celtics, rightfully regarded since Garnett’s arrival as one of the top defensive teams in the league, can still lock opponents down in half-court settings. But get them out into the open floor and they suddenly become as generous as Scrooge after a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future. Boston ranks dead last in transition defense according to Synergy Sports; a weakness the Rockets – the league’s fastest-paced by a significant margin – will undoubtedly do their best to exploit early and often Friday night.

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This afternoon the NBA released the first returns from the balloting for the 2013 All-Star game which will take place in Houston at Toyota Center February 17. Among Rockets players, Jeremy Lin stands third in the Western Conference’s backcourt balloting, while James Harden is fourth. In the frontcourt, Houston’s Omer Asik sits seventh.

The leaders of both the Eastern and Western Conference players for the first returns of 2013 NBA All-Star Balloting presented by Sprint are as follows:

2013 NBA ALL-STAR BALLOTING PRESENTED BY SPRINT

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Frontcourt: LeBron James (Mia) 641,348; Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 573,112; Kevin Garnett (Bos) 218,246; Chris Bosh (Mia) 210,724; Tyson Chandler (NYK) 151,744; Paul Pierce (Bos) 114,735; Joakim Noah (Chi) 73,366; Josh Smith (Atl) 69,344; Andrew Bynum (Phi) 68,596; Amar’e Stoudemire (NYK) 64,266; Shane Battier (Mia) 59,419; Anderson Varejao (Cle) 57,336; Luol Deng (Chi) 48,450; Brook Lopez (BKN) 47,940; Jeff Green (Bos) 36,080.

Backcourt: Dwyane Wade (Mia) 430,925; Rajon Rondo (Bos) 382,613; Deron Williams (BKN) 211,426; Kyrie Irving (Cle) 155,989; Ray Allen (Mia) 130,016; Monta Ellis (Mil) 47,650; Raymond Felton (NYK) 37,974; Jason Terry (Bos) 36,147; Brandon Jennings (Mil) 35,610; Jrue Holiday (Phi) 35,193.

2013 NBA ALL-STAR BALLOTING PRESENTED BY SPRINT

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Frontcourt: Kevin Durant (OKC) 605,965; Dwight Howard (LAL) 434,168; Blake Griffin (LAC) 307,855; Tim Duncan (SA) 189,577; Pau Gasol (LAL) 139,868; Kevin Love (Min) 112,922; Omer Asik (Hou) 88,178; Rudy Gay (Mem) 85,279; Serge Ibaka (OKC) 68,285; LaMarcus Aldridge (Por) 66,290; Dirk Nowitzki (Dal) 63,056; Marc Gasol (Mem) 61,716; Zach Randolph (Mem) 59,916; Metta World Peace (LAL) 59,167; Anthony Davis (NO) 53,779.

Backcourt: Kobe Bryant (LAL) 639,419; Chris Paul (LAC) 353,603; Jeremy Lin (Hou) 298,319; James Harden (Hou) 196,108; Russell Westbrook (OKC) 143,437; Steve Nash (LAL) 118,073; Tony Parker (SA) 69,983; Ricky Rubio (Min) 54,744; Manu Ginobili (SA) 47,800; O.J. Mayo (Dal) 36,495.

2013 NBA All-Star Balloting presented by Sprint gives fans around the world the opportunity to vote daily for their favorite players as starters for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston. For the first time ever, NBA fans can vote via social media networks, including Facebook and Twitter, and Sina Weibo and Tencent QQ in China.

Twitter voting allows fans to tweet a vote for one player each day throughout the All-Star balloting period. The tweet must include a player’s first and last name, along with hash tag #NBABALLOT. Facebook voting will allow fans to fill out one full ballot (three frontcourt and two guards from each conference) per day, through a custom application on Facebook.

Fans can also access the ballot and vote through the NBA Game Time and NBA Game Time from Sprint applications, available on Android and iOS. NBA fans can fill out one full ballot (three frontcourt and two guards from each conference) per day, through the NBA Game Time and NBA Game Time from Sprint application, the most comprehensive app in the marketplace for NBA fans.

There are several other ways fans can cast their votes as part of this season’s all-digital program including: in 11 languages on NBA.com/ASB, through SMS voting by texting the player's last name to 6-9-6-2-2 ("MYNBA") or by visiting NBA.com/ASB on any wireless device. Fans can vote for 10 different players per day, per phone number, via SMS voting by sending 10 separate SMS messages, each one with a different player's last name. Message and data rates may apply.

After submitting their All-Star selections, fans have the ability to share them with their friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter, and encourage others to cast their ballots.

Balloting will conclude on Jan. 14, and starters will be announced live on TNT on Jan. 17, during a special one-hour pregame show at 7 p.m. ET featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith. The special will air prior to TNT’s exclusive doubleheader featuring the Los Angeles Clippers at the Minnesota Timberwolves (8 p.m. ET) and the Miami Heat at the Los Angeles Lakers (10:30 p.m. ET).