Sunday, February 11, 2007

Duke & the Celtics: 2 teams coming apart at the seams

-Celtics drop 18th straight, 107-105 to Minnesota

My favorite NBA and college team are both currently in the middle of major losing streaks that have tarnished their images, depressed their fans and elated the haters of the storied programs.

The Boston Celtics losing streak has now reached 18 games and all I can think of is it's a damn good thing Red isn't around to witness the ugliness taking place on Causeway Street these days.

Although the team has been competitive during The Streak (yes, it's reached capital letter status), this loss was the tightest and toughest to take of the previous 17. That's because Boston not only lead the game late, 105-101 with 3:20 to go and 107-105 with 1:17 left, but threw it away down the stretch and lost on a game-winning shot by none other than ex-Celt Ricky Davis.

Davis hasn't met an NBA team willing to put up with his me-first ways for too long since he entered the league 9 seasons ago, but he played more games with Boston (181) than he's played with any other team in his career. Still he was shipped to Minny along with Mark Blount for Where's Wally Szczerbiak and Michael made of Olowokandi midway through last season.

Wouldn't you know that Davis & Blount, along with KG (26pts, 11 rebs, 10 assists), would add to Boston's misery by defeating their former team. Davis had 28 points on 11-17 shooting, including three 3-pointers in an 18-point 3rd quarter output, and also con-tributed 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Blount, a player who always over-valued himself in Boston which contributed to their willingness to let him go, threw in 20 points and 5 boards.

The only positive for Boston (12-38), other than playing hard and nearly winning the game, was Paul Pierce scoring 29 points in his second game back after missing 24 games with a foot injury. His leadership, ability to make 4th quarter shots, and confidence should help the C's end this streak soon. The next opportunity to stop the madness will be Wednesday at home against the equally horrid Milwaukee Bucks (19-32); if Boston can't come up with a win in that one coach Doc Rivers will have the unique dis-tinction of owning two 19-game losing streaks in his coaching career, the first coming in 2002-03 with Orlando, and the Celtics might be a lock to have one of the top two spots in the draft.

That might be the best news to hit the Celts in years.
#16 Blue Devils lose 4 in a row for the first time in 11 years, 72-60 to Maryland
Meanwhile down in Durham, NC, Duke is having its worst season since 1994-95, the infamous campaign when Coach K missed most of the season due to back surgery and the team was led by senior Cherokee Parks. Dark days indeed.

Like the Celts the Devils have been losing while remaining compet-itive; their past 3 losses were by 2, 1 and most recently 6 points to the Tarheels last Wed-nesday (happy birthday to me-hah!) But this time the loss was by blowout, the largest margin of defeat for the Devils since a January 2003 14-point loss to Wake, and it wasn't like it was against a powerhouse team; Maryland was 17-7 coming in, 3-6 in the ACC.

Duke jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead on a jumper & 3-pointer by Greg Paulus (14 pts, 4 ass, 7 TOs) but saw that slim margin oblit-erated by a 19-2 Terrapin run, during which Duke missed 7 of 8 shots and committed 7 turnovers. After Paulus stopped the bleed-ing (temporarily) with another jumper, Maryland ripped off a 10-point run for a 29-9 lead with just under 9:00 to go in the first half. Wow. Not exactly textbook Duke basketball.

The Devils would scrape back and get within six, 58-52, with 8:00 left in the game, but a 10-2 spurt over the next 5 minutes effect-ively iced the game and dropped the Devils (18-7) to sub-.500 in the ACC at 5-6. Now the Dukies face not only missing the ACC tour-nament but possibly the Big Dance as well, unfathomable just 2 weeks ago when they sported an 18-3 record and #10 national ranking.

If the Devils want to right the ship- and with remaining games at BC, Clemson and UNC they'd better do it quick- they have to start playing better team bas-ketball and better team defense. Their main problem has been that the two "veteran" sophomore leaders, Paulus and Josh McRoberts (20 pts, 8 rebs), have been incon-sistent and too passive in making sure the Duke machine stays well -oiled. That means banging the boards, which McRoberts can't do from his favorite spot 19 feet away from the basket, and take care of the ball, which Paulus obviously isn't doing as evidenced by his paltry 1.29 assist/turnover ratio. As a result the Devils had only 9 assists tonight to go with 17 turnovers; during the streak they have 40 helpers and 61 giveaways. Yikes.

Although freshmen Jon Scheyer (a.k.a. the New JJ Redick), Ger-ald Henderson, Jr. and Lance Thomas have shown flashes of brilliance, it's up to the two super sophs to help scoring leader De-Marcus Nelson show the kids the way. Last season I said many times that when Paulus and McRoberts were out of the shadows of JJ and Shelden Williams they were going to dominate the league. Instead they have been the poster boys for mediocrity and under-achievement. To paraphrase the great former Celtics coach Rick Pitino, JJ Redick isn't walking back into Cameron Indoor, and neither is The Landlord. It's time to put those McDonald's All America skills to use, fellas, or you can kiss the season goodbye.

Until they do the only place this team may be going is to the Big Apple for the NIT.

With the loss the Blue Devils dropped out of the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll for the first time in its 10-year history and out of the AP top 25 for the first time in 200 weeks, stretching back to the end of the '95-'96 season, the second-longest streak in history (UCLA.)

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