Increasingly it looks as if the Magic, not the Celtics, will be the Hawks' main competition for the No. 2 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
And that's not just because the Hawks already swept the Celtics and are 0-3 against the Magic.
The Celtics are starting to show their age as injuries pile up. Their bullying tactics fell flat in losses to the Magic and the Hawks. Then point guard Rajon Rondo hinted at chemistry issues, which seemed unfathomable when Boston won the 2008 title and nearly made the East finals last season without Kevin Garnett.
Clearly the Celtics have slipped.
"You don't feel like it's the same continuity and camaraderie in the locker room as it was the first year," Rondo said. "The first year , it was a crazy spirit in the locker room, but now it doesn't feel the same. We've got to find a way to get that back somehow, some way."
Coach Doc Rivers acknowledged that injuries have become a problem. He noted that Paul Pierce's 35-point effort at the Hawks on Jan. 29 was "his first big game" since returning from a knee infection on Jan. 6. Garnett (knee) clearly wasn't himself in that game.
"You can't hold any of them to their normal standards right now," Rivers said. "Our biggest issue with our injuries is that they're healthy now but they're not ready to play basketball at this level yet full time."
Rondo said the problems aren't just physical. He said the Celtics "have got to be a team with no agendas. We've got to play unselfish."
Celtics general manager Danny Ainge rebuked Rondo for his comments. But it's telling that Ainge also said he didn't necessarily disagree with Rondo's assessment, and Rivers said Rondo had told his teammates the same thing.
At least the Celtics avoided a catastrophe with the left foot injury Pierce suffered Monday. Reports initially said it was a fracture, but the team said it's a strain. Then again, the Celtics also downplayed Garnett's knee injury last season before he shut down his season in March.
Cavs to stand pat?
The Cavaliers appear to be cruising to the East's No. 1 seed. They already have the piece they didn't add before last season's trade deadline, center Shaquille O'Neal, and LeBron James seems to have the team around him to make a title run.
That hasn't stifled speculation that the Cavaliers are interested in acquiring Wizards forward Antawn Jamison. Cavs coach Mike Brown didn't mention Jamison by name, but he might have been alluding to him when he said the Cavs should pull the trigger if the right deal comes along.
"We have a good team," he said. "We're deep and versatile. I like the team we have. If something comes across the table, though, we'll have to do it."
After Heat star Dwyane Wade had an off-night in a loss at Milwaukee on Jan. 30, Bucks rookie Brandon Jennings called teammate Charlie Bell the "D-Wade Stopper." That's not smart under any circumstance, but especially when the teams were to play again two nights later in Miami.
Wade responded by scoring the first 11 points of the game, but the Bucks won 97-81 to keep pace with the Heat for the East's final playoff berth.
"One of the coaches said [at shootaround], 'Did you see what Brandon said? He called you a 'D-Wade Stopper',' " Bell said. "I said, 'Oh, no'. Maybe if we weren't playing them for another month, [Wade] would forget about it but coming right back at them, you knew he was going to come out aggressive. But we weathered the storm."
"We're probably some pretty bright guys standing here, but we probably weren't intellectual giants when we were 20 years old. He's a young kid, you know?"
– Bucks coach Scott Skiles to reporters regarding Jennings.
-- Information gathered by NBA beat writers was used in this report.
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